“Do you want to have a career that meets your needs, complements your personality, inspires you to develop your potential, and supports your vision and purpose?”
This little gem of a question jumped out of the pages of The Career Fitness Program today as I was reviewing textbooks for the undergraduate Career and Life Planning course that I teach. As if I had written the words myself, “Don’t just settle for an average life. Liberate your best self. Be extraordinary!” seemed to be a natural call to action to follow the question.
You see, ideally, if given the choice, I believe most of us would answer yes! yes! yes! and yes! in response to that question. We would admittedly desire a purposeful and meaningful life instead of settling for what is necessary in order to make ends meet. Notice how I snuck the work “ideally” in there because in reality, despite the most sincere intentions, making the decision to start chasing your fire (as I have urged you to) isn’t always enough to actually make it happen.
You can’t just close your eyes and somehow painlessly wake up to the life you have imagined. The reality you are living now should not be ignored, as your circumstances have likely played an important part in keeping you from pursuing your passion. Maybe it is the pressure of your mortgage and bills, the lack of support from loved ones, or limited resources that have kept you from your best self. These needs will likely continue to stand in your way unless you find a way to meet them.
That, at least, is the view of Humanistic Psychologist Abraham Maslow, who used the term “self-actualization” nearly 60 years ago to describe the quest for finding meaning and reaching one’s full potential. Sadly, Maslow believed that only a small percentage of the population ever reach a state of self-actualization because they get preoccupied with other basic needs that demand their attention. (Sound familiar?) The result, Maslow believed, is that
“The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short.” – Abraham Maslow
Based on his research, Maslow developed the hierarchy of needs (pictured above) to illustrate that we are motivated to fulfill basic needs (at the base of the pyramid) before we are able to move on to other, more complex needs. If these basic needs are not met, self-actualization is near impossible. In other words, if you desire to live a life that meets your needs, complements your personality, inspires you to develop your potential, and supports your vision and purpose, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs serves as a step-by-step plan to get you there:
Step 1: Meet Your Physiological Needs
I’m sure you’ve heard this many times over, but it is worth repeating: take care of your body! Physiological needs are vital to your survival and sustainability. All needs come secondary to these, so don’t underestimate the importance of this step. Drink plenty of water, do what you can to breathe clean air, nourish your body with healthy food, get plenty of sleep and don’t forget to exercise.
Step 2: Meet Your Safety Needs
It stands to reason that someone being held at knife-point or someone who is bullied have much more pressing concerns than becoming the best version of themselves. Likewise, before it will become possible for you to start liberating your best self, you must first meet your basic survival needs – including those related to safety and security. Do what you can to ensure that you have a roof over your head in a safe neighborhood (however modest), steady employment in a safe work environment (albeit only as a means to an end), health insurance, and financial security (as much as possible).
Step 3: Meet Your Social Needs
As basic survival needs are met, higher level needs awaken. These include the need for love, belonging, and affection. This step requires you to nurture relationships with friends, family, romantic partners, colleagues, and community members as they help fulfill the need for support, companionship and acceptance that will help propel you forward towards self-actualization. It is difficult to focus on becoming your best self when you are feeling isolated and unsupported, so preempt this by making an effort to build meaningful relationships with those around you.
Step 4: Meet Your Esteem Needs
Once you feel a sense of belonging, you will likely start to develop the need to feel important. You might desire a sense of self worth, self-respect, self-esteem, accomplishment and social status / recognition. If you are in an ill-fitting career that leaves you feeling inferior, this might be an especially important step for you that might necessitate a career change. If finding more fitting employment is not an option for you, take part in extracurricular activities that will allow you to excel – whether academic, athletic, or artistic – so that you can build build self-esteem and gain social recognition for your accomplishments. Also consider joining organizations where you can take leadership roles when appropriate. If you are not confident in your ability to be successful, you might not be able to take the leap towards liberating your best self. Do all you can to build your self-esteem, though if this quest continues to be a concern for you consider seeking professional counseling and/or assertiveness training.
With these foundational steps in place, you will be free to move to the summit of Maslow’s pyramid where the proverbial magic happens. Here, you will be free to embark on a journey of personal discovery where you can celebrate your unique perspective, cultivate your individual potential, live in the moment and appreciate the beauty of each experience. You will be free to focus on your needs for creativity and spontaneity while not conforming to other’s ideas of happiness or contentment. You will be free to experience energized moments of profound happiness and harmony (what Maslow called peak experiences). Here, you will be able to truly chase your fire.
Happy self-actualizing, friends!
Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!