How do people reach their full potential? This is a question I’ve grappled with for years, at times focusing on career potential, at other times personal fulfillment in family life.
Since August, I’ve been writing about Humanistic Psychologist Dr. Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs theory. I discussed the basic physiological needs, which calls for the achievement of food and water, adequate sleep, and a basic sexual fulfillment. The next step in the journey up Maslow’s needs pyramid calls for safety and security, in the form of a home, a stable job or clear trajectory, health and family.
One of my favorite steps on the pyramid is the third, the need for love and belonging. As I researched this area I discovered that Maslow was talking about love of yourself and of finding a sense of belonging within yourself—concepts it took me a long time to arrive at in my own life, but that are crucial. Step four is related: the need to cultivate self-esteem. I am delighted now to offer some thoughts on Maslow’s fifth layer of need: Self-Actualization.
Maslow wrote extensively about Self-Actualization, the highest level in human motivation. “What a man can be, he must be,” he said. In his theory, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, he believed that the basic needs of humans must be met before self-actualization would be achieved. For many, this might be becoming an ideal parent, a skilled athlete, a CEO of a company, or a talented painter. For me, after a long career in the entertainment industry while raising two children, and then, after time as a professional growth consultant, self-actualization led me to become a writer. With a degree in Spanish Literature, deep down I’d always wanted to inspire and help others using the power of words.
Who was I to dare such a dream?
“Dale Duro!” I can still hear my father saying. “Give it all you got.” Growing up, my passionate padre used to cheer me on whenever I was trying to achieve something just outside my reach. In his eyes, there was nothing I couldn’t do. Me? I wasn’t so sure. I thought of possible setbacks and failures and sometimes froze. Still, he infused in me the belief that I could achieve my dreams if I just kept at it. No matter what. The question for me was how?—and for a long time I didn’t have the answer. Where would I even begin? A voice inside whispered some good sound advice: start small, take baby steps, work to master the craft, and have the courage to walk and fall, over and over again.
The truth is whether you’re famous or unknown, educated or not, rich or poor, Maslow’s research proved that self-actualizers tend to fit a certain profile. Maslow’s self-actualizing characteristics are:
- Comfortable acceptance of self, others and nature. Self-actualizers accept their own human nature with all its flaws. The shortcomings of others and the contradictions of the human condition are accepted with humor and tolerance.
- Reliant on own experiences and judgement. Independent, not reliant on culture and environment to form opinions and views.
- Spontaneous and natural. True to oneself, rather than being how others want.
- Task centering. Most of Maslow’s subjects had a mission to fulfill in life or some task or problem ‘beyond’ themselves (instead of outside of themselves) to pursue.
- Autonomy. Self-actualizers are free from reliance on external authorities or other people. They tend to be resourceful and independent.
- Continued freshness of appreciation. The self-actualizer seems to constantly renew appreciation of life’s basic goods. A sunset or a flower will be experienced as intensely time after time as it was at first. There is an “innocence of vision”, like that of an artist or child.
- Profound interpersonal relationships. The interpersonal relationships of self-actualizers are marked by deep loving bonds.
- Comfort with solitude. Despite their satisfying relationships with others, self-actualizing people value solitude and are comfortable being alone.
- Non-hostile sense of humor. This includes the ability to laugh at oneself.
- Peak experiences. All of Maslow’s subjects reported the frequent occurrence of peak experiences (temporary moments of self-actualization). These occasions were marked by feelings of ecstasy, harmony, and deep meaning. Self-actualizers reported feeling at one with the universe, stronger and calmer than ever before, filled with light, beauty, goodness, and so forth.
- Socially compassionate. Possessing humanity.
- Few friends. Few close intimate friends rather than many superficial relationships.
Self-actualizers feel at home with themselves, safe, anxiety-free, accepted, loved, loving, and alive, busy living a fulfilling life. It’s not easy achieving one’s goals and dreams, while we look for ways to put food on the table and pay our bills. It doesn’t cost a thing to “Dwell in Possibility,” writer Emily Dickinson once encouraged while writing one word after the other.
–Monica L. Dashwood is a freelance writer and spokesperson for Hiplatina.