At the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is the need of Self-Actualization. In our final entry for our series on Maslow’s Hierarchy, we’re going to take a look at what Self-Actualization is and how one comes about actually possessing it.
Self-Actualization is at the top because it has more novelty than the other needs beneath it. In other words, this stuff doesn’t come cheap. To arrive at a state of Self-Actualization, we actually have to examine ourselves, live deep and thoughtful lives, and take ongoing measurements of what kinds of reactions we’re getting from our actions.
What is Self-Actualization?
To me, Self-Actualization is knowing (A) who you are and (B) what is your place in this world. The latter is partially knowing what you’re good at, and partially knowing where and how to carry out that strength.
As filmmaker Oliver Stone once said to fellow filmmaker Tao Ruspoli, we have to go where our strengths are. THAT’s the core aspect of Self-Actualization.
However, before going to one’s strengths, one must find out what those strengths are. In and of itself, that’s something of a lifelong process because you can find out you’re good at something, but then keep continuously refining your understanding of that strength.
For example, let’s say that when you’re a child, you come to realize you’re a great piano player. As time goes on and you experiment, you learn that you prefer classical to modern. Then you realize that your classical compositions click more with European audiences than American ones. Then you realize that your live shows are drawing in more revenue than your online offerings. But then you get itchy for a change, and start to sprinkle in some modern styling. But you experience a setback; the Europeans reject you. But the South Americans think it’s great. And so on.
You see how this can go on for decades?
I doubt there’s one single person, on the final day of his or her life, who honestly thinks they’ve got their strengths ALL figured out.
However, the trick is to get closer and closer to yourself at your finest. The more you do so, the more you’re in the process of experiencing Self-Actualization. This is of course WAY easier said than done. One handy safety tip is to remind yourself not to get thrown off course by other people’s chatter and opinions. As Steve Jobs said, “Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.”
In the meantime (although for many this will go without saying) the ONLY path to Self-Actualization – or a chance at Self-Actualization – is actually LIVING. I mean, we’re all alive, but our levels of engagement and action tend to vary widely. The path to Self-Actualization is one that’s Out There, as in “Putting Yourself Out There.”
To find out who we are and what we’re good at, we must engage with the world; grappling with the infinite uncertainties of reality until we find out just exactly how and where we’re managing to show up at our best.
Once we find that out, we can be our best at deeper and deeper levels, complete with all the challenges, wrong turns, revelations, innovations, and wonderful things it brings — which is Self-Actualization at its finest.