What does it mean to achieve self-actualization?
In 1943, Maslow theorized through observations of exemplary people - such as Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt - that humans require certain needs, and some needs must be met before others can be sought and achieved. Often portrayed in the form of a triangle, the most basic and fundamental sit at the bottom. These are physiological needs like air, shelter, food and water (and sleep and sex of course). At the top lies the ultimate goal to achieve a little something called self-actualization.
This beautiful, magical sounding thing where you realize your full potential as a human. Sounds simple, right? The hidden caveat proves perilous in today’s world. Perhaps back in the 40’s, achieving self-actualizeation was a surmountable goal. Today, it seems didn’t seem like an unconquerable task.
You see, all previous needs must have been fulfilled. This includes safety needs like personal and financial security, health and well-being, and a safety net against accidents and illness. For those who are able to fill their body with food and put it under a shelter to move forward with this goal, this is another instant block for a great number of the world’s population. Most of North America does not fit the bill for financial security. The average Canadian’s non-mortgage debt is slated to jump to a new high of $28,853 by the end of 2014. The average Ontarian student attending post-secondary education within the province faces $37,000 in debt.
The next level is love and belonging. Depending on how you value intimacy, your family and friendship with others, this may very well fall before your need for financial security. Low-income countries and districts often find comfort and happiness with their familial relationships when they have nothing or very little else.
Esteem. This is a big one. With media and further emerging issues with mental health that cause imbalances, achieving self-respect and self-esteem can be hindered. The need to be accepted and valued by others is perpetuated every day. We dress to impress, we broadcast our lives on social media, and we constantly seek to ‘keep up with the Johnston’s’. When people have money, we want more. Celebrities and CEOs make millions and millions of dollars a year and constantly seek more. How can you have financial security, have moved two levels above, and still be miserable? There are definitely flaws with this system.
By no means is this post meant to say these levels are wrong, impossible, or separate entities. Maslow says himself the levels are interrelated. I simply wish to explore the nuances and difficulties we often face when seeking our full potential.
What do you think?