In his studies on motivation, Maslow indicates that all human beings have five different levels of needs. He alleged that an individual must fulfill one need in order to move on to the next need in the hierarchy. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs outlines the following (AH):
- Physiological needs: elements such as food, air and water.
- Security needs: a stable environment where one can feel safe, i.e your home
- Love needs: feelings of belongingness
- Esteem needs- the need for achievement, the need for prestige.
- And finally the need for Self Actualization
As privileged citizens of the Western world most of us are fortunate enough to have our basic needs fulfilled. Like many around me I have food, shelter, loving relationships and have accomplished something in one way or another. So if Maslow’s theory proves to be true, I am only seeking one thing. And that thing is Self Actualization.
Self Actualization can be defined as one’s need to fulfill his or her maximum potential. One’s maximum potential is of course subjective and varies from person to person. Thus, keeping in mind that one’s self actualization needs change as one changes; self actualization for me at the moment would be commencing my career.
I completed my degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology exactly 14 months ago and as I continue on my search for a gratifying career in the field, I am starting to believe that self actualizing my career goals may not be as easy as I thought.
Feeling as if I am just about ready to give up and wondering why I am failing, I came across an article published by Forbes Magazine. The article “The 10 Reasons Why We Fail” written by contributor David Disalvo lists ten reasons why people do not achieve all that they can (Click Here). The reasons vary, but basically trickle down to the fact that most of us get in our own way. Which brings me back to Abraham Maslow…
Completing graduate school was definitely an achievement. In addition to part time classes and a full time job, I also worked a per diem position on weekends in order to pay for my degree. With all this going on, including the stress of my enmeshed family, not to mention a troublesome boyfriend with a wandering eye, I still managed to graduate with a 3.98 GPA (It would have been a 4.0 if it wasn’t for one pesky A- that still bothers me to this day). Yet at the end of the day, that was graduate school, not the “real” world. Thus, it can be said that although my esteem needs were met in school, they have not really been met outside of school. What have I achieved in the workforce in order to be self actualized? The way I see it…Nothing.
I am not exactly pleased with my current position. My job is not one that motivates me, that makes me feel accomplished, that makes me want to be the best that I can be. So the realization sets: until I reach my esteem needs, i.e. accomplish something at work that I can really stand behind, then I cannot possibly move on to self actualization. Or better yet, until I BELIEVE that what I have accomplished so far in the workforce is something that I can stand behind then I WILL be self actualized.
You see, Disalvo’s article is all about intrinsic motives for why we fail. None of his reasons actually deal with outside factors. Disalvo suggests that we must change our way of thinking in order to be all that we can be. And why not? Everybody should aim for self actualization. Everybody deserves and everybody SHOULD live up to their full potential. So if there is something that you want but feel as if you cannot get, ask yourself this: Why am I failing? Why can’t I move on to my next need? How am I getting in my own way?
So, I’ll leave you with one more Maslow quote:
“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself”
And I challenge you this, find out what it is you want to do, and do it.
1. Maslow AH. “A Theory of Human Motivation,” in The Great Writings in Management and Organizational Behavior, Boone and Bowen, 2nd