According to Maslow, self-actualization is the final destination of the most developed, and therefore the most satisfied, people amongst us. To self-actualize means to fulfill your unique potential through a continued process of self-discovery, refinement, and further development. There is no end to actualization, only further expansion into the realm that you find inherently enjoyable as well as challenging.
Oprah Winfrey, Serena Williams, Elon Musk: all perfect examples of self-actualized people.
It’s interesting that although these three exhibit the same tendencies, the resultant skills, abilities, and accomplishments are vastly different. Can you picture Elon Musk crushing the U.S. Open year after year? Or how about Serena Williams as the founder of the world’s top tech company? Probably not. The route and result of self-actualization is unique to everyone and involves a combination of interest, ability, and work ethic.
Not only that, I would bet that neither Musk nor Williams has any interest in those other pursuits. Instead, actualizers have identified what compels them, what interests them and then worked harder and with more determination than anyone else. The result is that they have achieved the extraordinary.
Now imagine if Oprah was too lazy or self-conscious or self-critical or defeatist to persevere through her struggle and instead, wound up in some lowly position at the network – in hindsight, we can see how tragic a waste of potential that would have been. With this in mind, how many people do you wonder have latent talents that are never identified and therefore never fostered? How many people never realize nor express their potential and as a result, forgo the chance to live an inspired life? Probably far too many.
One of your main missions in life should be to express as much of your potential as possible.
This isn’t to suggest that everyone should immediately drop everything to pursue a quest of becoming the world’s greatest something or other. Instead, these larger-than-life examples were offered to help provide an image of what self-actualization looks like in practice, and to draw out lessons that we may apply to our own lives.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
A prerequisite for self-actualization is to satisfy the preceding needs inherent to development and well-being. Self-actualization is an intensely active process that requires both time and focus.
If someone is occupied with health concerns or relational problems or financial stress or self-doubt, the ability to actualize, or even to simply develop in a positive direction, becomes increasingly difficult and less likely. Like a dog chasing its tail, you only move in circles, never forward.
As such, it is crucial to take an objective look, from the perspective of Maslow’s hierarchy, at how well your needs are being met. Identify trouble spots, make a plan, and seek to progress.
It’s Not Perpetual Struggle
Although you will certainly be presented with many challenges both large and small, the path forward is not characterized by perpetual struggle where fun is non-existent and prolonged toil and stress are all that’s available.
If feels good to be engaged, to surpass yourself, to take control and progress on a path of your choice, a path that is meaningful to you. Triumph does not only exist at the end of the road with self-actualization; instead, each success, each push forward, provides something to feel good about, something to be proud of.
The hardest part is getting started.
Self-discovery is a core component of personal development since self-actualization only becomes possible through a thorough knowledge of who you are and what you value. This process includes getting to know yourself on a progressively deeper level – your values, your interests, your strengths, your weaknesses, your vision of the future.
When you lack self-knowledge, your ability to make quality decisions concerning your future is greatly inhibited. A perfect example is the decision that young high-school graduates must make about which program to enter in university. Unfortunately, the standardized school system leaves them woefully underprepared for this major decision and a result, many choose the wrong career path relative to their inherent interest. The consequences of this one decision have drastic effects which can last a lifetime.
The better you know yourself, the better decisions you will make concerning your future and where to direct your focus. Therefore, turn over as many stones as you can until you find the few hidden gems.
Question your assumptions about life, about yourself, about the things that are and aren’t possible. Try new things. Meet new people. Go to unfamiliar places. Be curious and learn. Pay attention to your experience in a purposeful way.
It’s Not About the Money
It’s also important to point out that self-actualization has nothing to do with money. Do Oprah, Elon, and Serena continue with their pursuits for the paycheque? Absolutely not, they already have more wealth than most can imagine – instead, they continue because the act itself is intensely gratifying and worthwhile.
Once you discover and begin to walk a path that is compatible with your own true nature, the reward is simply to move forward and enjoy the process. Each day will offer the opportunity to take on a new challenge, to explore and discover, to express more of your potential.
Above wealth, above fame, above everything else, self-actualization is the destination that we should all strive toward.