Self Actualization = The highest level of psychological development,
where personal potential is fully realized after basic bodily and ego needs have been fulfilled.”
In undergrad, I studied Psychology and loved it. But we don’t need a psych degree to understand this important component of human existence. Paraphrasing and according to Maslow, self-actualization is living in a way that expresses the highest and best version of ourselves. It’s sort of built on the idea that we each have innate gifts, talents and capacities that once developed lead us to our true purpose. If we hone our unique skills, we truly begin to live in a way that maximizes our potential while simultaneously sharing it with the world. The result? It’s a ”win-win” that feels great!
All sounds pretty fluffy, but if you have ever really shown up in your own unique “Glory” for a presentation, a performance, advocating for someone or even just making a decision, you may be familiar with the inherent rewards that we can experience when we become more of who we are. We know we are on the path of actualization, because when we are, it feels like things are in sync. We know we are moving away from actualization when we notice feelings of negativity, doubt, guilt, shame, depression and anxiety.
As humans, we have so much power and influence over our own lives. We may not always feel like we have agency. I can certainly relate to feelings of being trapped, stuck, stunted, restricted and almost imprisoned by responsibilities and especially my own grief. But we are faced with hundreds if not thousands of choice points each day. Our response to each choice point moves us a little closer to, or a little further away from self-actualization.
…Which we have long established is not easy. We may want to recoil at certain choice points, rather than taking risks, being vulnerable and willing to fail. We may find these choices to be too exhausting given our day to day routines and endless lists of tasks and “important” commitments.
We may be more likely to turn on info-tainment rather than meditate. We may delve into hours of Netflix instead of showing up in our own bodies and noticing how they feel. We may hide under the covers when we are inspired to do something hard, knowing that rising to the challenge may land us flat on our faces.
I can anesthetize with the best of them, as I have often shared. But when it comes to our own life’s journey, we have a simple choice point before us: “Do we want to be self-actualized, or do we want to be entertained?” (I first heard this question posed by Brian Johnson and it landed!)
Our idiosyncratic answers to this question will drive, essentially and only EVERYTHING we do. If we want to self-actualize we make decisions consistent with self-reflection, awareness, courage and presence. We may fail, but we will learn and evolve little by little.
However, if we want to be entertained we are also in the right place. There are more sources and mediums for entertainment and distraction than ever. If we want to tap out, we will find a way. And we won’t be alone when we do.
Personally, I think being a little actualized and a little entertained is probably a good balance. We can’t all live in ashrams, or in caves, where we are isolated and in a vacuum. But we can’t live solely in cyber space either. There are a lot of options on line, but connection really isn’t one of them. And since as humans, we are hard wired for connection we are missing something if we are only connecting with our internet.
“Self-Actualization is not a race. It is a commitment.”
These are my own words and they came to me when I noticed the below, small purple flower, standing completely alone in a bed of mulch and no other flowers anywhere. I saw that delicate blossom and was reminded that whether we are the first flower in the garden to bloom, or the last, what matters is that we DO the work it takes to bloom and stand in the pride of who we are when we do.
We can go at our own pace. We don’t need to compete. But if we choose actualization over entertainment just 51% of the time, we will get there. We will see what we are made of, what we are capable of and who we were created to be. Closing this gap is something like coming home. We don’t need terminology to describe it. We can feel when we are standing in the full presence of our existence. And we can feel when we are wasting it.
And if we can’t feel either, it might be a good time to cut back on the entertainment.