What keeps you from living your truth, speaking your truth? Maybe it is Maslow’s Anchor.
For most of us, the bottom two sections of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is nothing but a trap. It isn’t real. We (should) have no real fears of security or our basic existence each day. Sure, it could happen. And the media love to play this stuff up because it is captivating to watch. But it just isn’t real. From that perspective, our lives are pretty mundane. Unless we are an adrenaline junky who isn’t alive unless he’s jumping off a building or a soldier in battle. But that isn’t most of us.
Instead, this part of our psyche acts like a kind of anti-oasis in the fictional desert that we make our lives to be: a place to avoid at all costs. To use another metaphor, it is like an anchor keeping us from moving forward, making us think we always need to be on guard, watching out for our physical security when we are nearly always safe. This prevents us from reaching our potential as individuals, teams, organizations, communities, and society in general.
It plays out most often in the work world where we hold back instead of speaking — or living — our truth. If we ask ourselves why three times, we find that we do this because we fear that we will end up destitute — out of a job and on the street, or at least struggling financially. That is too much to face. So we don’t speak our truth to the boss or whoever is signing our paycheck so as to not rock the boat. And we stay in jobs and even careers that are not right for us for far too long for the same reason.
Then one day, we have a heart attack. Or our father dies. Or our wife tells us she’s leaving with the kids. And we wake up to reality — life is too short. What are we waiting for?
We are living in fear and hardly living.
It is like our reptilian brain is still calling the shots even though it is a uniquely human challenge we face: the loss of “security” through loss of potential income.
There may also be another tie to the pre-cognitive brain in the fear that may come up at the prospect of “making” someone angry by speaking to them directly and honestly. We may be literally fearful for our body’s safety in doing so.
Imagine a woman who as a child was faced with her father’s physical force every time she asserted herself, starting at the age of two. She felt frightened for her physical safety (a very real feeling, in this case, since she is much smaller than her father and with only minimal neocortical brain development that would allow her to reason the truth of her feelings).
Now, fast-forward 20, 30 or 40 years, and it is easy to imagine that woman has never let those old feelings go. She still feels frightened deep inside every time the prospect of physical superiority is possible. So she avoids it at all costs. And she doesn’t speak her truth so as to not possibly anger her boss or colleague.
Her office is ostensibly a safe space, but still she holds back both her honest feedback and even her more creative ideas for fear they will be shot down. She’s gotten used to playing safe to keep things OK. She gets so good at it, it becomes who she is: Ms. Nice Gal. She just gets along and everything will be fine.
This is such a sad thought. The numbers of people in the world today who do this and who are unhappy in their jobs yet remain out of fear of security and who don’t speak their truth is simply mind-blowing. It is like we are living a lie. Not just those who aren’t speaking, but the rest of us who are not supporting them to speak as well.
What is the purpose of life when we spend so much time at work and yet don’t live our truth?
Friends: Rise up! Take back your lives! Don’t wait another moment. Make a plan and go after it. Get courageous. Take a risk. Have faith. You will be taken care of if you just put in the effort of getting clear on your truth and following-through with it. It may feel uncomfortable for a while, but I promise you will come out the other side in a far better place from where you were when you started your journey. And you will feel a new sense of freedom and joy and peace as you take that first step. This is the beginning of your life.
And if you want to speak your truth and live by your values, but don’t know how to put it in place, ask for help. Practice a conversation with a friend. Get a coach. But no matter what, don’t let Maslow’s anchor hold you back any longer.
(Originally published on the Evolution blog in 2013. Edited August, 2016.)