Time for Change: What to Do and When to Do It

Illustration Saleshni Cook

“It is quite true that man lives by bread alone — when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled?” Maslow

What did Maslow mean when he spoke of self actualization?

I am 40 years old. I have done the same job for the past eighteen years. I’ve worked hard and been stressed at times by the responsibility to establish a secure, stable life, and at other times pushed by a pressure to define myself by a job done well.

That is younger life. But 40+offers a different vista. In the Vedic tradition the first two stages of life are about establishing yourself. The third stage is about contributing to society in a meaningful way and the last stage is peace and connectedness with all things.

This third stage is the one I am most interested in at the moment. The need to make an important contribution; to feel creatively challenged by taking your skills and what you know and offering them to the world in a unique way.

To live out this next life stage in life means braving change. Stepping into the unknown, pushing ahead because we are excited by the shaking boat. Without the hunger and desperation of earlier life but fueled instead by the good feelings that follow these winds of change push our sails in a different direction, one that embraces possibilities.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs says once you are comfortable, safe and sustained you can self actualize. What did Maslow mean by self actualize? Is self actualizing a dramatic life change or is it a slow process of fermentation that has us looking back 20years from now and saying, ‘Ahh that’s where I was going’.

At deeper inspection this ‘self-actualizing’ phase correlates with the Vedic stage three. Looking closer at the hierarchy of needs as defined by Maslow. From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are food and clothing, job security, love and friendship, esteem, and then finally self-actualization. Needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up. ​​He found that as these lower needs are met our activities become habitually directed towards meeting the next set of needs.

The final stage Self-actualization needs are the highest level in Maslow’s hierarchy, and refer to the realization of a person’s potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth. Maslow describes this level as the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be.

In his research he found that people may direct this focus very specifically. For example, the desire to become a good parent or to reach personally defined economic, academic or athletic goals. For others, it may be expressed creatively, in paintings or music. This means that this stage can be as multifaceted and as drastic as is in line with who you are.

Maslow found that achieving a set of personally defined markers (the final stage of self actualization) created feelings of wellbeing. A patient courage directed at achieving the things that light us up, an inner smile at spending time on things that we value. A self defined success related to personal values, choosing to spend time in a way that weaves together personal interests, talents and values.

For me this means first defining them for myself. Through defining this I can see the new possibilities and more certainty around how I choose to spend my time both at work and personally.

What has brought about change in your life? When is the right time to try something new? How is it that you know the next step is right for you?

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