From Self-Actualization to Community-Actualization

In a “do what you love” world, have we lost sight of the importance of civic engagement, service, and collaboration?

Question I’m considering today: Has the individualistic career mindset the privileged creative class (of which I’m a part of) been spreading for years (“do what you love,” “find your passion,” “follow your purpose,” “come alive,” “reach your potential,” “discover your calling,” “design your life,” “choose yourself,” “self-help,” “self-love,” etc. etc.) helped weaken the moral fabric of our country? Has lifestyle design and happiness engineering made us too focused on personal optimization and self-fulfillment, rather than helping each other out? Have we lost sight of the importance of civic engagement, service, sacrifice, compromise, community, and collaboration?

Have we become too narcissistic, too focused on our own personal brands, and not focused enough on the well-being of our neighbors, friends, and strangers?

In my book, The Quarter-Life Breakthrough: Invent Your Own Path, Find Meaningful Work, and Build a Life That Matters, I make the point that “do what you love” and “follow your passion” is shit career advice, and that it’s far more important to serve the people you love. I define meaningful work something that provides personal meaning, reflecting who you are and what your interests are, allows you to share your gifts to help others, and is financially viable given your desired lifestyle. I talk about finding alignment between your gifts, impact, community, and quality of life.

Alignment Venn diagram from The Quarter-Life Breakthrough

I wonder if this doesn’t go far enough. Should we instead be saying, “Yes, do something you enjoy, become your best self, do what you were meant to do, reach your highest potential… and please also help the people that need it the most, either at work, or when you get home from work.” Do what you love, but also do everything you possibly can to positively impact your community and the world’s most vulnerable populations.

My buddy Adam Pumm once reminded me, in the communities I roll in, we always hear that quote, “Don’t worry about what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” But we don’t talk about the fact that the guy who said that, Howard Thurman, was a civil rights activist who dedicated every single day of his life to focusing on what the world needed from him. He was obsessed with what his community needed, which no doubt is what made him so alive (and so impactful).

If I think of the leaders, past and present, who inspire me most, all of them were deeply called to a higher mission that went far beyond personal success, influence, or power.

Certainly it’s a polarity; a YES, AND situation. We need to take care of ourselves. You can’t show up for others if you don’t first honor yourself; your health and wellness, your financial security, your interests, your strengths, your gifts, your dreams. You can’t heal the world until you heal yourself. If you’re doing something you’re really good at, but that you hate doing, you probably won’t much of an impact. If you’re doing something really good for others, but you’re miserable while doing it (or you don’t make any money while doing it), you probably won’t make much of an impact either.

YES, AND in the wake of the election, I know I’m thinking more and more about what the world really needs from me right now. What the world and what my community needs from me might be something slightly different than what I’m doing or where I was headed, and I’m trying to sit with those feelings. It’s a balancing act and there is no one formula, no right answer for everyone. All of us have different imperatives, different constraints we’re working with. Some of us have far more privilege than others to think about these choices.

Perhaps Aristotle nailed it when he said, “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.” How can we come alive, while making others come alive as well? How can we become our best selves while ensuring those around us, and those people we’ve never met before, are becoming better as well? Can we say the words “community-actualization,” just as much as we say “self-actualization”? Can we say the words “community-love,” just as much as we say “self-love”? Because living in service to others is the most fulfilling work there is.

If you’re also re-thinking your current career trajectory (or even thinking about making a slight change to your work, the audience you serve, your 2–3 year plan, or how you’re spending time, resources, and money outside of work) in the wake of last week, let me know and I’ll send you a few links to check out. I spent four years writing a book about this shit, and yes, just being real here, I’m figuring out my next move now too. Certainly it will evolve being Smiley, it will involve writing, speaking, empowering my community and helping people do work that matters, but the who, the what, the how, and the priority is going to evolve, that much I know. That is something I know I want, and the world needs.


1. Interested in increasing millennial voter turnout and engagement for 2018 and 2020?

Contact me and let’s discuss what we can do to help.

2. Trying to figure out how to make your own work more meaningful?

Read my book: The Quarter-Life Breakthrough: Invent Your Own Path, Find Meaningful Work, and Build a Life That Matters.

3. Want free career resources?

Check out: smileyposwolsky.com/resources.