It doesn’t take much reading to stumble across Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ somewhere. Go ahead and Google it, if you want; I’ll wait. What you’ll find are some essays, and some pyramids. It’s no coincidence that it’s a pyramid, or that it is often depicted in rainbow colors; but that’s for later. I’ll sum it up quickly here. The typical layout looks like the old food pyramid many of us saw in school; you know, the one that was wildly misinformed? Well, this one is widely misunderstood. I want to make sure you understand my misunderstanding of it before I take the next step and suggest customizing it. I’ll be as brief as possible.
The bottom layer of the pyramid is about the basics. We need air and food and water and shelter just to survive, so the basic needs are in many ways our biggest needs. The next tier is what we tend to look for next, some level of continuity that we can rely on. We start to look for ways to take care of ourselves, our family and our property. We get a job, and do it every day, so we can have all those basic needs met. Our soul sighs when we know there is a way to reliably secure our continued existence; then it beckons us onward.
At this point, the pyramid says we’re ready for love. Whether we find partners or valued friendships or both, this is the point where they can be important. Things can get a little murky past this, depending on the interpretation you go with. There are still two levels above this, and they start to sound like new age descriptions of chakras even more than the first few did. Good thing I’ve read a lot about those too.
We want to do something more than just go to work every day at this point. We can spend all day thinking grateful thoughts, but at some point a great house and loving spouse and reliable income won’t be enough. The need to have others clap us on the back in congratulation can drive us to greater heights, but there is still further to go. Self-actualization is at the top of the pyramid for many reasons. First, it depends on a certain mastery of life that not everyone achieves. To date, we still have more people in the world struggling with the first level than any other. The majority of the Earth’s population will never know what it’s like to have fresh clean drinking water and a full belly every day, much less the opportunity to leave a legacy behind.
The next level up fairly represents the next largest portion of the population, by no coincidence. They live paycheck to paycheck, and barely have the energy to do anything more. They still need sex, and want love, most of them; but they don’t know how to give or get lovingly, and a lot of them never learn. When divorce stopped leaving a social black mark on people, folks started wanting something more than security in their relationships. Unfortunately, they often don’t realize that they have to learn to give if they are to get. They also don’t realize that the only person responsible for their actual fulfillment is them.
Some folks take up a hobby at this point, or a series of them. That can be pretty fulfilling. It can even turn into soul work, if you get into it enough. Other people start a business, or a series of them. That’s even more fulfilling, especially if you enjoy what you’re doing and have opportunity to put others to work. That’s how it works, by the way; the folks on top are feeding the rest of us in a variety of ways, and asking little or no thanks for it. Once self-actualization is reached, a lot of lives have generally been lifted along the way; once you get there, it becomes a primary motivation.
The chakras give us more options, opening the third eye to see other worlds and dissolving or opening the mind to merge with spirit; we’ll stick with this realm here. Even Maslow estimated that less than one in a hundred people make it to what he called top-tier living; beyond that, the numbers dwindle even further. So does reader interest, naturally.
Of course, people without shelter can love their families, and experience intimacy; they can even envision goals that the most brilliant entrepreneur would envy. It is hard to deny that these lower levels act as foundations, both in the individual and in society. Yet every time we reach a new plateau of familiarity, the next level’s call can be heard. And that’s why we need to customize this thing.
See, it’s different for different people. It’s different at different times in a single individual’s life. There have been times when I needed to be alone more than anything else; the only intimacy I craved was with my own deeper and higher self. In those times I learned to look at what I needed, and question what I wanted, until answers began to emerge that helped me move forward. Basic things had to be questioned first, and I had to ask myself what kind of things I wanted to eat and drink, and even how I chose to breathe. That’s all still evolving, and probably always will be. When I started taking better care of myself, my mind started working better. I accepted those lead roles that I had always shunned in my day job, and helped others learn the skills required in the field. Lots of people starting coming to me for answers, and they still do.
Learning to organize the efforts of others and complete complicated projects in a timely manner got me to wondering if I should start my own business doing this. Luckily, I saw the next level beckoning from beyond, and remembered the best advice I had ever read. I had been pleasantly surprised to see that the best ‘wealth-help’ writers said the same thing as the best ‘self-help’ writers: know yourself, and follow your dreams. At worst, you have a hobby that you can really put yourself into. At best, you’ll be that artist in your field that no one can get enough of. Anywhere in between is a more fulfilling place to live than looking to others to do what you can only do for yourself.
Well, I knew what I had always dreamed of being when I first wrote out my own hierarchy of needs. If you don’t, use every tool you can to discover it; there’s really no other path to happiness for most of us. Then write out that hierarchy of needs, filling in the blanks with everything you ever wanted at every level at which you live. Then get to work, especially if you know what you’ve always dreamed of. That doesn’t take finding the right partner; it only takes an hour a day.
Thanks for reading!