What Can You Be?

Not what you are, not what you do, not how much money you make or any titles, as successful as those may be.  But more to the point, what is the highest point you can potentially reach?


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (often called his Ladder), came from his study of healthy, happy people.  The true father of positive psychology, he studied folks ranging from Einstein to Lincoln, and regular people in between.  What made them so well-adjusted?  What made them reach the highest peaks, often in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, a la Abraham Lincoln?  Lincoln’s failures are so legendary that in 1856, at age 47, he wrote, “. . . with me, the race of ambition has been a failure—a flat failure.”   He didn’t quit though.

Maslow’s ladder is often seen as a pyramid, with the bottom rung being that of physical needs—food, shelter, etc.  Atop that comes safety needs—protection from elements and people, laws, freedom from fear, etc.  Next comes the need for belonging—friendship, love, connection in all ways.  Atop that is Mastery—independence, success, self-esteem, etc.

That last one is where we usually stop, and what is seen as true success in our culture.  We’ve reached the brass ring.  Become CEO of the company.  Been elected to the highest office in the land.  But would you say that Lincoln achieved the height of his humanity when elected President?  After what he faced, and did, in that office over four-plus years, that notion would seem somewhat ludicrous, wouldn’t it.

Because at the peak of Maslow’s ladder is the need for self-actualization. And that of course means realizing one’s true potential, self-fulfillment in its highest form.

And it’s often the one thing we tend to push to the side.   I’ve often wondered would Lincoln have pursued politics so relentlessly had he known what his Presidency would present him with . . .

But results are never the answer—those often aren’t in your hands.  No, the answer is in the doing of the thing that is your calling.  And where that leads you, well, that is part and parcel of the magic of life.

Self-actualization from Maslow means realizing one’s ultimate personal potential.  It’s self-fulfillment in its highest form.  It’s in the seeking of personal growth and peak experiences.  And no one can quantify that specifically for you.  Only you can.

 Or as Maslow says, “It refers to the person’s desire for self-fulfillment, namely, the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially.”

It’s where people strive to be the best people they can possibly be. By achieving this level, we access that “peak experience.”  And with that comes times of great happiness.

Here is Maslow’s list of characteristics of self-actualizers:

  1.         They perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty
  2.         Accept themselves and others for what they are
  3.         Spontaneous in thought and action
  4.         Problem-centered (not self-centered)
  5.         Unusual sense of humor
  6.         Able to look at life objectively
  7.         Highly creative
  8.         Resistant to enculturation, but not purposely unconventional
  9.         Concerned for the welfare of humanity
  10.         Capable of deep appreciation of basic life-experience
  11.         Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people
  12.         Peak experiences
  13.         Need for privacy
  14.         Democratic attitudes
  15.         Strong moral/ethical standards

As we grow into healthier and healthier human beings, as we climb that ladder of needs, satisfying each rung on the way up, the need to self-actualize grows stronger and stronger with each step.

Here’s how Maslow put it:

Musicians must make music, artists must paint, poets must write if they are to be ultimately at peace with themselves. What human beings can be, they must be. They must be true to their own nature. This need we may call self-actualization… It refers to man’s desire for self-fulfillment, namely to the tendency for him to become actually in what he is potentially: to become everything one is capable of becoming.”

 The world needs you, needs your gifts.  It’s the only way we make this planet a better place.

 What one can be, one must be.

See yourself there?  If not, what’s holding you back?  Because don’t you want to live that life?




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