In A Theory of Human Motivation, Abraham Maslow defines self-actualization to be “the desire for self-fulfillment, namely the tendency for him [the individual] to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”
In other words, the process of becoming wholely oneself; to develop one’s abilities to the fullest and understand oneself. For those of you who have participated in the work of transformation, this may sound incredibly familiar. Oprah may say, being the “best version of you” that you can be, or you have heard Lisa Kalmin, principal of WorldWorks refer to it as being your “highest version of yourself.” All of it harkens back to Maslow’s self-actualization. How do all of us continue to work on understanding ourselves fully, accessing all aspects of our being and becoming our best version of us? Absolutely participate in transformational workshops, trainings and seminars, and you may want to use the following as benchmarks. Not that this is an absolute truth, but Abraham Maslow actually researched, studied and observed that there are 19 Characteristics of a Self-Actualizer. How are you doing? Get out a pen and rate yourself 0-100% with honest self reflection:
Perception of Reality: Maslow observed that self-actualizers tend to have a “superior relationship with reality” and are “generally unthreatened and unfrightened by the unknown.” In fact, “They accept it, are comfortable with it, and, often are even more attracted by it than the known. They not only tolerate the ambiguous and unstructured – they like it.” For those of you who have participated in the WorldWorks Leadership Practice, some things may make more sense now. Stretching our ways of being, diving into fears, being flexible and not knowing what will be coming until it arrives – all give you practice in altering your relationship to the unknown.
Acceptance: According to Maslow, “Even the normal member of our culture feels unnecessarily guilty or ashamed about too many things and has anxiety in too many situations. Our healthy individuals find it possible to accept themselves and their own nature without chagrin or complaint, or, for that mater, without even thinking about the matter too much.” Our culture often interprets responsibility with guilt, shame, fault or blame attached, sometimes carrying around heavy baggage from the past, that allows little freedom of expression or being. The core of the work of transformation is beginning to let go of that baggage, interpreting responsibility as though I am creator of everything, without fault, blame, guilt or shame. Simply viewing the situation as though I am generator for a greater purpose. In this, there is a radical self-acceptance and surrender that occurs.
Spontaneity: Maslow noted that the behavior of the self-actualizing individual is “marked by simplicity and naturalness, and by a lack of artificiality or straining for effect.” Over the past twenty years, I have attended a number of weddings with graduates of the WorldWorks Leadership Practice. Across the board, people always comment on the freedom, spontaneity and joy expressed. Almost always, these people are the ones getting the dancing going, reaching for others to join in, bursting into song and laughter.
Problem Centering: Self-actualizers customarily have some “mission in life.” Our corporations caught onto this over the past twenty years and have begun to have company and department missions. What is your mission? Why are you here? If you are a graduate of a Leadership Program through WorldWorks or another transformational company, what is your mission or stand? The mission that I wrote, with my team, twenty years ago still wakes me up and inspires me. It calls me forth, challenges me to be my best self and gives me courage when I am doubtful. There is something tremendously freeing in not having a mission, but letting it have you.
Solitude: Self-actualizers “positively like solitude and privacy to a definitely greater degree than the average person.” Do you enjoy your own company? Are you at peace within yourself? Do your thoughts and emotions amuse you? Intrigue you? Fascinate?
Autonomy: Self-actualizing people “have become strong enough to be independent of the good opinion of other people, or even of their affection. The honors, the status, the rewards, the popularity the prestige, and the love they can bestow must have become less important than self-development and inner growth.” There is a part of all of us that wants to be accepted, loved and valued. To what degree do you look outside yourself for recognition? Do you need it? Do you feel like everyone needs to agree with your opinion or like you in order for you to feel okay with yourself? Most American presidents have a higher approval rating before they take office for a reason. As they lead, beginning to govern, they are no longer campaign slogans and promises, but now have a tangible record and very real choices. In that, the approval rating usually takes a nose-dive. Not everyone is going to agree with you, approve of your choices or accept your directions as their own. And the more that someone steps out, the more likely that they are attracting greater attention: people approving AND disapproving. Self-actualizers let their internal barometer matter more than that external one.
Fresh Appreciation: “Self-actualizing people have the wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy, however stale these experiences may have become to others.” Think Forrest Gump.
Peak Experiences: Have you ever been in the flow of life? In the zone? Wikipedia jumped off Maslow and describes “a Peak Experience is a kind of transpersonal and ecstatic state, particularly one tinged with themes of euphoria, harmonization and interconnectedness.” The WorldWorks Introductory Course, Experience, Leadership Practice weekends, Couples Retreats are all described as ‘peak experiences.’ Abraham Maslow said that self-actualizers experience that far more than the average person.
Human Kinship: “Self-actualizing people have a deep feeling of identification, sympathy, and affection for human beings in general. They feel kinship and connection, as if all people were members of a single family.” “Self actualizing individuals have a genuine desire to help the human race.” For anyone who has ever questioned why companies like WorldWorks push on enrollment and not understood the thinking behind it, quite simply it is this. It is not only awakening ourselves, having a transcendent experience and translating it into amazing results in our own lives – that is not enough. The goal is to create that in other people’s lives, genuinely supporting others on their own path to self-actualization.
Humility and Respect: All of Maslow’s subjects “may be said to be democratic people in the deepest sense…they can be friendly with anyone of suitable character, regardless of class, education, political belief, race or color. As a matter of fact, it often seems as if they are not aware of these differences, which are for the average person so obvious and so important.” My entire life my mother has been a fantastic model of this for me. She marched with Dr. Martin Luther King and was with him when he spoke the words ‘I have a dream.’ She took me to Baha’i Temples, Buddhist churches and synagogues when I was a child. And at age 80, she has friends who are in their twenties, gay and straight, all colors. She has never even understood our society’s obsession with those differences.
Interpersonal Relationships: “Self-actualizing people have these especially deep ties with rather few individuals. Their circle of friends is rather small. The ones that they love profoundly are few in number.”
Ethics: Self-actualizing people do not do wrong, but their idea of what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘good’ or ‘evil’ are often not the conventional ones.
Means and Ends: Self-actualizers “are fixed on the ends rather than on means, and means re quite definitely subordinated to these ends.” In the Harry Potter series, the headmaster Albus Dumbledore ultimately gives his life and arranges for his own murder to save Harry Potter’s life and prevent Lord Voldemort from further killing, torture and bloodshed (sorry if I was a spoiler for anyone who still did not get to Book Six). This is a lovely and sad example of the end being far more important than the means. I am sure there are many other great owns less dramatic, but I just finished Book Five with the kids and this one is very present for me.
Humor: Self-actualizing people “do not consider funny what the average person considers to be funny. Thus they do not laugh at hostile humor (making people laugh by hurting someone), or superiority humor (laughing at someone else’s inferiority) or authority-rebellion humor (the unfunny or smutty joke). Maybe you’ve had the experience of being the only person in a movie theater who finds something funny or, conversely, been to a comedy show, where most of the audience is laughing at things you just don’t find funny. Then you have an idea of this one.
Creativity: Maslow notes that “this is a universal characteristic of all the people studied or observed. There is no exception.” My husband, Gene, an artist smiled broadly at this one.
Resistance to Enculturation: “Of all of them it may be said that in a certain profound and meaningful sense they resist enculturation and maintain a certain inner detachment from the culture in which they are immersed.”
Imperfections: Self-actualizers “show many of the lesser human failings. They too are equipped with silly, wasteful, or thoughtless habit. They can be boring, stubborn, irritating. They are by no means free from a rather superficial vanity, pride, partiality to their own productions, family, friends, and children. Temper outbursts are not rare.” I can definitely imagine some of you smiling when reading this one and I don’t doubt that any person who has participated in transformation and come to know an admired trainer or coach, has had moments of assessments, judgments and realizations of this. The part of me that tries so incredibly hard to be perfect and is a relentless taskmaster actually breathes a little easier with this one.
Values: “A firm foundation for a value system is automatically furnished to self-actualizers by their philosophic acceptance of the nature of self, of human nature, of much of social life, and the nature of physical reality.”
Resolution of Dichotomies: For self-actualizers, “the dichotomy between selfishness and unselfishness disappears altogether in healthy people because in principle every at is both selfish and unselfish.” In Aramaic, the word responsible translates to mean ‘interconnectedness.” In other words, there is no separation between us. In supporting you, I support me and vice versa.
So how are you doing? Do you see areas where you have really taken ground? Do you see room for growth? I don’t doubt that those of you who are graduates of the WorldWorks Leadership Practice see a good deal of the design of that practice aligned with the principles above and perhaps it all makes a little more sense now (from a cognitive place rather than felt-sense). I encourage us all to continue to grow, being your best you, continuing to dive in to self-discovery and service to others. And pat yourself on the back; you probably are doing pretty well through the work you have already done.