Time to Self-Actualize

Don’t try this on concrete.

Just the other day I came across the following quote by humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow:

“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.”

Ahhh….I love it. I was first introduced to Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” (see diagram below) in an Industrial Psych course I took as an undergrad. All these bazillion years later, it still makes sense to me. Especially during trying times, when, unwittingly, I’ve tended to invoke its message as a mental boost to better understand what I am going through.

This is a pictorial depiction of Maslow’s pyramid:

It’s sort of fun to parse the six tiers constituting this pyramid. Looking back on my life, I’ve discovered I’ve been mired one too many times in Levels 1 and 2 — essentially, flopping around like a fish in an empty bucket, short on air but long on promise. Worrying, worrying, worrying — much too much about money.

The dark cloud of imagined poverty hovering above me, which never quite seems to dissipate, perhaps, was spawned during childhood. With parents that were products of the Great Depression, it was sort of a given. They knew first hand what it was like to be poor and reminded us of that, well, constantly.

Do you think I’m made of money?

Anyway, I don’t blame them, but it’s had an effect.

That said, I must clarify that I have been reaping the many benefits of Level 3 for years. Luck, a good marriage, and enough life experience has helped me appreciate how much that is worth.

Still…you always need more. That’s why there are three more tiers to scale.

For shorter durations, I have dwelt in the realm of the highest tier and it was glorious.

Self-actualization, the uppermost, the apex of the pyramid, is where bliss resides. During two memorable periods in my life, I savored it.

The first was in grad school. With studio space in which to make art, and unencumbered by a soul-sucking job, I worked long and hard and enjoyed every minute of it — even while suffering (i.e., a painting not working out and the misery that entails).

After grad school, I rented a small space on top of a clock store on Long Island and worked in it as often as I could. I produced a body of work that earned me a solo exhibition. Utter, complete happiness.

The second period was when I worked as a weekly columnist for a local newspaper in California. Driving around each day looking for stories and meeting fascinating, wonderful people who were doing what they loved to do. I was writing everyday and meeting deadlines. I just love deadlines. They’re great motivators.

Remember when Joseph Campbell said we should follow our bliss? And when Joni Mitchell said we have to get ourselves back to the garden? And when Marlo Thomas said we’re free to be you and me?

Abraham Maslow also said: “You will either step forward into growth or you will step back into safety.”

Safety, though safe, can be deadly. My New Year’s resolution, starting tomorrow, (because why wait until January 1st?) is to reclaim myself, rediscover my inner garden, reach out for bliss at the top of Maslow’s pyramid.

I’ve been there before. It’s not impossible.

 

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One Response to “Time to Self-Actualize”

  1. sameclothessincefriday Says:

    Fantastic. And timely. I’m working on clawing my way into the third tier. Maybe not clawing. Climbing. I’ve been dwelling in safety too long and it almost killed me.

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