Thursday, March 10, 2011

Heirarchy of Needs

In the wake of a recent post about Loving What You Do, I have enjoyed a few off-line discussions on the topic. What I found interesting about those who chose to engage me in conversation on this particular subject was that each of them did, in fact, love what they do. At the same time, we were all quick to acknowledge that too many people we know aren't passionate about their work, they merely see it as a means to pay for their consumption habits. Of this group, some continue to endure their current place of employment because they aren't capable of more, though most don't seem to think enough of themeselves to change their situation. One particular colleague was thoughtful enough to bring up Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, a model that has made great sense to me since it was introduced back in grade school. After refreshing myself with the specifics of each stage of growth in humans, it became clear to me that many of us never even consider self-actualization and for that reason rationalize contentment in living near the base of the pyramid.

Over the course of my life I have been motivated by each and every level of this hierarchy. Although, I must admit that my parents did a great job of ensuring I had no reason to give the base of the pyramid any meaningful consideration, and by joining the Navy right out of high school, the same remained true. Therefore, the base of my pyramid by all measures was "Love/Belonging." In my younger days as an adult, I'd be lying if I did not admit that "Love and Belonging" was a (if not the) driving motivation for my approach to both my personal and professional life. Fortunately, I was born to parents who truly made parenting a priority; enjoy friends, though small in number, large in heart; marry a true partner; and remain a part of an organization that conditions us to continually improve both ourselves and those around us. Clearly, my needs for love and belonging were more than met at a relatively early age and continue to be more than satisfied today.

Esteem was a level with which I struggled at times. Just as there is a huge difference between self-doubt and self-confidence, there is an important distinction between self-confidence and arrogance. Those who lack self-confidence don't believe they can, while their arrogant cousins feel the need to continually convince and remind everyone (including themselves) they can. Because I see arrogance as such a character flaw, I may be guilty of being overly self-deprecating in an effort to ensure others do not perceive me in such a way. Regardless, those who demonstrate a lack of self-esteem (either through self-doubt or arrogance) will continue to deny themselves of true happiness, as they remain stuck attempting to meet their needs for love and belonging.

Once any of us get to the point where we get a taste of self-actualization, we will find that it is addicting. Professionally speaking, I can remember the general timeframe (Fall of 2000) when I got a meaningful taste. Since that point, I have been looking for ways to both satisfy that addiction and introduce as many as I can to my drug of choice. In fact, a mentor of mine recently diagnosed me as being "Intoxicated by Possibility," a mindset I hope to maintain. I realize that not everyone is at the transition point between esteem and self-actualization, making it necessary to coach them through the pre-requisite levels of the hierarchy before enjoying the real fun.

We as both parents and leaders have a responsibility to nurture those around us from the base of the triangle to the apex, as we focus on our respective needs with the intent of placing all less self-actualization on auto-pilot. Many of us have been given a running start based on pure chance (good parents), while others have not. Some spend a lifetime stuck focused on addressing their physical needs and many others, though capable, will never make self-actualization a priority. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have tasted some self-actualization, let's give as many people as possible a taste of what it feels like to help others to reach their full potential just as we strive to reach ours. (I know that is why I get up in the morning.) For those who haven't reached that point, please consider making a change that will allow you to progress towards the apex with the help of like-minded people.

Focusing on our own personal/professional development is not selfish, it's a realization that life is too short not to be doing something that truly matters.


  1. I've been thinking about these types of things a lot, again, recently. It's normal part of life to climb the pyramind and then slide back down a bit as our lives' circumstances change, sometimes making needed change hard to come to terms with.

  2. I think you and Kevin both hinted at a great point for people going through different life stages, especially those that may be just starting to climb their personal/professional ladder...specifically that you may (should?) try to find satisfaction at every step of the journey.

    As a very junior butter bar, I asked my CO, "How do I set myself up for senior command like you?" I was expecting to get direction on a degree program, or be told what O-4 milestones I had to hit. His answer fit this discussion perfectly: "Be a great Ensign...then be a great LTJG [etc]." Finding satisfaction, no matter how big your sphere of influence, seems to set up successful people to continue widening those spheres.

  3. Well said, Matt! I will incorporate that message into the next time I brief the new Officers. I deliver a similar message using other analogies, but for that specific audience your message gets to the heart of the matter.