What if everything you’ve aspired towards as an actualized person turned out to be an incomplete life objective?
Everyone knows that Abraham Maslow created a hierarchy of human needs, with self-acutalization at the apex. Right?
But here’s the thing. Later in life he began to refine his thinking and eventually placed self-transcendence as a motivational step on top of self-actualization.
Think about it! Your personal positioning is no longer the pinnacle of your life’s journey. This is tantamount to discovering the world is not flat!!!
It has far reaching consequences for the meaning of life, as well as how you view altruism and wisdom.
Let’s take a step back. Way back to 1943 when Maslow crystallised his initial motivational theory using the following logic:
“…man lives by bread alone – when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled? At once other (and higher) needs emerge and these…dominate the organism…human needs are organised into a hierarchy of relative prepotency.”
He set out five motivational levels and provided a description of a person at each level:
5 Self-actualization – seeks fulfilment of personal potential.
4 Esteem needs – seeks esteem through recognition or achievement.
3 Belongingness and love needs – seeks affiliation with a group.
2 Safety needs – seeks security through order and law.
1 Physiological (survival needs) – seeks to obtain the basic necessities of life.
In the late 60’s, Maslow added a sixth motivational level:
6 Self-transcendence – seeks to further a cause beyond the self and to experience a communion beyond the boundaries of the self through a peak experience.
By ‘beyond the self’ he meant service to others, devotion to an ideal or a cause. He also included a potential desire to be united with that is perceived as transcendent or divine. A ‘peak experience’ may involve mystical experiences and experiences with nature, aesthetic experiences, sexual experiences or transpersonal experiences in which a person experiences a sense of identity that transcends or extends beyond the personal self.
He believed there was a special cognitive ability at work when transcendence was at play and he called this “Being-cognition”. He saw the “goal of identity (self-actualization) to be simultaneously an end-goal in itself, and also a transitional goal, a rite of passage, a step along the path to the transcendence of identity.”
While Maslow crystallised a linear logical progression from one need to the next, he was aware that some people were able to jump from any level to self-transcendence.
Importantly for our modern day self-obsessed society, he noted that people who are struggling to gain higher levels and are striving more for self-transcendence than self-actualisation are better off than those who have arrived at self-actualisation and, seeing this as the pinnacle of motivational needs, are resting on their laurels:
“The ones who are struggling and reaching upward really have a better prognosis than the ones who rest perfectly content at the self-actualisation level.”
Victor Frankl, the psychotherapist, transcends Maslow’s hierarchy. Interred in a Nazi concentration camp Frankly experienced severe deprivation of every type imaginable except one: he maintained his quest for meaning. In doing so he jumped across the entire motivational hierarchy and found the bliss and joy of self-transcendence. His bestselling book, Man’s Search for Meaning is a must read.
Why is this important for you?
Firstly, beware of blindly following constructs and paths created by others. They may be incomplete, they may be censored (the American Psychology Association allegedly tried to muzzle Maslow’s theory on self-transcendence). Chart your own path, feel what works for you and resonates within you, not an an ego level, but deep within amongst the quiet soulful spaces of your being.
Secondly, find ways to transcend your selfish needs and wants and focus on finding meaning by rising above your self. Look for ways to be of service to others. Set self-transcendent goals that enhance and amplify your purpose in life.
If you want to delve more into Maslow’s self-transcendence theme and especially how this plays out in business I recommend Chip Conley’s Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo From Maslow.
I grew up among sickness and death. My father was a veterinary surgeon, and I’d accompany him on farm visits and regularly visit his animal hospital.But I noticed that our relationship with death was different when it came to people. The adults didn’t talk much with us children about the passing of a family member. And when my sister was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of six, we were shunned by many former friends in the community.
Death is taboo, an obsessive morbidity that can’t be healthy for us—or so our culture seems to say. It’s OK to bring it up briefly when someone we know has died, and we recognize grieving, but not for too long. For a few weeks after a loved one dies, we’re offered condolences. We respond with a polite “Thanks,” and then the topic of conversation quickly moves on.
Let’s make impermanence our friend
But death is all around us. By denying aging, death, impermanence and sickness, we set ourselves up for a life of fear and reactivity, and a meanness of spirit. When we do break through the death barrier, we find that we relax into our lives and our place in the universe. We pull back from the acquisitive, busy, controlling mentality that formerly held death and our fear of it at bay. We feel a wave of relief wash over us, and we shift into a more honest and real relationship with ourselves and the people around us. We become more present, more aware and more compassionate.
In society, we often measure success by what we own and what we do. So, at a young age, we start to acquire assets: watches, cars, jewellery, property. We also allow our workplace to define us. And we struggle when all this stuff is taken away from us due to happenstance, ill health and ultimately, death. We grieve the loss, and rue how impermanent life is, but these feelings often come too late to give us much comfort.
We’d be far better off making impermanence our friend and death our mentor at a young age, by creating a daily practice of recognizing that nothing is forever. This daily practice could include the following three steps:
- Reflect on your health and remind yourself that it’s in our nature to become sick.
- Reflect on your life and remind yourself that it’s in our nature to die.
- Reflect on what you have and remind yourself that everything will eventually become separated from you.
Instead of being shocked when something departs our world, it’s best that we instead recognize the loss as natural and wish that person, relationship or thing well on its journey.
My father’s gift to me
My father was always strongly independent. And yet, as his cancer spread, he became weaker and more reliant on others. Through his realization that he wasn’t in control—and perhaps never had been, in his life—he was giving me the gift of a stronger perception of impermanence while allowing me to connect with and care for him more intimately.
When my father was in the final few weeks of his battle with cancer, he turned to me one morning and asked, “What do other people do?”
“Do you mean other people in your situation?”
“Does it really matter what they do? You need to dance to your own tune and not worry about what is a socially acceptable way to die. It’s your time. There’s no right or wrong way.”
It was hard hearing myself say that. This was my father. This was the toughest man I’d ever met.
“All I ask is that you keep breathing. Relax into this part of your journey and breathe. Don’t let social pressure or fear control your behaviour.”
Life is a series of unknown moments
While it’s useful to create a practice to help us deal with our own death, this is no guarantee of how we’ll face it when the time comes, nor will being prepared necessarily reduce the anguish for those around us or lead us to dying in a serene state.
Life is a series of unknown moments that are strung together by our minds to create a narrative. What’s important to remember is that each and every moment is not only unknown, but unknowable. Our death is but one such moment. Contemplate that, explore the unknown, become comfortable with infinite unknowables, and your fear of death and dying well will diminish. Replace your anxious mind with a curious mind.
Building a strong practice of meditation is particularly helpful for creating a heightened level of comfort with the unknown. In meditation, we release our biases and preconceptions and let every moment arrive abundantly unknown.
Death can teach us so much about living life to its fullest—without delay, without fear and without masks—so do your best to let yourself embrace it.
This post was first published on The Mindful Word in November 2017.
Everyone asked Harvey, “What’s next?”
He’d always wanted to be an entrepreneur and from the age of 30 he lived the full cycle dream over the next decade: he founded a company; he attracted on board the right people and customers that enabled him to grow the business; he accelerated the company’s market share by raising multiple funding rounds; he sold the company and stayed for a further year before leaving.
At 40 Harvey felt that he had established himself. What’s next is a period of rest: a time to recharge and reflect; an introspective contemplation on the journey, the gruel and the grit and a time to look forward.
When he thought about the journey of building his business certain words came to mind: exciting, frothy, turbulent, dark, viable path, rebuild.
He’d been through a lot: he’d focused exclusively on the business; joy was a distraction and whenever it appeared he quashed it with anxiety; the stress of keeping the business on track was all consuming; he’d deferred his personal well-being until the business was sold.
In his mind he held a construct: growing a business leads to fulfilment, but the journey is an unhappy one; building a business involves a lot of sacrifice; relationships are put to the test and can be destroyed.
He had started his business because of a passion he had and a desire to be an entrepreneur rather than working for someone else. Unfortunately, his entrepreneurial experience had dark moments.
The real question Harvey was grappling with now was how could he do things differently in his next entrepreneurial cycle? He wanted to have the fulfilment of growing another great, world-changing business without the unhappiness along the way.
The challenge for serial entrepreneurs is that their priorities change. When Harvey started his first company he had a girlfriend. He now had a wife and two young children. He wasn’t prepared to sacrifice them and he wanted to make sure this next phase was not about the company at all costs. Having made it once, he hoped to enter his next entrepreneurial journey in a calmer state of mind and not have the anxiety he’d felt when building the first business.
His 30s had been about establishing himself. His hope now was to reach 50 with his family not only intact, but also proud of him. Not achieving a win with his next company would be devastating, but it would be a tragedy to achieve business success without family success.
Harvey’s first business had taught him that the end – a business success – did not always justify the means – a dark and painful journey. He realized that the joy-fulfilment ratio didn’t stack up against the sacrifices and pain of the journey to get there.
What Harvey needs is a superpower to give himself the staying power and emotional strength to both reach for his goals of consequence and work like crazy to achieve those goals. This superpower will give him the resilience he needs: to stay off the rocks of despair and avoid physical or mental breakdown; and to ensure he arrives at his 50s with his family intact, proud of himself and in a state of optimized well-being.
Here’s the secret: Harvey needs the superpower of fusion: he must interfuse happiness and fulfilment; by integrating the two he will find joy in his purpose; he will find that by working on his soul purpose he can be happy during the journey to achieve this goal.
Harvey need only remind himself of the people he knows who appear successful, but who are deeply unhappy to know that fusion is the answer. These confused people have let factors external to their soul purpose determine their path and their egos have trapped them in a loop of unhappiness: they become so focused on holding onto the construct that is fulfilling their measure of success that they are willing to forego any actual, intrinsic fulfilment.
Harvey is grateful that he has had his eyes opened before he did too much harm to himself. Given how much he had focused on his company above all else, he could very well have ended up on the rocks of despair – his company could have failed, his family could have left him. Yet here he was, conscious of the superpower he needs and aware of the dangers of not achieving fusion.
Going forward, Harvey has much work to do to align himself.
Firstly, he will need to go through a process of self-inquiry to determine his goals of consequence.
Secondly, he will also need to set his internal altimeter so he can measure his soul integrity and ensure he stays true to this. Doing so will empower him to achieve personal fulfilment. It will also have the added benefit of creating a powerful magnetic attractor: other people will observe how aligned he is to his soul purpose and be attracted to work with him in achieving his goals of consequence.
You can read more about fusing happiness and fulfilment in my book Fierce Reinvention.
You want to step up, but something always seems to hold you back. Could it be the intensity you bring to achieving your goals? There are ways you can ratchet up your intensity level and achieve extraordinary greatness.
First off, the greater intensity that is required for extraordinary greatness is encapsulated in the mantra: “being fierce.”
In a nutshell, being fierce involves:
- coming from a place of truth,
- ultimate authenticity, and
- being totally present in all that we do and think.
Let’s not forget though that being fierce is not about smashing it, owning it or any other form of faux aggression.
It turns out that consciously seeking and saying the truth involves knowing and working on our weaknesses. Constantly improving and stretching ourselves and our teams is a key element of being fierce and making the shift to extraordinary greatness.
Here’s the secret: extraordinarily great leaders are fierce with the truth. They never let a good story get in the way of telling it as it is. For example, if their business, venture or project is slipping on a deadline they don’t cover this up to the board, investors, or stakeholders. They speak plainly and this empowers their people to do the same. The result is a much more aligned organization that can rally around the problem areas and collectively make that deadline.
And get this: authenticity is Intertwined with fierce truth. We’ve all seen this situation play out: someone in a power role is disingenuous and manipulative with the truth. They may end up getting what they want in the short term, but along the way they lose followers. Inauthentic behaviour is deeply offensive and as humans we disassociate ourselves from it.
The fact is that when we are totally present we are more likely to both be more truthful and to appear more authentic. Again, we’ve all seen this situation play out: you are standing in your manager’s office at work and they aren’t listening to what you are saying. They could be thinking about something important to the business, like achieving the quarter’s looming targets, but you feel that you are being disrespected and made to feel insignificant. It is hard to remain engaged when your manager treats you this way.
But what if you flipped this situation around? Remember how you make your people feel by being fierce with yourself in their presence. Giving them your undivided attention, asking them how they are doing, and watching the beam on their face when they realise that you care about them, as people.
Discover more in my new book, Fierce Reinvention: A Guide to Harnessing Your Superpowers for Entrepreneurial and Leadership Success ($11.99 digital, 15.99 print (USD), October 2017) is available from Amazon.
Form a pathway to journey on and do extraordinary things.
Hey, it’s Rand,
Over the last 30 days, I’ve provided you with the mindset and tools to kickstart your journey of reinventing yourself.
I encourage you to build on this knowledge base and create your own fierce practice.
Exactly how fierce you are, and how much of a reinvention you undertake depends entirely on you
Will you be fierce?
Will you be fiercer?
Will you be your fiercest self?
The intensity level you choose comes from a place deep inside you: it comes from a place of truth; a place of ultimate authenticity; and a place where you are totally present in all that you do and think.
Being fierce is not about smashing it, owning it or any other form of faux aggression.
There is no ferocity in being fierce only truth.
You should consciously seek and say the truth; you should work on and know your weaknesses; and you should constantly improve and stretch yourself so that you can make the shift to extraordinary greatness.
You don’t need anyone’s permission to make this shift, but there are pathways that can ease your way think of these pathways as being signposted by breadcrumbs, or morsels of permission.
These are the small parts of possible that appear in different places; these are the small parts of possible which appear at different times; and they can be easily missed.
You need to be hyper-aware and mindful of them. You need to assemble them like a puzzle, so that, like magic, these seemingly disparate pieces form a pathway on which you can journey and do extraordinary things.
Making the shift to extraordinary involves granting ourselves and others the permission to shift from doing things in a linear, constrained way.
It involves approaching apparent dead ends with this mentality and the results will be the opening up of new paths of possibility.
I wish you well on your journey of reinvention, and I extend to you an open invitation to engage with me. Keep me up to date on how your life changes and on the incredible things that happen to you as your progress your practice of being fierce.
The good news is that meditation can benefit us in three ways:
- It can treat depression and reduce stress,
- It can raise our happiness set point, and
- It can help make us a better leader.
I touch on meditation, mindfulness and the power of living in the now in my new book Fierce Reinvention, which also includes a guided meditation exercise so that you can feel this power first hand.
Think of meditation as the process of substituting your discursive mind with another object of attention, such as your breath, a chant or a sound. It’s that simple.
But beware, meditation is not a form of self-help in who to become or how to be.
Here’s the kicker: meditation is a path of fierceness, reinvention, and wisdom; it is a path to help us discover who we truly are, not who we are expected to be because of some internal or external agenda.
What’s the magic formula?
Meditation requires us to be fierce, because it can be anything but peaceful. In meditation we don’t shut out anything that comes up no matter how uncomfortable we may feel with an emotion, memory, or thought that arrives while we are in this state.
When we meditate we let go of the barriers and walls we have built around us; we stop grasping for things we want and guarding against things we don’t want.
Amazingly, when this happens we come to realize how vulnerable we are; we see vulnerability all around us. And this foundational insight increases our propensity for compassion. And it gets even better because compassion is a gateway to becoming a better leader.
Discover more about meditation, mindfulness and the power of living in the now in my new book, Fierce Reinvention: A Guide to Harnessing Your Superpowers for Entrepreneurial and Leadership Success ($11.99 digital, $15.99 print (USD), October 2017), which is available from Amazon.
Empower yourself by creating a space between action and emotion.
Meditation is a powerful way of forming a different relationship to things you are feeling or experiencing.
At first this changed relationship will be true only during meditation, but over time you can extend and expand this relationship into your everyday life.
think of a recent feeling of irritation you had for somebody or something.
What is your relationship to that feeling?
Are you stuck with that feeling?
Is it replaying over and over in your mind?
This constant replay is a form of reinforcement. Neuroplasticity works both ways: delivering either positive or negative change to your brain’s neural structure and function.
Can you step back from that feeling?
Start by recognising it, and then deconstruct it into its various elements.
Can you now start to change your thinking about that feeling?
Hold back your initial troubled reaction to it and replace it with a sense of calm, replace it with a sense of spaciousness.
Does this create a space between the act of doing or not doing and your feeling toward it?
Does it help you separate out the action and the emotion it initially gave rise to?
Your aim is to reach a point where you no longer reinforce the negative and instead you link that difficult feeling with the deep well of open, untroubled awareness that exists within yourself,
This leads to a relaxation of the need to react to that negative feeling and immediately disempowers that feeling.
You will find yourself less controlled by such feelings. You’ll find yourself less in fear of being in situations that may give rise to them and therefore less likely to avoid such circumstances.
This is at the heart of being fierce.
When you are more relaxed overall you find yourself being less fatigued, you find yourself being more productive, you find yourself being more emotionally intelligent and you find yourself making more strategic decisions.
This is at the heart of being a better leader.
Understanding that you can change your brain through your mind you are empowered to transform your life.