Renowned psychologist, Dr. Abraham Maslow, called the pinnacle of self-understanding and functioning “self-actualization.” He defined it as “a [hu]man’s desire for self-fulfillment.” He notes that an individual who achieves this realizes his or her full potential and can “become everything that one is capable of becoming . . .”
Angling to become self-actualized is a deeply worthwhile pursuit, but it’s also a complex process. It’s about finding that function that you were made to perform. Dr. Maslow described the self-actualized: “These highly evolved individuals assimilate their work into the identity into the self, i.e., work actually becomes. . . part of the individual’s definition of himself . . .then work tends to improve the people. This tends to improve the industry…”
Self-actualization is about knowing yourself and using that awareness to unlock your potential through professional efforts that both challenge you and at the same time fill you with certainty that you can deliver quality. It places hefty demands on your best skills thereby refining them daily.
You already possess the tools you need to become professionally self-actualized. Here’s how to get started:
Make peace with the quest
Dr. Maslow writes, “self-actualization is hard work, and it involves a calling to service from the external, day-to-day world, not only a yearning from within.”
Achieving this state requires both soul searching and professional diligence. A good first step is to identify which aspects of the jobs you’ve held make you feel most engaged. Which functions make you lose track of time and think “I can’t stop until I get this right?” Do you achieve this blissful, timelessness by writing code, creating recipes, talking with patients or refinishing crown moldings?
Think about which aspects of your work most speak to you. Imagine how your feelings about your professional life would improve if you could further explore and enact these functions.
Most of us don’t pull our right-fit job right off the rack. Our experiences inform our subsequence efforts, and hopefully, each role we assume hones more skills and brings us closer to our truth. Maslow writes: “Each person must place himself in the society. This is so because each person must know his own identity and find out his own identity, meaning his own talents, capabilities, skills, values, responsibilities, etc.”
If you’re in the throws of this reconnaissance, be patient with yourself. It’s a process, and it can be surprising when what you expect yourself to need meets the reality of what suits you. Working through the process requires clarity, bravery and flexibility.
Don’t fault yourself if you haven’t found your fit right away. This is part of your professional journey which will ultimately enable you to find your sweet spot.
Fortify your network
This is a golden age of networking. Identify mentors, teachers, colleagues, childhood friends, former roommates’ parents, etc. Anyone who is doing the work that you’ve identified as that which speaks to you most. Connect with them. Learn about where they work, how they got started, their roles and their employers.
While it can feel uncomfortable to go out on a limb and ask for a professional hand-up, part of your eagerness to consult them is because you’re assuming them to be a self-actualized professional. Dr. Maslow assures: “Self-actualized people rise above the dichotomy between selfishness and unselfishness…they get pleasure from the pleasure of other people.”
People who are happy in their professions tend to be willing to assist others in their quest for fit. Often they too have needed a hand up to find their way. Finding your right fit will require you to take some risks. Some won’t pan out. But your effort is an important part of your journey, and tenacity tends to bear fruit eventually.
Identify potential employers
Be purposeful in your efforts to identify employers that seem likely to suit your needs. Take your time. Decide what factors matter to you, both in terms of what positions look like they could be a good fit for you and what kind of company culture would best suit you. Examine Glassdoor reviews and see how current and former employees describe their experiences.
Then schedule an informational interview, where you can do face-to-face research and learn about the roles and the culture you want to pursue. Your goal is to identify a company and a position where you think that you can secure optimal fit.
Pursue your bliss
Dr. Maslow writes: “The only happy people I know are the ones who are working well at something they consider important.”
You deserve the joy, fulfillment, and productivity that comes from becoming professionally self-actualized; so purposefully pursue it.