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Conscious Desire For Personal Growth

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Abraham Maslow believed that people are not just motivated by their needs but also “by a conscious desire for personal growth” (Rathus, 2016). This “self-initiated striving to become what we are capable of being” is called self-actualization. Maslow believed our desire to be the best that we can be is as important to us as our need for food, shelter, and other basic needs. Self-actualization inspires us to keep going, keep pushing toward a goal, keep becoming better people for our own fulfillment in life. Simply striving for self-actualization gives a person purpose and motivation. How does one work toward becoming all that he can be? Based on section 10-4a in Psych by Spencer A. Rathus, one must take risks to find the best version of himself and attain self-actualization.

Some people have a harder time reaching self-actualization because they stay on the safe side, afraid of what could happen should they make a wrong move. Rathus says that these people “may find themselves slipping into monotony and mediocrity”. Self-actualization can look very different from one person to another. To quote Rathus, “Because people are unique, they must follow unique paths to self-actualization”. Some people devote their whole selves to their work, neglecting all else. Others find fulfilment in helping people or being a good parent or spouse. No matter what it looks like or how one gets there, self-actualization, or at least working toward it, is necessary in a person’s life.

How can one be his best self if he is hungry? How can one be his best self if he is in the middle of danger or lonely or has no confidence? According to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it is not possible. Before self-actualization can be met, other needs must come first. These include physiological needs, safety needs, love and belongingness, and esteem needs. Physiological needs are hunger, thirst, elimination, warmth, sleep, pain avoidance, and sexual release. Safety needs are housing, clothing, and crime (protection from environment). Love and belongingness are intimate relationships, social groups, and friends. Esteem needs are achievement, confidence, approval, recognition, prestige, and status.

Maslow says that only after all of these needs in the hierarchy have been met can one achieve self-actualization. Contentment may be possible without all of these, but contentment is not the same as full-potential. This hierarchy is not only about meeting self-actualization; it is also about answering the question “what now?” “Maslow believed we progress toward higher psychological needs once basic survival needs have been met”. Once one has met physiological, safety, love and belongingness, and esteem needs, what is left? Self-actualization is the next step to satisfy and fulfil oneself. Many people have not met self-actualization because they do not take risks, or their other needs have not been met. Taking risks takes courage, and few people are prepared for that.

Their fear of a bad outcome is greater than the possible benefits they foresee. People like to know the consequences and make decisions with minimal undesired results. Tried and true actions make people more comfortable, which is definitely a preference for most. In contrast, those who do take risks are usually considered irresponsible and sometimes a danger to themselves. Such people may be on the extreme side, but some risk is needed to find oneself and, therefore, reach one’s maximum self. According to Rathus, risk is part of forming one’s personality, which is the basis of who one is. On the other hand, some people do not have their basic needs satisfied. They may be lonely, in danger, or feel like failures, to name a few.

Such people as these cannot have reached their full potential. They feel like something is still missing and have not reached satisfaction in order to ask, “what next?” and go on to self-actualization. Taking risks and reaching satisfaction in basic needs is needed to advance to the best a person can be. I am one of those people who is afraid to take risks. I fear outcomes and even plan and get very anxious about outcomes I cannot control. Most of my life, most of my decisions are made based on what will keep me safe, either physically or emotionally. I choose what will keep me out of uncomfortable, stressful, and confrontational situations. I am not sure if I “feel [myself] slipping into monotony and mediocrity” (Rathus, 2016), but sometimes I do feel like I am doing the same things over again and not going anywhere.

For example, I recently had an opportunity to babysit for a family I did not know. Although I did not want to pass up the opportunity for a job and money for college, I became so anxious over the risks. I thought, “I do not know this woman or her kids, their ages, behaviors, likes and dislikes. I have never babysat before and have no idea what I am supposed to do. What if there is an emergency? – I do not know the Heimlich or CPR.” Because there was so much risk involved, I chose not to babysit and missed out on a possible opportunity to grow myself. The only times I take risks are when they are not big risks, or I have an idea of a good outcome (which makes it not a real risk). For instance, I took a risk by going on a trip to Washington D.C. with kids I did not know.

The reason I took this risk is because I had a lot of encouragement from my family, and I knew one of the chaperones. Because I had encouragement and people telling me it was a great opportunity and a safe bet, I was more comfortable and took the risk. This risk did have a payoff: I had a great time, met many people, became a little more outgoing, and won a scholarship. I learned that if I do take wise risks, the result will likely cause growth. Personally, I do not believe I have yet achieved self-actualization. I believe my lack of taking risks and the hierarchy of needs are the key factors. As I explained above, I stay on the safe side, and I believe this has caused me to lose out on becoming the best I am capable of being thus far. If I take risks, I would learn more about myself, my goals and dreams, and could reach some of them, toward my better self. Another reason I do not think I have reached self-actualization is because I have not met the other needs necessary to advance to the final level.

I think Maslow might be right about this system, or at least for some people. Because all my needs are not met, I do not feel like I can be my best self. I have my physiological needs and safety needs met, but I do not feel like my love and belongingness or esteem needs have been completely met. I have a great loving family, but I have very few close friends and no significant other. I am not upset about it and am not sure I am ready for it, but I believe I would feel closer to my best self if I had these gaps filled. Likewise, I do not have much confidence or status, so my esteem needs are not met. Again, I am not depressed about not having these accomplished; I just feel like I would feel better and happier were all of my needs met. Taking these things into account, I look forward to my future.

I believe I will meet self-actualization when I am older. I am one like I mentioned in the first paragraph that believes I will find fulfillment in being a good parent or spouse. When I am married and have kids, I will have the hierarchy of needs fulfilled. I will have reached love and belongingness because I will have a spouse and children. I can imagine myself being a wife and mother, taking care of the house and family. I will have met my esteem needs because of meeting friends at college and work. To get to this place, I will more than likely have to take some risks. The question is: even then, will I really be fulfilled? What if my husband turns out to be different from the person I thought I married? What if I have trouble raising my kids or have money problems?

What if I hate my job or do not make friends at college? In these cases, I do not believe I will be my best self. I can be content but not the best I am capable of being. However, simply working toward self-actualization will give me some sort of fulfillment. Some people may never reach self-actualization, but I hope I am one who will. In summary, self-actualization is striving to reach one’s full potential. Self-actualization is different for each person and can be attained only if one has fulfilled the basic hierarchy of needs that include physiological needs, safety needs, love and belongingness, and esteem needs. Then, the person can take the next step and reach for complete fulfilment.

In order to be the best one can be, one must take risks. Although many are afraid to take risks, there are opportunities for personal growth, which leads to one’s full potential. I experience, first hand, the dilemma between taking risks and staying on the safe side. Many times I get scared in the face of challenges or just a break from my “normal” and shy away from taking risks that could actually benefit me. I have learned that taking risks is indeed beneficial for life and improvement if they are wise and measured. I do not believe I have reached self-actualization because, despite my new knowledge of risks, I rarely take them, and I have not attained the levels of the hierarchy of needs that precede self-actualization. I hope to reach my full potential when I have a spouse, kids, and a job, but nothing is guaranteed. I may be content if not all turns out, but contentment is different from complete fulfillment. Who knows what amazing things can happen when one works toward and achieves self-actualization?

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