I come across this image of Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs quite a bit in my marketing work. In fact, I think one of the reasons I decided to get out of agency life and corporate marketing was that it got used so much by planners and marketers to manipulate people into thinking their products and services would deliver a better quality of life for people. I never believed that increased consumption, or buying stuff you don't need, could lead to self-actualisation, in reality it's usually the opposite. But when you work for people, you often have to do whatever it takes to create success, even if you don't necessarily agree with the methods or the outcome.
I'm not going to write a thesis on this, but looking at the pyramid again today it struck me that for most people, my self included, it's pretty obvious why it's so hard to achieve self actualisation and real happiness in life.
“What a man can be, he must be”. According to Maslow this forms the basis of the perceived need for self-actualization. But having a job often gets in the way of this. Right now I want to do a hundred things that I can't do because having a job gets in the way, takes a large chunk of my time, and isn't aligned with what I really want to achieve in life. For some lucky people, and to some extent myself included, a job can provide some of the higher order needs, but most jobs will not truly lead to self actualisation (if yours does then awesome, please tell us more about it).
But having a job provides the money to support physiological needs such as food and water, and safety like having paying the mortgage. It also is a major source of friendship and for most people it's the main way they derive their esteem needs.
And there lies the problem. To move up the needs hierarchy you have to be prepared to risk the base of the pyramid. You have to be prepared to sacrifice some of your current base needs or find alternative ways to fulfill them. It's a risk most people don't want to take and one I personally have put off way too long. Even with big dreams and goals, I'd formed a risk aversion blockage that I found very hard to get through.
Luckily, I've recently been inspired by people who've taken a chance, made sacrifices and eventually found higher satisfaction in life. People like Tony Hsieh, Tim Ferriss, Chris Guillebeau, but also some close friends who are amazing in their own way.
If you are trying to make this jump then surround yourself by positive inspirational people. Not just people who are successful in business terms, but people who are genuinely happy. These people exist everywhere and often in places you'd never think to look. You probably already know at least one person like this. Go off and find one today and get to know what makes them happy.
See if you can take their wisdom and apply it to your own situation. It might be just what you need to inspire you to push on through any risk aversion blocks and get further up the pyramid without working even harder or buying more stuff.