When you wake up in the morning, do you immediately believe this is going to be a rewarding day? Do you look forward to what’s ahead and know you will be able to feel good, regardless of what transpires throughout the day?
This would be the ultimate goal it seems, to have a life that flows easily from day to day, and one in which you are able to feel a sense of purpose no matter what occurs. Yet for most people, this isn’t the case. There always is a sense of struggle for many, searching for something to give them hope, looking for happiness in things that can be acquired, basing how they feel upon external circumstances, or any other number of similar factors. In other words, a sense of self-fulfillment is in short supply and often tied to a state of happiness, related to circumstances and fluctuates frequently.
I’ve thought quite a lot about self-fulfillment as I have a milestone birthday coming up this year, and I know these types of birthdays can prompt reflection. I think back to the difference between the milestones, starting with the difference between my 20s and 30s. The focus was on career development and growth. As time has progressed, I’ve evolved more into a desire to be involved in work which paves the way for self-actualization for me. As an educator, I find this every day when I’m working with learners, even those who challenge me, as I’m having to continually learn and grow myself.
Then I began to think about finding self-fulfillment when working in less-than-desirable conditions. Consider the person who works a demanding job, with long hours, rarely receiving recognition or acknowledgment for their hard work. Does this sound familiar to you? Is the type of work itself enough to create a sense of fulfillment, despite the conditions? What I have come to conclude, through time and experience, is this: If you take responsibility for the development of your own self-actualization, and you base it on your own achievements, you will always find contentment in your life. I’ll share some strategies with you that I have learned along the way.
What is Self-Actualization? Does it Matter?
I’ve mentioned the concept of self-actualization as it has become important in my life and at my age. Now if you are younger, this may not be as important to you yet. If you are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it is the highest level, the attainment of your true potential. This is after you have met all other needs, including your self-esteem needs, which are related to status and recognition. I know of many people who are in their 50s and 60s who still are pursuing their self-esteem needs, which means they are still seeking status and recognition in their careers.
Typically, actualization occurs later in life, though there are no set rules and you can begin to experience it at any age. You will know you are in the process of seeking self-fulfillment when the idea of chasing the next big promotion or job title is no longer enough to make you happy and instead, you want to do something each day that connects with you from the inside. I have read many stories of people who have changed careers later in life, to pursue something they have “always thought of doing” and were “too afraid to do”. You likely have heard that as well.
Often when we start our careers, we don’t always know what it is we want to do. It’s a significant transition to go from high school to adulthood, and the expectation is that you’ll go to college and/or know what type of career to pursue. I started a career to pay bills and it evolved over time based on what I naturally enjoyed doing. I had another career transition in my 40s, from the corporate world to higher education, and it was then I really found what I believed to be my vocation. I have worked like many online educators, who spend long days, nights, and weekends helping learners, and yet, I find such immense satisfaction from my career I cannot imagine doing anything else. This is what it means to find and live self-actualization. You do the work that you love and love the work that you do.
How to Develop a Self-Fulfillment Attitude
It seems that many people are awaiting for circumstances to get better, or for the right job to come along before they can ever find and know true happiness in their career. If this is you, it is possible you might be waiting for quite some time, as there is no predicting when circumstances or situations will ever be perfect enough for you to feel good. More importantly, if you tie your personal happiness and well-being to external events or conditions, you are certainly setting yourself up for disappointment. Why? There are certain to be people who are going to let you down. There are going to be managers who will recognize you for your hard work, and others who only contact you when you have done something wrong. More importantly, there is never going to be a perfect job or set of working conditions.
What this means is that you must base your needs, at least the most important of all needs, on that which you can control. If you go back to the definition of self-actualization within Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you’ll find it involves the realization of your talents, abilities, and skills. More importantly, it is the awakening of your true potential. Now you may be thinking that this is in fact dependent upon the conditions of your job or external environment, and it can be if you allow it. But if you want to experience the full essence of your self-awakening, it is time to turn within. You make a transition from dependence on anyone else to only yourself. Perhaps these strategies will assist you.
Self-Reflection for Self-Awakening
If you are feeling a need for something more than advancement in your career, waiting to be recognized, or any other form of external validation, there is already something going on within you that is indicating a transition is in place. Now is the time to begin self-reflection, and you can accomplish this deliberately through a few minutes at a time, rather than viewing it as a long process of lengthy meditation periods. This can be as simple as using a journal, typing notes into a Word document, or any other method you can think of to put your thoughts down as a record.
Why is this important? During a time of transition, there are many thoughts available that you may want to examine, and there are some you may want to question, challenge, or discard. Putting those thoughts down on paper, in some format, will help you begin to address them. You do not have to be too concerned about what it all means, rather you want to allow the process of self-awakening to begin. This can allow you to find out what is driving you now, and perhaps, what is motivating the desire for change at this time. You will likely discover something new about yourself in the process.
Self-Awareness to Create Self-Dependence
After you have begun the process of initiating self-awareness, you can now see a clearer picture of who you are and who you want to become. It will now become much easier for you to determine if this next phase of your life, and possibly your career, will involve a shift away from self-esteem needs to self-actualization needs. If this is the case, then you can also start to make a shift from thinking about the conditions and people who need to do things, say things, or create situations to make you feel happy and fulfilled, to considering how you can create your own sense of fulfillment.
This means you are now making a shift to self-dependence for your happiness. At this point you are able to think about the activities you are involved in each week, or the duties and tasks you would like to be involved in, that can bring you the most fulfillment. This may not be a quick or easy process either, especially if you have not thought about your job, life, or daily activities from this perspective. But when you have decided you want to experience a sense of meaning in your life, now is the time to look at what you are doing each week and from that list determine what is most satisfying. This is not to state you can or will make immediate changes; however, you can begin to get to know more about yourself and who you are becoming.
Self-Development to Nurture Self-Actualization
The process of awakening to self-actualization is transformational in that you are now determining what matters most for you, in terms of creating value for your personal and/or professional life. For many people, this occurs over time and as a product of age. But once it occurs, you can begin to think in broader terms than just switching jobs. Now you can examine fully those aspects of your week that bring you contentment, and compare it to what you’ve been thinking about for your life. Perhaps your transition into a new self-awareness will involve simple steps, such as a new hobby to complement your life, or it will lead you to a career change.
More than likely, you may already have naturally evolved like I did and are working in a career you enjoy. If so, you may want to find other means of expanding upon your talents and skills. I find writing for me is another form of satisfaction, as I’m sharing with others and connecting with a broader audience. The opportunity to share what I’ve learned, with those who are highly experienced and educated, is always an exciting prospect. This also leads to the prospect of opening up an intellectual dialogue as well. Perhaps you can find an extension of your talents as well when you continue your self-development in the pursuit of your purpose. Whatever it may be, it is certain to help you find purpose and meaning.
A Job is More than a Job When You Make It Meaningful
When you have finally gone through a process of transformation and reached the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you will find yourself living life in a renewed manner. This is not to state you are going to live your life without challenges, or that every job you are employed with will be perfect. But what it does mean is that you can have the best job and find meaning, and you may also have the most demanding job with the toughest of circumstances, and still find your purpose in the work you perform. It isn’t the job itself that is meaningful, it is the work you do and the disposition about the work you hold which determines how you connect to it.
If you are in a job and decide there is something there that brings you fulfillment, the external circumstances of that job will become much more manageable. There may still be days that are challenging to overcome, and yet, you will still find your purpose through it all because you have awakened to the knowledge you are seeking in a life of purpose. How you approach the tasks you perform will be much different, and even the most mundane of tasks may now have new meanings. Even if you have to find a new job or career, the realization you are now working towards a new future, one you are in control of now, will give you hope. When you decide to look for meaning within your life or career and base it upon your needs rather than conditions, then you will find greater purpose, happiness, and a long-term fulfillment.
Dr. Bruce A. Johnson is an inspirational author, writer, and educator.