At the end of December, I will cross the halfway point on the march toward the end of my fourth decade. Over these nearly 40 years I've been blessed to accumulate many significant friendships, experiences, learnings, and accomplishments as well as some spectacular failures. At this mid-way point, I have been doing a considerable amount of reflecting on the incline phase of my life before I initiate the inevitable, long, slow decline that begins around the 40 year watermark. No matter what I do, if I live another 40 years I am sure to be a tremendously different individual at the end of that era - so I want to take stock of what is important moving forward.
The question that keeps recurring for me these days is have I become the best version of myself? In order to answer such a heavy inquiry, I've begun to break down my life into chunks to examine my person, my purpose, and my potential. By delving into these three areas I can assess progress and set objectives to potentialize existing
strengths and manage weaknesses.
It was Plato who asked, "…why should we not calmly and patiently review our own thoughts, and thoroughly examine and see what these appearances in us really are?"
My person: How to evaluate yourself is an important consideration. I am a big fan of Maslow's hierarchy of needs and turn to it time and time again to assess what is motivating me at a given moment. For me, living a life is quite similar to climbing a mountain and Maslow's model provides the stages of the climb - with Self-Actualization as the summit of being where your full potential is realized.
The self-inventory (and climb) starts on the lower levels of the pyramid. Fortunately, my basic needs are definitely being met and most of my psychological needs are also satisfied. There are some issues on the level of esteem, however. As someone who sets a high bar for myself, I don't always feel like I have accomplished everything I could have by this point and this tension simultaneously drives me forward and holds me back from living a more contented life. I have assessed that being in the moment and practicing gratitude and appreciation for life's daily accomplishments and wonders can fill in this gap so I can better fulfill my purpose.
My purpose: Mark Twain is attributed with the following powerful quote: "The two most important days in your life are the day you were born, and the day you find out why."
In my opinion, there is no more important mission for a human being than identifying purpose. Purpose may take many different forms from procreation and parenting to professional pursuits to creative endeavors to spiritual mastery. Defining one's purpose, however, becomes much easier once you understand and "claim" your unique talents. Talents are defined by the Gallup organization as naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.
I've already detailed my journey to develop my own talents in a previous blog, but in essence, transforming talent into strength requires effort (application + skills + knowledge) that must be exerted until you exhibit consistent, near-perfect performance in an activity you love doing. Think about this statement for a moment and let's unpack the three key concepts of strength: consistency, near-perfection, and love.
Consistency is steady and sure - just like your handwriting. You don't have to think about writing at this point, you just do it.
Near-perfection is a highly obvious - just like your favorite recipe. You have calibrated all the ingredients in such a way that wonderful flavors are all-but-guaranteed.
Love is re-energizing - just like your favorite person. You leave each interaction more full than you began and can't wait to be with that old friend again.
The pursuit of strength therefore enables the achievement of purpose. Interestingly, both pursuits (strength and purpose) involve falling in love with something or someone. It is love that opens the gateway to the fulfillment of your true potential because you just can't get enough of that feeling.
Without love there can be no strength or purpose. Without knowledge of self, there is no potential to be fulfilled.
So to summarize my progress against my purpose - I know who I am, I know what makes me unique and strong, and I know what I love doing and for whom I love doing it. My continual challenge is understanding that this has to be enough or else achievement of my potential will fall short.
My potential: Just as not everyone reaches the summit of Everest in their lifetime, not everyone truly fulfills their potential. Paulo Coelho describes this as "The Personal Legend" which is a really interesting oxymoron.
How can achievement of potential be both deeply personal and yet the stuff of legend at the same time?
Maybe it's because to reach self-actualization, you have to dig to the deepest level of the self and only through this depth of excavation can you find the inner brilliance to then shine on the world in legendary fashion.
When he was 12 years old, Mohammad Ali (born Cassius Clay) declared he would be The World Heavy Weight Champion of boxing by the age of 22. Not only did he achieve this objective right on time, but along the journey he discovered his talents, turned them into strengths, found purpose, and then over delivered on his potential not just by winning the heavyweight title 3 times but more so by defending his beliefs and then morphing into a lifelong defender of the weak and meek. This is what self-actualization looks like and that's why it is a worthy pursuit. If we all could be brave enough to live life the way this great human did then truly the world would be a better place.
From mind-development.eu here are a list of other attributes of self-actualizing persons:
They are realistically oriented and not threatened by the unknown. They have a superior ability to reason and to see the truth.
They perceive and understand human nature. They accept themselves, other people, circumstances and the natural world for what they are. They able to learn from anyone and are friendly with anyone, with no regard to stereotypes.
They are emotionally intelligent and feel no need for crippling guilt or shame. They tend to be serene, characterized by a lack of worry. They are self starters, are responsible for themselves, and own their behavior. Work becomes play and desires are in excellent accord with reason.
They are unflappable and retain dignity amid confusion and personal misfortune, all the while remaining objective.
They have a great deal of spontaneity and have no unnecessary inhibitions.
The self-actualized person can be alone and not be lonely.
They are honest and seek justice for all.
They are autonomous and independent. Thoughts and impulses are unhampered by convention. Their ethics are autonomous and they determine their own inner moral standards.
They have a fresh rather than stereotyped appreciation of people and appreciate the best aspects in all things. However they resist conformity to the culture. They determine their own behavior and have their own views on people and events.
Moment to moment living for them is exciting and often exhilarating as they live their life to the full. Vibrant moments are frequent and peak experiences not unusual. Peak experiences are moments when one sees clearly what before was hidden or obscured.
They seek wholeness; they are able to merge opposing views into a third, higher synthesis, as though the two have united; therefore, opposite forces are no longer felt as conflict. Self-actualizing people retain their childlike qualities and yet have a far-seeing wisdom.
Their intimate relationships with specially loved people tend to be profound, sincere and long-lasting, rather than superficial.
Their sense of humor is philosophical rather than hostile. They can laugh at themselves but never make jokes that hurt others.
Self-actualizing people enjoy an inborn uniqueness that carries over into everything they do. Their creativity is original, inventive, uninhibited and - since they see the real and true more easily - valuable.
Self-actualizing individuals are motivated to continual growth. They are also aware of their primary goals in life and are devoted to fulfilling them, both for their own benefit and as service to others.
Assessing myself against this list, I know that the summit is like an oasis in the desert - it appears closer than it actually is in reality. Still, I now know that what truly matters is what I do today and each day to live a self-actualized life where my potential is fully realized. Age has nothing to do with it...
I hope you enjoyed this rather long article and I hope you are also working to become your best self! Please share this article with your network. Would love to discuss your journey in the comments section!