Reaching the Tip of the Hierarchy

I think most of us have heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from 1943[1], in which a five-tier model of human needs is depicted, beginning with Physiological needs, like food, water, warmth, and rest, and then moving up to Safety, Belongingness and Love, Esteem, and then with Self-Actualisation at the top. Needs at the bottom of the hierarchy must be fulfilled first, before one attends to those needs higher up.

Very interestingly, once a person meets the needs of a particular level, their motivation for that level decreases and they then seek to move up to the next level. Only in the highest level, of self-actualisation, does one’s motivation increase as their needs are met. Why do you think that is?

As a hamster in the corporate wheel for 17 years, I was vaguely aware of the hierarchy, in particular the bottom rungs, but had never really considered those more towards the tip of the pyramid, and what they actually meant – especially not the very woo-woo sounding “self-actualisation” (*cringe*).

But, level 5 is actually where it starts to get interesting. Self-actualisation refers to the realisation of a person’s full potential, self-fulfilment, seeking personal growth and experience. Maslow, in 1943, describes this as the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be.

As a successful and high-achieving woman, it could be that you have moved already through the lower levels, and are well into the 4th level, “Esteem”, which Maslow classified into 2 categories – 1. Esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery and independence) and 2. The desire for reputation or respect from others – that is, status and prestige[2]. I don’t know about you, but those “Bonus Envelopes” and “Promo Days” had a big influence on one’s ego!

Have you ever thought about how to achieve level 5 though? Have you thought about what this might look like for you? What is it that you actually wish to accomplish? And who do you ultimately want to be? I never had the time to sit down and think about this as an executive – I thought I was already living the career dream! By my choice and making! But finally, when I took a step back and got myself a coach, the first thing that popped up was – how on earth did I get here!? Sure, I was the one who took the chances, and put myself out there, and grasped all the opportunities, and fought for what I (thought I) wanted, but was the overall goal really mine? Is this what I wanted to do for the next 25 years?

Is there actually a bubbling passion for this topic within me that I just have to share with the world?

Sitting down with a certified coach and digging through this in a focused and methodical way can be quite literally transformative. It may be frustrating to realise that you’ve been kind of wasting your life! Or it might be empowering to realise that you’re exactly where you are meant to be. Either way, this realisation will help you focus your efforts on what fulfilment and joy looks like to you, and put you directly on the path to achieving exactly what you truly wish for. Sounds good to me!

[1] Pichère, P., & Cadiat, A.-C. (2015). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Lemaitre.

[2] McLeod, S. A. (2020, March 20). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Simply Psychology.

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