Self-fulfillment throughout this article will refer to the feeling that you get when you have not only found out your potential but reached that potential. This article came about from many sporadic thoughts I decided to write down at 5:30am on my commute to the gym. I wholeheartedly hope that these ideas are of value to you.
Most people want to leave the world confident that they have made some sort of change. Can the change we make ever be enough to give us a feeling of true self-fulfillment? This is a question some spend their lives trying to answer. If I had to give it a shot, I’d say yes, we can be satisfied with the change we make in the world. But most of the time not because of the scale of our contribution but because in a way, we have learned to conform to the idea that our circumstances determine our potential. To an extent, this can be true but at the same time, this mentality is often used as an excuse to not make an even bigger contribution and in turn some never find their true potential.
Let’s look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs below, which states that people are motivated to fulfill certain human needs and that some needs take precedence over others[i]. The hierarchy states that one must first satisfy the lower levels in the pyramid before progressing on to meet higher level growth needs. When each level is met, our activities become habitually directed to meeting the next set of needs.
The biggest link to true self-fulfillment lies within using our values as the filter by which we make our decisions, this idea in a way goes along with Maslow’s hierarchy above. The first two levels refer to having sufficient physiological needs (food and water) as well safety needs (feeling secure).
Once the first two levels have been fulfilled, then upward progression is largely determined by the actions we take on a daily basis. The speed at which we move up the hierarchy is based on whether we know what our values are and whether we use said values as the filter by which we make our decisions. For example, if my top values are faith, family, knowledge, integrity and accountability and on a daily I make decisions that go against these values, I am living life in misalignment to my values. The best way to live a frustrating life is to live one in misalignment to the values we say we have.
One of the biggest reasons we live in misalignment comes from the fact that many of us, including myself, act on our feelings. The problem with this is that if we act on our feelings, it is very likely that our actions are not aligned to our values because the feelings we have prior to making value-based decisions, don’t feel good in the moment. Yet what is interesting is that after we have decided to act on our values, we automatically feel better. For example, it never feels good to wake up at 5:30am and go to the gym, I would much rather stay in bed. But every single time I have decided to stay in bed, I have felt worse after the fact. The opposite holds true every time I have been accountable to myself and gone to the gym despite not feeling like doing so. Our view of the world is largely determined by the way we condition ourselves to respond to the circumstances we face. We cannot control the circumstances we face but we can always control how we respond to them.
The thoughts we have often dictate the way we act and react, to anything and anyone. For example, if I have a preconceived notion that I won’t like someone, I most likely won’t like them not only because of my predetermined impression, but because chances are that they won’t like me either given the negative emotions I might have unconsciously communicated.
A friend once taught me that if you want someone to feel a certain way, you need to feel that way first. So, if you want someone to feel comfortable with you, show them you’re comfortable with them. The point I want to communicate is the importance of openness and curiosity. If our thoughts come from an open and curious mindset, our actions will too. This is important because in the long run, these small and seemingly insignificant thoughts become our destiny. Gandhi once said, “Your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny”. Gandhi’s words relate to true self-fulfillment because they ultimately dictate not only how we behave and treat others but how others treat us.
How others treat us is important and one way to prove it is to look at the third pillar in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which states that we all seek that feeling of belonging and appreciation. Curiosity ties into the equation because I believe genuine curiosity in others is one of the best ways to cultivate intimate relationships and thereby complete the third pillar in Maslow’s hierarchy to reach the fourth level. This then leads on to the question:
Are other people’s problems really just other people’s problems?
At first glance, the obvious answer is yes. But the more I thought about the question, the more I realized the answer is no, other people’s troubles should indeed be our troubles if our goal is to achieve true self-fulfillment. Let me further explain. There are many emotions and feelings that we get so often that eventually, we become desensitized to them. This desensitizing of emotions can be one of the biggest obstacles to reaching true self-fulfillment. Because while we are desensitized to certain feelings, our subconscious is still aware of their existence. For example, let’s say that on one’s commute to work one passes by the same homeless person every day. You probably felt sympathy for him the first few times you passed by him. But over time, the sympathy one felt at the beginning might start wearing off to the point where one no longer feels any emotion whenever one passes by him.
This scenario can be a problem because this lack of sympathy leads to a lack of empathy and therefore a definite lack of action towards helping the other person. If this vice keeps on repeating itself in other parts of one’s life, one is slowly developing a habit to care for no one but oneself. To an extent, this isn’t exactly our fault because people don’t choose to become desensitized to anything, it is a product of human nature. However, acknowledging our imperfection and in turn taking action to digress from these vices is a great way to mediate the potential damage they can inflict in our lives.
In conclusion, the habits one cultivates can be both good and bad. We can cultivate good habits by developing a sense of curiosity and openness’s towards others. As a result, over time these habits eventually turn into the virtue of empathy. It is crucial to know what your values are, but it is even more important to use your values as a filter through which you make your decisions. In life it is easy to say “yes” but very hard to say “no”. I believe one cannot live life in alignment to one’s values unless one learns how to say “no”. After all living life in misalignment with your values is the best way to live a frustrating life. One of the beautiful parts about life is that one gets to choose the lives to positively impact, which then leads on to the question – if one’s goal is true self fulfilment; can one achieve it by merely positively impacting the lives of those already closest to you or must one approach the goal with an unbiased perspective?
If there’s one thing I would take away from this article it would be this:
The small decisions we make day in and day out ultimately shape our virtues and therefore dictate who we are, who we become, how others perceive us and finally, our legacy.
Let’s be Curious and Let’s be Open