Yesterday I watched a movie that touched me very deeply. It was about a girl who never went to school. She grew up in Victorian England and showed a talent for drawing at a young age. Unlike her mother, the girl’s father continuously encouraged her to draw and paint, which she did. Her name was Beatrix Potter.
By the time she reached her thirties, she was a top-selling author of children’s books. To this day she is one of the all-time best-selling children’s authors. Most her books feature farm animals with human looks and characteristics. For example, the main character in her most famous book “Peter Rabbit,” (a rabbit) wears a blue jacket with brass buttons.
Although Abraham Maslow wouldn’t publish his famous piece on self-actualization until close to the end of Potter’s life, it is clear that Potter did achieve actualization in her lifetime.
Maslow’s famous work is called “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”. In it, he describes a set of needs a person has to meet in order to successfully pursue self-actualization. Maslow’s theory says a person must first attend to physiological (basic needs for survival), safety, social, and esteem needs before seeking out one’s calling or the fulfillment of all you are capable of.
Potter was able to express her creative talent in a way that brought her joy and made her very rich. She was also well-loved and respected, happy in love and used her wealth and fame for nature conservation and activism. Potter’s life path perfectly illustrates the truth in Maslow’s theory.
Maslow was kind enough to draw a roadmap of sorts for the rest of us to move up the steps of the hierarchy and fulfill our greatest human potential. We can thank him for this.
However, his map is not enough. If it were as simple as these five steps, we would all be well on our way to actualization! By his estimation, it is actually less than 1% of us that fulfills our potential.
So where did the human race go wrong?
Since Potter and Maslow’s day, many sociologists, psychologists and authors have studied this question. In sharing what they learned, have expanded our understanding of the self-actualization process.
In his book, Drive, author Daniel Pink identifies the pursuit of mastery as the primary tenet of self-actualization. He also says that if all humans grew up without interference, we would all be pursuing self-actualization.
“Our basic nature is to be curious and self-directed. If we become inert and passive it’s because our operating system does not stimulate us properly,” Daniel Pink.
Pink’s phrase ‘operating system’ could refer to education, belief system, enculturation process or family life, or all of the above.
What was it about Miss Potter’s operating system, or, to put it simply, her environment, that allowed for the process to take place? She didn’t go to school, her mother criticized her, and her father, although he encouraged her, never dreamed her drawings of farm animals in human clothing would lead to a lucrative career.
None of these circumstances seem on the surface to support pursuing mastery. Either Miss Potter was born with the ‘Drive’ (as Pink calls it), or, something about her environment was stimulating her to attain excellence.
Three researchers, Carol Dweck, Daniel Pink and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, agree on the importance of creating a good environment (both internal and external) for reaching self-actualization. Below is a comprehensive list of their conditions necessary to attain mastery.
1-Figure out what you want to be really good at by looking into your own heart and noticing what it is that when you do it, you are joyful.
2-Be optimistic and realistic. Whether the goal of mastery of a certain activity/topic is attainable or not depends on whether or not you believe it is. You decide. You don’t need to be a master by tomorrow, you have the rest of your life. You don’t get to be a great basketball player by shooting 5 free throws, you get to be great by throwing 500.
3-Awaken your deep-seated curiosity. Without curiosity, you will not make the effort to spend the rest of your life engaged in an activity. Only engagement can produce mastery. Without curiosity, you will not commit to the engagement necessary to make a difference in your skill level.
4-Get accurate, useful feedback, and specific praise.
5-Find your tribe.
If you are still not sure what steps to take to get closer to self-actualization, hire a coach!* Oh, and look at some pictures of bunnies. They are so cute! 😉
*Dana’s My Coach is offering a 50% discount on coaching packages for a limited time. Contact Dana@DanasMyCoach.com now!