Over the past few weeks, I’ve been commenting on the Who, Why and What we are.

I’ve also covered our values and how we can get clear about our Visions and set sail towards them in the shape of our Missions.

I want to invite you to look at how we might approach our quest to lead successful, fulfilled lives.

If you have been around the self-improvement/personal development space for any length of time, I could forgive you for thinking Self-actualisation was the universal goal for all of man/woman kind.

Self-actualisation is a term that was first introduced by neuropsychiatrist Kurt Goldstein. The American psychologist, Abraham Maslow adopted it, in his famous hierarchy of needs theory. According to Maslow, self-actualisation refers to the realisation of one’s full potential, personal growth and fulfilment. Many, if not most teachers in personal development have used the concept.

Maslow’s theory was based on his observation of people who he considered being psychologically rounded and healthy, including often quoted famous figures such as Albert Einstein. Maslow believed these individuals could reach self-actualisation by fulfilling their basic needs, and then focusing on higher needs.

A criticism of Maslow’s theory is that it places too much emphasis on individualism and the pursuit of personal fulfilment at the expense of social responsibility and the needs of others. For example, a person who solely focusses on achieving their own personal growth and fulfilment may be less likely to engage in the service of others.

I believe the biggest challenge is for individuals who, having set high expectations of themselves in the pursuit of self-actualisation, can sometimes lead to feelings of guilt, shame, or disappointment if they don’t achieve those aspirations when others do. A common complaint by attendees of Personal Development seminars is they get all fired up and motivated, only for the enthusiasm to drain away after the event.

If a person sets high expectations for themselves and then cannot achieve their goals, they may experience negative emotions that can be detrimental to their overall well-being. This can create a paradox in which the pursuit of self-actualisation can hinder personal growth and fulfilment.

In addition, the concept of self-actualisation is often associated with an individualistic approach to personal development, which places the burden of self-improvement solely on the individual, and not a community. It can sometimes overlook the importance of relationships and social connections in promoting well-being and personal fulfilment.

While self-actualisation is a very Western approach with an emphasis on our conscious self, Self-realisation which has roots in Eastern philosophy with a focus on our inner world, Spirituality and inner peace, has become increasingly popular.

Pursuits such as Mindfulness, meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong to name a few are all seen as aids to well-being. I wonder as we, as a species, wrestle with the impact our lifestyles have had on the planet, its ecology and inhabitants, are more willing to look inward rather than outward for solutions. 

In conclusion, Goldstein’s concept of self-actualisation which led to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory is widely popularised in the field of personal development. However, self-actualisation is not always suitable for everyone. It can place too much emphasis on individualism in the quest for personal fulfilment, and it can create unrealistic expectations that may lead to negative emotions.

So, while self-actualisation can be a valuable concept for many, it is important to recognise many of us seek a more holistic approach to personal development that considers our inner lives, and Who, Why and What we are here for.

We face new challenges so perhaps we should be open to new ways of meeting them in our pursuit of happiness and success?