I am a huge fan of the thinking of Abraham Maslow. Not just because he was a University of Wisconsin psychology student like me. But because he did so much to help us all understand our pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of happiness is amongst the 3 greatest pursuits in life. (Along with Trivial Pursuit and Roscoe P. Coltrane’s Hot Pursuit! from The Dukes of Hazzard.)
Here’s a new Maslow quote I heard recently. To be clear, it is new to me. Not something he said recently. He hasn’t produced any new material since June 8th of 1970.
“If you deliberately plan to be less than you are capable of being, then I warn you that you’ll be deeply unhappy for the rest of your life.
-Abraham H. Maslow:
Plan to become all that you are capable of. The pursuit is more important than the achievement. Think big. Working to become a fully realized, best-possible version of yourself is the most rewarding life-long project. And it is the best way to finish with no regrets at the end of your days.
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The best food I ever tasted in my life was a Wendy’s triple cheeseburger at an Oasis overpass in Chicago. I had gone 24 hours without eating anything due to travel craziness. And in my time of need, nothing Wolfgang Puck, David Chang or Jesus’s personal chef could have whipped up would have tasted better to me than Dave Thomas’s triple wonder did that day.
You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Till It’s Gone.
Deprivation changes everything. It changes priorities at work and at home. It makes the least valued most valued. But the truth is, the value is always there. We simply miss it. We factor in the basics as constants in our science, math and social equations.
Instead of the basics, we get to focus on the less important things. Sports, movies, concerts, Happy Hour, Kardashians. These are all luxuries. Abraham Maslow knew it. When he created his Hierarchy Of Needs he put all of our most basic needs at the bottom. Not because they are least important. But because they are most important. Without those basic needs met, nothing else matters. No prestige or feelings of belonging or accomplishment matter at all if you are hungry, tired, worried about lung inflammation, or wondering what you will wipe your bum with next.
The 2 Week Lesson
Over the past 2 weeks everything has changed. We have flipped the Maslow’s hierarchy triangle upside down. Just like Suge Knight did to Vanilla Ice. What was last on our list is now first. We are now thankful for the safety of a simple shelter. We appreciate the security of isolation. We feel the value of the money we saved for a rainy day. Now we just hope we don’t get orders to round up 2 of every animal. Especially after seeing TigerKing on Netflix. #amIright
The Rise Of The Toilet Paper
Finally, we see the real value in toilet paper. Today, a carton of milk, a loaf of bread and a stick of butter are not food. They are peace of mind. Fresh fruits and vegetable are valued treats again. Like they were during most of human history.
For the first time in my lifetime, or at least since the movie Convoy, we as a nation are recognizing the critical importance of the truckers, transporters and delivery drivers.
The grocery store stockers and cashiers are our modern day militia. Without them we would all be scurvy pirates by now.
We suddenly see the value in the women and men who make our toothpaste, hand soap, disinfectant and medical masks. In fact, I am thanking them through my mask right now.
Timeout For A Reality Check
Today, we are reminded that we can carry on just fine without the athletic superstar we cared so much about 2 weeks ago. But without the farmer, nothing else matters. The janitors and cleaners who enter the building as you are leaving are no longer an afterthought. They are critical to the safety of us all.
When Forrest Gump, Mr. Rogers and Woody test positive for COVID-19 it is unfortunate. But the nurse who tests positive and cannot work is a threat to the safety net we are all counting on to catch us if we fall.
This is an opportunity to reset. To realize how fortunate we are to spend so much time thinking well beyond our most important needs. It’s a time to recognize that unless you are Mr. Wipple, a roll of toilet paper is more important than most of the things you focused on 2 weeks ago.
If you let it, the scarcity and the scariness of these times can have a profoundly positive impact on the way you see and value the people and things around you. So let it. And emerge from this with a greater ability to appreciate what you have, what you need, and what you don’t. It will help you enjoy all areas of your life more. Just like Maslow said.
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I recently took a vacation to the Pacific Northwest with my wife and 3 children. We visited amazing places, including Seattle, Mt. Rainer, Mount St. Helens, The Columbia River George, Multnomah Falls, Cannon Beach and Astoria. We visited Forks and Port Angeles, Washington, of Twilight fame. We also visited Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Which taught me that one nation’s Pacific Northwest lies directly below another nation’s Pacific Southwest. #mindblown
That corner of the world is incredibly beautiful and picturesque. Which explains why we saw so many people taking pictures. However, I noticed many of the people were actually taking pictures of themselves, even though those people were not nearly as beautiful as the natural surroundings that, well, surrounded them.
The selfie is an interesting cultural phenomenon. We take pictures of ourselves with people and things that we think will make us look cooler, more interesting, richer or more attractive. Sure, selfies can help capture a memory. However, I can’t help but feel like the selfie snappers I encountered on vacation were missing the essence of the experience. Because the goal is not to take a picture that make it look as if you are having a great experience. The key is to actually have an amazing, fulfilling and rewarding experience.
The key to a great life is not to collect selfies. Instead, we should collect Self-A’s. A Self-A is a slangy and shortened way to reference our feelings of Self Actualization. Self Actualization, for the uninitiated, represents the highest rung on Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It is the ultimate state of human existence. It is the moment when we feel we have achieved our full potential. They are moments of completeness. And moments of bliss. But they only occur for a brief time. So you have to be self aware, or you’ll miss them.
The Next Level
You can only experience Self-A, if all your basic needs are met. Which means that you need food, water, shelter, sleep, safety, relationships and confidence first. But once you collect all of those prerequisites you can go for the bonus round of Self-A.
Living the Dream
When you experience Self Actualization, you are literally living your dream. Over the past 3 years, since I began my own entrepreneurial adventure, and took more control over my life, I have been experiencing more and more moments of Self-A. In fact, the increase in Self-A’s is the most quantifiable and meaningful change in my life.
The moments occur at work, when I am ideating, when I am with my team, when I am with friends, and when I am driving my John Deere lawn tractor. However, these magical moments of Self-A seem to happen most frequently when I am totally present on a family adventure.
On my recent visit to the PNW I noted that I was allowing myself to be absorbed into amazing moments. While I noted that others were whipping out their mobile phones or selfie sticks to capture the moment. Stopping to capture a selfie kills your Self-A. Because you start focusing on the photo, not just the feeling.
A Notable Notebook Idea
To fully enjoy these moments we should carry notebooks to document the details of our Self-A, making the following notes:
Where were you?
Who were you with?
What were you doing when you felt a moment that feels as good and real and amazing and as close to your dream as life ever gets?
By collecting notes on your Self-A’s you’ll gain insights into how to experience even more of these priceless moments. Which is how you win at life.
Don’t settle for selfies. Don’t aim to take pictures of yourself doing cool things in cool places with cool people. Focus on experiencing the moments. Aim for more moments when your reality feels as good as, if not better than the dream. That feeling creates the best memory of all. Aim to feel that way as often as you can. You’ll be rewarded with a life well lived. Rather than simply a life well photographed.
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