Self-actualization is a term psychologist Abraham Maslow used while composing his hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s seminal paper was about what motivates human beings. Self-actualization is the last and final level on Maslow’s hierarchy and the full realization of human potential, whether creative, social, or intellectual.
“What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization…It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.” (Maslow, 1954, Motivation and Personality, page 93)
We are all different. It is important that we become actualized in our own area of expertise. Self-actualization is based on using our abilities and developing them to their fullest potential. This very personal process varies greatly from one person to another. The recognition of a person’s internal motivations is a main factor in Maslow’s research and writings. This is what Maslow felt differentiated his work from that of contemporary motivational psychology. Although Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is taught mainly as an integral part of motivational psychology, some of his work is thought to cover similar ground as the positive psychology movement (Goud, 2008).
Rabbi Bachya ibn Pakuda, writer of the famous Jewish work, Duties of the Heart, also urges us to find an area of work that is best suited to our physical, mental, and emotional strength, as well as an area we feel inclined towards. He quotes, “For one who is physically strong and intellectually weak, it is fitting to choose an occupation among those that require physical exertion according to what he can bear. He who is physically weak but intellectually strong should not seek among those which tire the body but should instead tend towards those who are light on the body and that he will be able to sustain.” (Duties of the Heart, 4:3)
We are all born with different genetic coding and inclinations towards certain career paths already implanted into our hearts. We need to tune in to our internal voice to find out exactly which career we would really enjoy and work on achieving greatness in that area. Humanistic psychologist Albert Ellis mentioned that “self-actualization involves the pursuit of excellence and enjoyment; whichever people choose to desire and emphasize.”
Rabbi Bachya continues, “Every man has a preference for a particular work or business over others. G-d has already implanted in his nature a love and fondness for it, as He implanted in a cat's nature the hunting of mice, or the falcon to hunt smaller birds, the deer to trap snakes.” (Duties of the Heart, 4:3)
Whether we are inclined toward careers that draw on our physical, emotional, or mental resources, each and every one of us is fulfilling G-d’s will. We are working towards transforming into our best selves, self-actualizing ourselves in our areas of expertise, and becoming the very best selves we can be.