Self-Actualization and a Life of Fulfillment
Everything can be taken from man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way. - Viktor Frankl
Most of us have been on a mission for most of our lives trying to improve our situation in life. It’s what drives us, our society, and our economy to become what it is today. We strive to buy our first house, or a bigger one, and a nicer car, and vacations to far off places, while staying in luxury hotels. It is what has driven us to show up everyday in a job we can barely tolerate and answer to bosses that we can tolerate even less. But attaining what we desire in life always seems to be just out of reach, and when we do attain it, we eventually lose the satisfaction it brought us and we seek something even better. It is the rare few that find what they are seeking in life and reach a level of contentment that the rest of us wish we had. But it’s even fewer that reach that level with very much time left to enjoy it.
Most of us have sought those things like a dog chasing a car, not knowing what to do with it once we catch it. We have focused our attention on the external things around us that are preventing us from achieving our goals, but what’s holding us back is not what’s around us, it’s what’s within us. And fixing the internal stuff can feel a lot more difficult, and even intimidating, than fixing the external stuff, but it's the internal stuff that we truly have control over.
"Your success in life depends more on the person you become than on the things you do or acquire." - Brian Tracy
We have all been conditioned to be the person we are since the day we were born (maybe even before). This conditioning has been reinforced our entire life by our parents and extended family, our schools and the teachers they employed, the media via the screens that we worshiped through our childhood, and our workplace via the careers we “chose”. This conditioning has been so covert and pervasive that we never even suspected it was happening. Every decision that we have made for our entire lives has been based on this conditioning and when the consequences were not what we had hoped they would be, we wondered why we made that decision in the first place.
"Day by day, at home, at school, at church, and from television, we are told how to live, and what kind of behavior is acceptable." - from The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz
This all may be true, and we may have even been victims, but it only makes us victims in our past, but not our future. If we allow ourselves to be victims in our present and our future, then we are saying that we have no control over the events that shape our lives. And if we don’t take control of the events in our present and future, someone else will.
"You are not responsible for the person you have become, but you are responsible for who you will become."
There is no one to blame. This needs to be repeated - There is no one to blame. We can blame our parents for how we were raised, but they were just raising us based on their own programming. We can blame society, but society is just a whole bunch of individuals seeking their own personal fulfillment, just like us. We can blame our teachers, we can blame the government, we can even blame the media. But whoever is to “blame” for how we turned out, in the end it just doesn’t matter, because it isn’t going to change anything. It is up to us to make the changes in our lives that we need to make.
After we give up the blame game, it is time to face another reality - what we think is missing from our lives, the things that we want in life, are not what we truly need in life. These are the things we have been programmed to want and to think we need, but they are just distractions that are keeping us from seeking what we really need. For many, these wants, these desires, are unattainable and only lead to a feeling of frustration and unfulfillment.
Read - Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Our deprogramming will start when we are able to take full responsibility for what happens in our lives, and recognize that the things that we really need in life are not nearly as difficult to attain as the things that we "want" in life. The path we are on right now, does not have to be the path we travel down in the future. We have the power to determine the course of our lives. We may not have control over the things that happen to us, but we do have control over how those things affect us.
Once we have accepted the idea that we were programmed to be who we are, and we have begun the process of our de-programming, then it will be time to create a new future based on what we truly want in life. One that will lead us to become the person we choose, living the life of our choosing.
So lets start our reprogramming:
Let's take a long look in the mirror and ask ourselves - "Is this where I want to be?" If not, then ask ourselves - "How did I get here?" or "How am I responsible?"
Once we figure this out, and it may take a while, then we need to figure out who we want to be and where do we want your lives to go. This is the reprogramming part.
Then figure out what we will need to do to become that person. What would that person do throughout his or her daily life. Are those things that I really want to do? Do I really want to be that person? This could take some time.
Finally, when we have figured out who we want to be and how we will become that person, we need to ask ourselves if being this new person will excite me. Will I be excited doing the things that this new me will be doing.
If we are thoroughly excited to become this new person, then our path in life will become much easier to see and follow, and will become one of self-fulfillment. There will be pitfalls, challenges, and failures along the way. After all, no life worth living comes without these. Some will be "easy" like starting a new routine of physical exercise, and others will be more difficult, much more, like eventually leaving behind the friends that don't want to join you on this new journey, or dealing with the family members that preferred you as a victim.
It's Not About The Destination
It may be one of the most used, or over-used clichés out there, but life really is about the journey. If it isn't, then we are just on this planet to attain stuff and compete with others for more stuff. And with each attainment of said stuff, we experience a brief moment of "happiness" (if we're lucky) and then we turn up the speed of the treadmill and look for more stuff to attain. For some, the journey of stuff attainment may bring a longer lasting feeling of fulfillment than it does for others, but eventually we all reach the same dead end.
Self-actualization or self-fulfillment can only come from who we become, not from what we attain. This is the journey, the path we create for ourselves, and it is one without an end.