Maslow’s 1943 theory on the hierarchy of needs has informed my work for decades (not since the 40’s of course-- but at least since the 80s). Essentially, the theory suggests that the most basic level of human needs must be met before an individual will be motivated to meet higher or more secondary needs.
Makes sense, right? If you are struggling to pay your rent or put food on the table, those needs are most pressing and other desires have less urgency.
Maslow's work is commonly represented as a pyramid (although not presented that way by Maslow himself).
Maslow also coined the term metamotivation or metaneeds to describe the motivation of people who go beyond fulfilling basic needs and strive for self-actualization. Maslow described a metaneed as any need for knowledge, beauty, or creativity.
He proposes that we seek to round out our lives, by aspiring to go beyond the basics and find meaning, purpose and our own set of guideposts.
This is what I refer to as the ‘transformational’ level - active self-actualization - and this is the territory where I love to play.
My coaching practice is crowded with people working through the levels, finding ways to 'have it all' and searching for balance.
As important as I think this quest is, I think balance is an elusive beast. In a previous blog post, I talked about the unrealistic expectation that we can somehow carve our lives into neat compartments, achieving some kind of utopian stasis. We are dynamic and so are our lives.
I prefer to point in the direction of wholeness rather than balance, and maybe I'm just splitting hairs, but wholeness has a happy roundness to it with space for all the parts. There is a democracy to wholeness whereas balance implies an in- and- outness (we're either in balance or out of it). Wholeness is inclusive, a team player.
I recall attending the Phoenix Symphony and marvelling at the way all the disparate instruments came together to create an amazing oneness of sound, a unity in the concerto that was the result of each violin, bassoon, cello and clarinet playing its own part and contributing to the whole. Even the tuba has its moment. Masterfully conducted, of course.
We are the conductors, and we get to choose the movements that create the greatest harmony in our personal symphonies. We round out our lives with the people, places, activities and choices we include - making space for all the parts to play and be heard. Wholeness. Unity. A beautiful composition.
What does wholeness mean to you?
Where does your personal orchestra need a tune-up?