Survive or Self-Actualize

I’ve spoken about self-actualization as a base for social justice in a previous post, but now I want to talk about it as a source of inspiration and a tool to help us achieve our own aspirations. Let’s be honest, having dreams and aspirations and working towards them takes courage and the ability to think beyond mere survival. We each have our own unique potential we can tap into to become our greatest selves. Yet attempting to achieve this greatest self is not an easy journey. It requires you to push past limits set before you, either by yourself, by society or even sometimes by our own bodies or physical surroundings. It requires you to go through processes of experiencing challenges, failures, and exercising persistence, creativity and grit. It requires a lot of learning and growing, neither of which is easy.

Self-actualization seems a luxury to so many for whom survival is barely within reach. In fact, there may be times in our lives when surviving is literally all we can do. That may be part of the journey for some of us. Yet even during those times, there is room to dream, or to at least figure out what we want to do with our lives, what would be fulfilling work or a “dream life.” Taking the time to imagine a future is not only useful in determining big things like life trajectory, it helps you with the small day-to-day things like the grind of working towards those dreams, or the grind in between those dream-building moments, the grind that keeps rent paid or stomachs fed. Having a vision of what you are working towards is important. You may not know exactly what you want to do, sometimes all you have to work with is the life you want to live or a goal like helping people or working with children. Find something you can grasp on to for direction so even if you get bogged down you will not stop because you know what direction you are going; your dream is guiding you.

Psychologically, having a future orientation ( a conscious image or model of what you want your future to look like) is important in laying a foundation for planning and setting goals, making commitments or finding options in your life. It is important in defining yourself as a person and finding the intrinsic motivation that is important to successfully achieve what you set out to do. When we then prioritize balance, self-care and doing something every day towards our dreams, we take action and begin to make progress towards meeting our full potential and becoming our best selves. The basic idea of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs really is balance. You need to care for your physiological needs, health, food, sleep etc as well as your safety and security. You need to work on your relationships and social support. You need to work on your own mind, your self-love, your confidence and belief in yourself. All of these need to be in place if self-actualization is to be achieved.

I am writing this post for myself as much as for anyone else. I have been asking myself why am I (still) in school. But then I remember I have big goals and completing this program is a means to an end. What I learn in this program I intend to use to change people’s lives in positive ways and help improve the health of many vulnerable people. I took the first big step, which was starting. This current stage however, the sustained grind of follow through, is not easy. It is times like this that I need to go back to the basics of finding balance – self-care, self-love, social support, making sure I feel safe (which is not always easy in an academic environment not made for the likes of me), using my creativity and allowing myself the discomfort that comes with learning and growing.

I wrote down a quote from poet Ebony Stewart in January 2014. It was particularly relevant to where I was in life – I had just applied for my PhD program not knowing how I was going to pay for it or how things would pan out. The quote: “Motto for the Day: You don’t have to have it all figured out to move forward.” I still don’t have it all figured out, but I’m still moving forward. It’s been over a year. Had I not stuck my neck out at that time, I would not be able to say I’m working towards my doctorate right now. I would probably still be wondering if that is something I can even do. The year passed and though the journey is hard I’m still on it with my social support at my back and my dreams for the future pulling me forward.

There is a Senegalese proverb that goes “If you wait for tomorrow, tomorrow comes. If you don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow comes.” So if you’re trying to figure out when and how to pursue your dreams, perhaps now is the time to start moving forward. Time is going to pass anyway, why not devote some of it to self-searching and getting really clear on your future orientation, then taking steps to make it happen? If your path to that dream or fulfilling life does not already exist – build it starting at your own feet, where you are now.

What do you need? Education? Knowledge? There’s lots of that free online  on YouTube and in libraries. Credentials? Apply to programs, plan ahead, start a savings fund, invest in your own education or seek funding through a scholarship or work-study. Time? There are 168 hours in a week. If you work 40 and sleep 8 hours each night that still gives you 72 hours (3 days worth) per week of consciousness. Get really deliberate about how you spend those hours.

For those of us not born with silver spoons, we cannot expect anyone to hand us our dreams or a better life. Often we need to create it ourselves. Self-actualization is the pursuit of your full potential, and you will not know what that is unless you reach for it. So invest in yourself: time, money, planning, action, love, faith, knowledge. If you do nothing, nothing will happen. If you take consistent, persistent, steps to creating yourself and your life then your best self will be waiting for you over the horizon, and that is someone you definitely want to meet.

© 2015 Kelene Blake, All Rights Reserved