In all my trips to bookstores over the decades, of which there have been many, I have avoided the self-help section like the plague. This aversion came partly from a naive arrogance that I was above advice of that sort, and partly from an innate bullshit detector that has only become sharper over the years. Either way, I don't think I've missed out on much.
That's not to say I haven't asked for, looked for, or received advice on how to improve myself and my life -- I have -- and I like to think I've been able to put some of it, at the very least, to good use. But what's worth noting is that this advice has come from the most unexpected sources at the most unexpected times. A perfect example of this was when I was reading about Maslow's hierarchy of needs last week, as part of an online course about a TV show depicting post-apocalyptic human life -- not where you would expect to find wise words about bettering your lot now, is it? But I did.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs is one of the most positive-minded theories I've ever read--he studied the brightest, most accomplished people accessible to him to see how they came to achieve their full potential. When you think about it, that's essentially what some of our contemporary, much-loved (at least by me) sites like Fast Company and The Great Discontent try to do. While they are fantastic in their own right, I find that Maslow's 70-year-old theory stands solid ground even today. So without further ado, and with some side commentary, I submit to you the winning traits of "self-actualized" individuals in 15 bullets, distilled carefully by Mr. M.
- Perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty
themselves and others for what they are
- Spontaneous in thought and action
- Problem-centered, not self-centered
- Unusual sense of humor -- No one gets my jokes. I got this covered.
to look at life objectively -- To this, I'd also add: able to put life in perspective.
- Resistant to enculturation, but not purposely unconventional -- This one is my favourite.
- Concerned for the welfare of humanity
- Capable of deep appreciation of basic life-experience -- AKA it's the small joys.
- Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people -- This is a very late 20s/early 30s thing to do. I am now doing this thing.
- Democratic attitudes
- Strong moral/ethical standards -- This is a grey area, I know, so how about we re-phrase to: don't be amoral.
Some of these ideas may sound trivial and/or obvious, but I find myself asking: how many of these am I actually practicing when I most need to -- when I'm angry and in vehement disagreement with someone; when I'm stuck in a rut at work and feeling directionless; or when I regret things I've said/done and need to move on from them? The sad answer (for now) is: not at all. And that's why I'm glad I met Maslow and his little pyramid. I just didn't expect it to be in the post-apocalyptic world.