Opinion: Wisdom Workout 

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Self-Actualization 

By Susan Velasquez

In my Catholic grammar school, the nuns would ask a question, and there would be frantic hand-waving and raised voices repeating: “Sister, Sister, Sister” with all of us competing to be chosen.  

Often, the “winner” would stand up proudly and then realize they had no clue what the question was and, therefore, couldn’t give an answer. The only goal was to get attention. 

Our society today seems like a classroom crowded with attention-hungry children clamoring to be noticed.  

Attention-seeking is an all-consuming addiction since social media has skyrocketed in popularity. Unmet belonging needs and a craving for outside approval can leave us susceptible to having our approval needs become the sole driving force in our lives. This becomes a problem when we are unaware that our attention needs are running the show. 

 In the 1940s, Abraham Maslow introduced a hierarchy of basic needs. He presented a pyramid starting with physical needs such as shelter, food, air and water at the base of the triangle. Next is mental and emotional safety and security. Third is the need to belong, be accepted, and continue to have self-esteem, which is the need to establish our unique identity and develop our talents and abilities. Finally, the top of the pyramid is self-actualization, which is the need to contribute our gifts to the world.  

He also stated that there is a sixth need which is to move up the pyramid by satisfying the lower needs fully enough to be able to move to fulfil the higher needs of self-esteem and self-actualization. 

When we are endlessly seeking the approval of others, it thwarts our ability to actualize our unique talents and gifts. We become a slave to the demands of the imaginary audience we are endlessly courting. We use our precious energy rehearsing how we can look good as we attempt the impossible task of impressing all people, all the time. 

It is appropriate to seek outside approval, particularly when we are children. It is important to feel accepted and liked by others. It just isn’t the best place to stop and set up shop unless we are content to place the keys to our happiness and fulfillment in the hands of the external world. 

We enjoy a level of personal comfort when we are surrounded by people who accept us. The temptation is to sink into that feeling like a warm bath. Stay too long, and the water turns tepid, then cold, and we are left feeling insecure once again. 

How can we identify whether our need for attention has gotten out of hand? When we are running our lives on automatic pilot, frantically over-thinking, over-feeling or over-doing in a flurry of activity that masquerades as productivity, that is a probable indicator that we are trying to get approval from an imaginary audience that will never applaud. 

Outside approval is a band-aid that helps to soothe the wound of personal insecurity. When we are willing to admit that we feel insecure, true healing can begin. As we take on the responsibility of learning to approve of ourselves, we return to our seat, stop the frantic hand waving and begin to ask the deeper questions. 

What personal needs of mine are not being fulfilled? What are the principles and values that I am willing to live by? Does my behavior reflect my values? Do I behave with honesty and integrity even when no one is watching? Am I willing to be truthful with myself? Am I willing to be kind to myself as I answer these questions? 

When we rein in our wayward attention-seeking energy, we begin to build an inner core of solid acceptance that serves as a platform to grow into an authentic sense of self-esteem and the actualization of our highest dreams and desires. 

Susan has been writing and producing personal development seminars since 1972. She loves the opportunity to share concepts from her years of working in the Leadership Development field. susanvelasquez.com.

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