You will never completely know or understand who you are. There’s a whole unknown you floating in your subconscious that only shows itself through dreams and surreal moments when you act in ways you thought you never would or could. In some ways it represents your potential and depending on how you develop yourself that potential could be amazing, but it could also be disastrous. Sigmund Freud would probably say that trying to get to know yourself on this level is trying to get more in touch with your Id and Super-Ego at the same time.
It’s a bit ironic actually, because the Ego (the moderator between those two) can be such a robust and confident thing when it really has no right to be. The truth is we spend the majority of our lives trying to figure ourselves out (and that’s okay!) I should actually say that the smart folks spend their days trying to better figure themselves out. Unfortunately far too many people are busy looking outward than inward. So they define things (especially the shitty stuff) by what their environment and those that inhabit it have shown them, instead of trying to figure out what they’re doing in that environment to begin with.
Don’t misunderstand me, I realize that people are often born into very unfortunate environments and circumstances. As I’ve illustrated in previous posts, my own circumstances weren’t exactly roses and rainbows. Some people don’t get to learn about themselves. It’s Maslow’s pyramid and they don’t make it past the first level.
An old friend of mine and I were discussing Maslow’s pyramid the other day and it both complimented and derailed what I intended to write about. For those of you uninitiated, the essential idea is that human needs and progression happen on five levels. The base of this pyramid are basic needs: food, water, sleep, sex (though.. I believe this transcends a bit… let’s call it “reproduction”,) oxygen, etc.
Once you’ve got your basic needs covered,the next level involved safety on every level. Protection from the elements, security in your job/income/lifestyle, and basic personal safety. All the things that lay the foundation for some level of confidence in your life. But once you get all that figured out, you get to start on the advanced stuff.
Level three of Maslow’s pyramid consists of social developmental needs. This fuels the desire for popularity in high school and then evolves into being accepted and respected by your peers at work while simultaneously developing friendship, intimacy (there’s that sex again!), affection and, of course, love in your personal life. Each step of this pyramid can be a life-long endeavor for many individuals, but I would wager that a very large percentage get stuck here (including, it seems, me.)
The good news is, you don’t necessarily have to achieve any of these levels in any sort of traditional manner to begin work on the next level. Hell, I’m relatively sure you don’t even have to make it halfway. As long as you have a basic understanding of achievement on any given level, you can probably grasp the next level as well. But that’s dangerous, because the point of the pyramid is to illustrated how to form a solid foundation for each level and building on an unfinished foundation can (obviously) end up in disaster.
But let’s say you jump to the next level and go for the really advanced stuff. Level four of Maslow’s pyramid is all about going from being accepted, to leading and transcending the pack. Achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, and respect from others are the needs this level presents. By this time, you’ve figured out how to play the game of life, and now you need to do better than just play well, you need to excel at it.
Should you manage to develop yourself to the point of excelling at life in terms of what you want to achieve and what you want your peers to recognize about you, you’re ready for the supposed pinnacle of the pyramid: Total self-actualization. Now we’re getting into super-human territory that involves setting world records, becoming billionaires, scaling Mt. Everest, or becoming the President. Fortunately for a fair percentage of the people who are trying to fulfill this need also realize this potential by helping others find their way up the pyramid. On the flip-side though, this is where the world’s absolute worst humans do the worst damage.
The point of that quick overview though was to illustrate a point: you’ll never reach total self-actualization because you will never completely know and understand yourself. Even if you somehow thought you did, you can’t, because it’s fluid. That’s actually one of the great joys of life. One of the greatest strengths of humanity is it’s fluidity and adaptability. Some very smart, very enlightened people close to me struggle with this a lot and admittedly I do as well because it’s frankly exhausting if you don’t step back to recognize it for what it really is: growth. Not only is it growth, but it’s advanced growth that only a certain percentage of people in the world have the luxury of knowing.
It’s a given that people reach the fifth level of Maslow’s pyramid all the time, but as I
mentioned earlier, a lot of those people left an essential level undeveloped… some skipped it entirely and paid for it. They are easy to see, the people who seem to have everything, experienced so much, but are still miserable. They act out, break down, and sometimes die far too early and sometimes by their own hand.
The point in all this psycho-babble is that I’ve realized that the biggest mistake we can make is attempting to rush through or force our personal development. We seek to master our environment and to balance that out we must seek to master ourselves. But both are fluid and can never really be mastered, so we have to realize that it’s enough to continue learning, continue developing and build our foundations strong on each level so we have a solid base when we someday reach the top of our own personal pyramid.
You don’t know who you are, and you never will, but the point is continuing to get to know yourself. When you do, you get to the fun part: Being pleasantly surprised and amazed at what you can do… and then being able to live happily with it.