3. How to Self-Actualize

As you start to Manage Your Mission, Time, Fears and Relationships, you will be doing the work of self-actualization. This work will take time—a lifetime, really—and there will inevitably be plateaus and backsliding. The important things, as discussed in Part III, are not to rush it; to always aim to improve in “baby steps”; to celebrate every victory or achievement, no matter how trivial-seeming; and to never, ever put yourself down for any perceived failures. Remember that growth is achieved not from blame or shame or self-criticism, but from recognizing and reinforcing your strengths and accomplishments.

Maslow himself claimed to know of only a handful of people who had achieved self-actualization, but I see no reason to set such a high standard. In my view, self-actualization is not about perfection, but about (1) finding your unique path; (2) following it to the extent you’re able; and (3) having the most fun possible while you’re doing it. I know plenty of people who qualify. Still, most of the time I prefer to use the adjective “self-actualizing” instead of “self-actualized,” to reflect the reality that there is no official “finish line” and that we’re all works-in-progress.

As you start to work on your self-actualization, you should see yourself not just achieving more of your goals, but starting to develop the empowered personality described in Part III. This, in turn, should lead you to achieve still more goals, including the bigger and scarier ones. Whether your “scary” goal involves a new job, new relationship, new living place, new form of activism or something else, self-actualization will give you the strength and other qualities you need to make progress on it.

Please remember that self-actualization is not something extra you do on top of all your “normal” obligations and responsibilities. It is the act of meeting those obligations and responsibilities in an empowered and joyful way. It is a life strategy, and an amazingly effective one. And Mission, Time, Fear and Relationship Management are the keys.

Surround Yourself with Self-Actualizing People

As discussed numerous times throughout The Lifelong Activist, you want to surround yourself with supportive people. More specifically, you want to surround yourself with self-actualized and self-actualizing people, since they are the ones who will most understand and support your own self-actualization process. Also, make sure that any organizations you work with or for support your self-actualization efforts. (See next chapter.)

All of this is particularly important in the context of your activism. So much activist time and energy gets wasted in pointless work, as well as in infighting, personality clashes and other drama. Working with self-actualizing people is the best way to minimize the odds of your falling into one of these traps, and of ensuring that you will one day look back at your activist career with satisfaction.

That doesn’t mean you seek out, or only work with, people who are “perfect.” Perfection is never the goal, and it’s a particularly unrealistic standard when applied to human beings. Self-actualization, as I mentioned above, is a lifelong process, and even highly self-actualized people have issues they need to continue to work on. The difference between them and non-self-actualizing people is that they are actually committed to working on those issues, and to helping others work on theirs. Non-self-actualizing people, in contrast, often put much of their energy into denial, repression, blaming (of themselves or others), and other ineffective coping strategies. As a result, their problems remain unsolved, and they tend to lead unhappy lives, and to make others unhappy as well.

You should always encourage other activists to self-actualize, and support them as they do. Right now, you could team up with one or two of your friends, classmates or colleagues to help each other with Mission, Time, Fear and Relationship Management. (For guidance on how to do this, check out www.lifelongactivist.com/workgroups.) And you can start mentoring one or two others—mentoring, as we discussed in Part III, not just being a great way to support someone else, but to reinforce your own knowledge and growth. Just be sure to pick protégés who are committed to the process, and to include the time you spend mentoring them in your Personal Mission Statement, Mission Plan, Time Budget and Weekly Schedule.

Exercise

Come up with a list of those people you know whom you consider to be self-actualizing. They could be activists or non-activists, and most will be more successful in some areas of their lives or careers than others. They may not even identify what they’re doing as self-actualization, but will nevertheless be working hard to live their lives according to their values.

Think about the qualities these people possess that make you see them as self-actualizing and, in particular, how they manage their Mission, Time, Fears and Relationships. Start thinking of them as mentors and make plans to build that relationship (see Part III, Chapter 26).