Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. Each of us was born into a family, into a life, and into a body that we didn’t ask for (that we know of). I’m a firm believer that we all have the ability to rise from our condition. That journey just happens to be very different for each of us!
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Abraham Maslow proposed a brilliant theory about the progression of the human life. He argues that every human has basic needs that must be met before they can work on higher needs. Food and shelter take precedent over getting a shiny gold star at work. Eventually this path leads us to self-actualization, a fancy word for living life to your full potential.
Food and shelter take precedent over getting a shiny gold star at work.
Think of people in your own life! Some of my friends are workaholics, obsessed with getting that next promotion or raise. They can’t wait to make partner or be a manager. I do live in Washington, D.C. after all. Maslow would say they are working on the psychological need for esteem. Coincidentally they all have a strong support network, live in a society where they feel secure, and make enough money that they don’t worry about food, water or shelter. So far the theory seems to hold.
If you’ve been through a major life disruption than you can relate with the inverse. Assault, the loss of a job, a divorce, a public embarrassment – these all have the power to uproot your life. For days, weeks, or months people often experience a form of shock where they start making major life decisions (for better or for worse). People coming out of a bad relationship often get in great shape. People who lose a job sometimes find a hidden passion or hobby. I know I’ve gone through this process a few times in my own life.
We are all at a different stage in life, working to secure our needs… This isn’t a race or a competition, but a natural process of the human condition.
This is why rich people love art, hipsters hang-out at coffee shops, and so many people stay in jobs they hate. We are all at a different stage in life, working to secure our needs at that level. This isn’t a race or a competition, but a natural process of the human condition. In my experience, it takes years to move from one level to another. I know I’m personally working on belongingness myself right now. To people struggling with basic security, getting likes on Instagram can become an addiction because they crave to be at a higher level of existence. For those worked about losing their job, art may seem like a complete waste of time.
This is why I think social activism and meditation are so important. They call us to a higher order of existence. They remind us that we are not rats trapped in a maze. This hierarchy helps me understand why people are obsessed with coffee shops (belongingness), stay in jobs they hate (security), and check their phone constantly for Likes (esteem). Professionally, it also lets me target people with solutions that meet people where they are.
Solutions that meet the Hierarchy of Needs
There is nothing inherently special about technology. The shiny new toy means nothing if it does not elevate us on our path to self-actualization. Ten years ago the iPhone was released and it did an amazing job of elevating people out of security and into belongingness. We use to interact with phones and even cellphones only a few times day. Now we live stream. Better cameras with better filters has turned the phone into a device that contributes to our esteem (or hurt us depending on your perspective). Technologies that are sustainably successful can be linked to meeting a specific need that is shared by a large audience. What need does your solution or business meet?
If you are interested in helping people live to their full potential, start with yourself. Where are you on the spectrum? Give You Are a Badass a read. It really helped me work through my own life. Where are your friends? Do you have friends at different stages? I certainly hope so. Diversity is one of the most important attributes of a solid friend group.
What are the things you want to work towards in the next decade? Industries of the Future by Alec Ross gives a great survey of the technologies driving us into the future. The World We Made: Alex McKay’s story from 2050 gives a great view of the future and some actionable insight into how we can get there from here. What technology do you think will be the most impactful in the next decade? Share your idea below.
Let’s collaborate. I’d love to help.