Kurt Goldstein, a neurologist and psychiatrist, first proposed the concept of self-realization in 1934. He defined “the tendency to actualize, as much as possible, a person’s individual capacities.” He described it “not a goal to be achieved but a fundamental tendency for individuals to actualize their capabilities” and it is present in every situation.(1) Psychologists such as Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers developed and expanded Goldstein work over the following decades.
Characteristics of Self-realization
Maslow studied the work, writing and lives of 18 historic figures he identified as self-actualizing including Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, William James, Aldous Huxley, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, William James, Benedict Spinoza, Ruth Benedict, and Max Wertheimer. Based on his research, Maslow identified a number of characteristic that these people had in common, including:
- An accurate grasp of reality, allowing them to evaluate situations honestly and correctly.
- Acceptance of themselves, others and nature with all their strengths and flaws.
- Sense of spontaneity and authenticity.
- Task oriented, having a mission or a purpose to fulfill.
- Autonomous and self-motivating demonstrated in their ability to be resourceful and productive.
- Appreciation of both the simple and the complex.
- A deep connection with others, acting with compassion and humanity.
- A few deep interpersonal relationships rather than many acquaintances.
- Comfort with solitude.
Working on self-realization does not mean being perfect. In fact, Maslow was quick to point out some of the faults of highly self-actualizing people. In Motivation and Personality (1997), he wrote:
“They show many of the lesser human failings. They, too, are equipped with silly, wasteful, or thoughtless habits. They can be boring, stubborn, irritating. They are by no means free from a rather superficial vanity, and pride, partiality to their own productions, family, friends, and children.” (2)
Self-realization is about living in the moment and being all that you can be. It is part of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which includes physiological, safety, belonging, esteem and self-realization. This blog assumes that as a worker your employer has met its basic “duty of care” requirements relating to physiological and safety needs and issues such as work-related stress and work/life balance are in the domain under your health well-being.
According to Maslow and others, once basic needs are met, a person can work on issues of self-fulfillment belongs, esteem at the same time rather than sequentially. I place self-realization first in the list of tools because as we become more accepting of ourselves and our situation, we have more inner resources – confidence, patience, tolerance, compassion that allow us to build connections with other; develop our self-esteem and reputation at work; and tend to our physical and emotional well-being
If it is bread that you seek, you will have bread.
If it is the soul you seek, you will find the soul.
If you understand this secret, you know you are that which you seek.” ― Rumi
What are you seeking to realize or enhance about yourself in your work life?
Next: Developing self-realization
- Goldstein, Kurt. The Organism: A Holistic Approach to Biology Derived from Pathological Data in Man. 1934. New York: Zone Books, 1995
- Maslow, Abraham, Toward a Psychology of Being, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1962