October 31, 2019

Driven to Self-Actualization

I’ve been hearing a 15-second spot on the radio seeking “highly-driven individuals” for a leadership MBA program.

They run it a lot lately and every time I hear it, I think: Honestly? Highly-driven individuals is a defining characteristic for a qualifying candidate?

Just exactly how is this related to better problem solving, building trust, sustaining meaningful relationships and successfully managing stress? 
I actually think about this a lot because I suspect that most people might call me a highly-driven, highly-motivated person. Many of my clients fall into this category, too.
However, a better descriptor would be the drive toward self-actualization, and here’s what it looks like when active and healthy:

  • It’s a drive toward self-improvement and the joyous pursuit of intellectual and emotional satisfaction through meaningful work and play.
  • It’s the ability and tendency to grow, stretch and strive – to see your potential, set meaningful goals and work toward your betterment and fulfillment.

         ~ Adapted from the EQ Workbook, Hile Rutledge  

Joyous pursuit…and meaningful work and play. Sounds like a great way to live, right?
There are variations on either side, of course.
An individual with low self-actualization might be described in not-so-great terms: under-performing, unmotivated, uninterested, bored, closed to new opportunities, even lazy.
Living an uninspired life—void of meaningful work and play—is a pretty flat existence that none of us want or would wish on others. (And it’s not permanent, thank heavens, because all emotional intelligence skills are fluid and represent a snapshot in time.)
However from a leadership perspective, low self-actualization gets us nowhere, fast. 

On the other end is a drive that overwhelms everyone and everything like a tidal wave, pushing us to keep setting the bar higher and higher, over and over again – for ourselves personally and for everyone around us. Nothing is ever enough, or ever fully satisfying.
Success is always just out of reach. We never quite find our joy or settle into it. We may look like or show up to others as:

–           Overly driven and demanding; too intense
–           Overly exuberant with passion, ideas, activities and enthusiasm
–           Unrealistically applying personal expectations to colleagues and family
–           Self-centered and blind to the needs of others
–           Perpetually dissatisfied with the status quo
–           Uninterested or unwilling to do tasks that are not personally fulfilling 

           ~ Adapted from the EQ Workbook, Hile Rutledge
As you read this, do you find yourself checking a lot of boxes? Because many leaders fall into this category. It’s called too much of a good thing.
And it gets especially challenging when our self-regard—even when it’s quite healthy—is significantly lower than our self-actualization. Again, I see this a lot in my work with leaders (and it’s a focus for me personally as well).
When the drive for self-actualization is very high, but successes have not been fully internalized and integrated, there is a constant sense of “never-enough” nipping at our heels. It can even result in feeling like an imposter. (Here’s a great piece from the HBR on The Dangers of Feeling Like a Fake.)
With healthy self-regard, you like yourself warts and all: imperfections, awkward moments, limitations, flaws. You’re good with yourself.
And when you blend it together with self-actualization, you get amazing leadership modeling for your kids, colleagues, staff—for your company—for everyone in your life.
Take a moment right now and think about who inspires you and why. Think about the role model you want to be as a parent, mentor or coach. Think about the type of people you want to hire.
When we model highly-driven, we might just be pushing ourselves and everyone else right over the edge with our unrealistic expectations. The other option is to model a joyous pursuit of intellectual and emotional satisfaction through meaningful work and play, while liking ourselves, warts and all.
And that to me is the journey worth taking and the ticket to success.

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Emotional Intelligence, Fulfillment, Interpersonal Relationships, Leadership Development, Optimism, Stress Management , , , , , ,
Deene Morris
About Deene Morris
Engaging Emotional Intelligence | Team Think Generator | Psychological Safety & Inclusion | Moving Positive Change Forward

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