Although we all claim to hate change, the truth is that as humans we actually have it hard wired into our DNA. Our entire ancestry is of a species constantly in motion. We have spent millennia exploring, travelling, discovering, learning, and growing. Whether it was our hunter gatherer ancestors looking for better ways to get their next meal, the adventurers from the age of exploration, those seeking knowledge in the age of enlightenment or any other time period. The fact is, we are where we are today because we have constantly sought to grow and develop. The concept of personal development is practically Darwinian. Its why when we get stuck in a job that doesn’t let us grow or develop, we lose interest and need to look for something else. We feel stagnant, as though we are not going anywhere and so crave new experiences to feel fulfilled.  However, there are those who go from job to job and never feel truly fulfilled. Why is this?

Hierarchy of needs

Without a doubt the most highly referenced work on personal development is what is known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This is a psychological theory aimed at explaining human motivation. It says that humans basically have 5 different levels of needs. This starts with the most basic needs, such as food and water, through to the ultimate goal, which according to this theory, is to reach the fifth level of the hierarchy: self-actualization. The only way to progress from one level to another is to fully satisfy your need at the previous level. For example, if you can’t fulfil the basic need of having enough to eat, its highly unlikely that you are going to be focused on trying to become an expert in your field. The 5 levels are as follows:

Physiological Needs

The first level of the hierarchy is Physiological needs. These are biological requirements for human survival and include the need for shelter, water, food, warmth, rest, and health. If these needs are not satisfied the human body cannot function optimally. Maslow considered physiological needs the most important as all the other needs become secondary until these needs are met.

Safety Needs

The second level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs consists of what he called safety needs. Safety needs relate to a person’s need to feel safe and secure in their life and surroundings. This would include things such as a desire to live in a place of law and order, and protection from unpredictable and dangerous conditions. There are many examples of safety needs in modern society. To find stability and security, a person must consider their physical safety. This means seeking protection from the elements, violent conditions, or health threats and sickness. Additionally, an individual needs economic safety to live and thrive in modern societies. This refers to the need for job security, stable income, and savings.

Love and Belongingness

The third level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is what he referred to as love and belonging needs. The logic for this is that humans are social creatures that crave interaction with others. So, this level of the hierarchy outlines the need for friendship, intimacy, family, and love. Humans have the need to give and receive love; to feel like they belong in a group. When deprived of these needs, individuals may experience loneliness or depression.

Esteem Needs

The fourth level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is termed esteem needs. Esteem needs are related to a person’s need to gain recognition, status, and feel respected. Once someone has fulfilled their love and belonging needs, they seek to fulfil their esteem needs. Maslow broke up esteem needs into two categories. The first is the need for respect from others and the second is the need for respect from oneself. Respect from others relates to achieving fame, prestige, and recognition. Respect from oneself relates to dignity, confidence, competence, independence, and freedom.


The final need for Maslow’s hierarchy is for self-actualisation. Self-actualisation refers to the desire that everybody has ‘to become everything that they are capable of becoming’. In other words, it refers to self-fulfilment and the need to reach full potential as a unique human being. This final stage is never ending.  He believed a person is always evolving and can never remain static.  In self-actualization, a person comes to find a meaning to life that is important to them.

As each individual is unique, the motivation for self-actualization leads people in different directions. For some people self-actualization can be achieved through creating works of art or literature, for others through sport, in the classroom, or within a corporate setting. The only way for someone to be truly fulfilled is for them to do what they truly want to do, when they want to do it on their own terms. The reason most never get to this stage is because they are so focused on what they think they are “supposed” to do, that they never end up doing what they actually want to do. 

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