My neighbors probably think I’m crazy. I’m lying in the middle of the lawn, staring up into the blue sky. I probably am crazy, but I need this. I pick a handful of grass and smell it, letting it take me back to the care free days of childhood when, like the giggling children in the next yard over, life was carefree. I have a long list of adult things I should be doing, but I need this. I need rest… a moment to just exist. It holds back the tsunami of life. Sadly, for many entrepreneurs, dreamers, and highly motivated individuals, burnout is just par for the course. It doesn’t have to be the norm, however. The problem lies not in the amount of work required to reach your goals, but in the balancing of this work with other needs.
Abraham Maslow, in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation", presented a neatly organized pyramid which he called the “hierarchy of needs”. At the bottom of the pyramid are the very basics of human needs: food, water, warmth, rest, safety, and security. The next levels are the psychological needs: a sense of belonging to family and friends, and an esteem of capability and accomplishment. At the very top of the pyramid is what Maslow calls self-actualization needs. This includes creative endeavors and living up to one’s full potential.
There’s been a lot of internet chatter about “finding your calling” or “living out your purpose” in the past decade. There’s this sense that if you don’t become rich and famous, you’ve failed. And so we scramble hard to find our passion, put all our energy into it, and get our list of accomplishments checked off. This striving is our human drive for that top level of human fulfillment. It is self-actualization when we become what we were always meant to be. The trouble lies, not in pursuing the fulfillment of this need, but in neglecting our other needs in the process. There is a reason Maslow placed every other human need under the self-actualization needs. They are the support system to our passions and endeavors.
As you steadily march forward toward the fulfillment of your dreams, conquering steps of action along the way, make sure you’re also maintaining your simplest of human needs.
Food & Water: Don’t let your busy schedule keep you from eating. It’s important to keep your brain and body fueled while you work hard. On the flip side, do not let stress from the number of items on your to-do list drive you to overeating or eating only high-calorie foods. Also, take time throughout the day to stay hydrated. Keeping a water bottle with you at all times may help. I get glass of water between each appointment in my day.
Rest: Remember when you learned in grade school that you need 8 hours of sleep each night? The exact number of minutes may vary, but the average adult still needs a good 7-8 hours of sleep each night for optimal functioning. Tigger, a character from the preschool show Super Sleuths, once quipped, “What’s the fun in sleeping? It’s just lying there with your eyes closed.” Oh but Tigger! It is so much more!
As you sleep, your brain cleans house, removing toxins and byproducts that could lead to medical issues such as Alzheimer’s.* While you’re catching Zzzs, every muscle in your body relaxes and your organ functions slow to a minimum, allowing them to rebuild and rest. Sleep also cuts down the level of adrenaline coursing through your veins, giving you a break from the fight or flight instinct. Studies have shown that not logging enough hours of sleep will trigger your body to crave high calorie foods to fuel the sluggish body, which in turn leads to weight gain. Getting enough sleep can help regulate your diet.
In addition to sleep, take breaks throughout the day to just unplug and chill. Lay out in your front lawn and pick grass or sip your coffee for five minutes while staring out a window. Remember, your body is the only true tool you have for fulfilling your aspirations. If your body fails, so will your dreams.
Safety: Our primitive ancestors fought for mere survival every day. The very land they lived upon, and the creatures inhabiting it, threatened their very lives on a consistent basis. Because of human innovation, we’ve overcome those dangers, and unless you live in a current war zone, you typically do not face life and death situations on a daily basis. These innovations, however, require maintenance.
The homes we live in give us physical safety from the outside world. If you neglect the care of your home, it’s magical shield of protection will soon fade. Filth leads to disease. Disrepairs lead to leaks and structural damages. Overgrown yards attract insects, snakes, and other creatures. Make sure you schedule in time to care for your home or hire out what you can.
Another important factor of our modern safety is financial security. In our modern era, money is what meets the majority of our human needs. It pays for our shelter, our food, our water, our socialization, and our aspirations. As you’re considering risks and costs needed to reach your highest goals, calculate the dollar amount needed to meet the basic physical and psychological needs for yourself and your family. Then keep a protective hand on that amount. Never steal from your lower level needs to cover the cost of your higher level needs.
Belongingness: From the very beginning of your existence, you were connected to another human being. It is hard wired into our biology to want and need human connection. As you dedicate more and more time to your success, guard your family time and social life. You need the intimacy of connecting with those most important to you. Make it a point to always have dinner as a family at several times a week. Schedule regular nights with your partner. Attend important events in your children’s lives. Take them out for ice cream just because. Be intentional about spending time with close friends. They need it. You need it. Humans need it.
Esteem: We all need a sense of self-worth. From the very beginning of our human journey, we have encountered things we can’t do or things we’re not particularly skilled at. We tend to focus so strongly on our failures at that we cannot see just how very capable we truly are. Gather around yourself a person or two who truly believes in you. One who will point out your abilities and accomplishments and worth in this world. One who is not wearied when you need reminded over and over again. Let their encouragements soak in and then believe them, because they’re true. As your self-confidence grows, there is no end to what you can truly accomplish.
With the proper physical and psychological support, you can give what it takes to reach the pinnacle of self-actualization.