The problem with Maslow’s pyramid of self actualization

Harsh Maskara
5 min readFeb 7, 2021

Self actualization essentially means to realize one’s potential as an individual. For those familiar with basic psychology, Maslow’s pyramid immediately comes to mind. The issue with Maslow’s theory is that it assumes that individual potential can only be realized once social commitments have been met and there is a certain sense of financial security. However, life is not necessarily linear and can take many paths depending on how we play our cards.

The most important thing that defines our journey with self actualization is money. We all want money in some form or the other and indeed, without it, we cannot survive. The reason that Maslow places self actualization at the very top of the pyramid is because it is the deepest desire of all humans and takes the longest time. There are various ways in which we can self actualize but unless entrepreneurship is your elixir, you face a long, hard journey when it comes to self actualization.

It is worth taking a closer look at self actualization to understand what it really means. At a very basic level, it means that each individual comes with a unique set of skills which can help him be a world class performer in a particular field. However, Maslow in his definition of self actualization also implies that it is only after we have spent some years working for ourselves and keeping our financials in mind do we move onto serving society and other people in our quest for self actualization.

What then of the teachers, social workers and indeed artists who give in to their innermost desires at an early stage of their lives? Where do they fit into Maslow’s pyramid for they have decided to focus their attention of self actualization from an early stage? The answer is that Maslow’s pyramid is designed to create a safe, cushioned society. This is why most people say that they will chase money in their youth and their dreams post 40 or 50.

However, there is only so much importance we should give to psychology and its concepts. Over the years, these have been developed to give direction to society. But, there is always a certain value which we should attach to our own thinking and experiences. Maslow himself talked about certain experiences as ‘peak’ experiences where a person was in a state of flow and completely one with the experience.

It is a good thing that schoolchildren are not taught Maslow’s pyramid as part of the curriculum. If they were exposed to the linear approach then it would quash whatever dreams they had for themselves whether it be in the field of sports, arts or professional services. But then, we always have dreams in our consciousness whether we acknowledge it or not.

The thing with psychology is that there are no limits to the mind and our thoughts have zero boundaries. Psychologists like Maslow have tried for years to come up with certain theoretical frameworks so as to give direction to their work. However, we all have our individual drives and things that make us tick. Some of us wish to settle down quickly and start a family, others are keen to explore their skills and see where that takes them and attach a lower priority to money.

Self actualization is essentially psychological jargon to follow your heart and be of value to the world. It is not easy to pursue this path. You need to believe in yourself and be skilled enough to be recognized for your efforts. At the same time, your work should benefit the world at large. However, there is more to this than what meets the eye.

In order to self actualize, you have to have a deep understanding of yourself. You have to know your basic drives are and what makes you tick. At the same time, you have to be convinced that the work you do makes a difference to society. You cannot self actualize meditating by yourself in a cave or singing alone in the bathroom or writing in a notebook that you do not show to anybody. You have to be connected to people at a fundamental level and share your work and talents.

Maslow was correct in his discovery of peak experiences. These are occasions where you feel absolutely connected to the work that you do and experience a unique sense of joy. These peak experiences drive the sense of self actualization. We should constantly be on the lookout for these peak experiences so as to know which activities may unlock self actualization.

Ultimately, it is we only who can give direction to our lives. We can read all the psychology in the world and yet be clueless about how to live fulfilling lives. This may be a case of where less is more. It is important to know the world of the mind has numerous entries and exists which have fascinated philosophers for ages. However, we can only be at home with the mind if we are comfortable with ourselves as individuals.

Self actualization is simply a door which leads to a land of magic. It is up to us to push ourselves, understand our minds and try to channelize our potential while we are young and healthy. Delaying the effort to realize your potential simply complicates matters. Every year gone by is a precious year which could have been so very productive.

Ultimately, it all boils down to where your priorities lie. If you have the slightest inclination towards pushing yourself as an individual and realizing your potential then give some time to the pursuit of understanding your mind and skills. Self actualization need not be something which you think of towards the fag end of your life. Keep exploring, look out for peak experiences which touch you in ways that you hadn’t imagined and most importantly constantly push yourself.

The search for peak experiences is in reality a search for the self. Maslow created his pyramid for easy dissemination among the public. However, you can access peak experiences at any stage and age. It is just the matter whether you can make a career out of them or not. This solely depends on your own efforts no matter what people tell you. Ultimately, you drive your life and entertain people along the way. Such is life.

Originally published at on February 7, 2021.



Harsh Maskara

Runner, Tennis enthusiast, idea hunter, people analyst, qualitative researcher, wordsmith, traveler, dreamer, listener, connecting dots, theater goer