There’s a famous pyramid most of us would recognize, thrown around often as it is to explain why we are the way we are, and why we do the things we do.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is considered by some to be an excellent visualization of the stair-step path up which our quest to fulfillment takes us; a race to the top of a pyramid, upon which we’ll find enlightenment and immense satisfaction.
Of course, Maslow wasn’t really a pinnacle of scientific rigor. His Hierarchy is a concept that makes sense upon initial inspection, but quickly falls apart as soon as you consider cultural bias, biology, and numerous other inconvenient perspectives. It also seems to claim that a person can reach an end point; a finish line, after which they are a fully realized individual.
“I’m fed, clothed, had some sex, am safe, feel loved, have the respect of my peers and myself, am moral, creative, and have gotten rid of my prejudices and dependence on unsupported pseudo-facts. Done! Time to die.”
—No one ever
The lack of philosophical mass doesn’t mean there’s no value to be had in Maslow’s metaphor, however. I prefer to look at his chart not as a pyramid, but as a perspective drawing. Something that starts where I stand and leads off into the distance toward a goal that’s always on the horizon. A horizon that I can someday reach, but which will bring with it further horizons; a perspective that offers no end, but plenty of finish lines to cross.
No matter how you view the world and your potential future pursuits, however, I find most people do tend to view said pursuits as something they’ll involve themselves with ‘someday.’
This theoretical day never comes, in a lot of cases, or doesn’t come until late in life, at which point a person has more time to ponder such things, but less incentive or means to apply it. It’s wonderful to understand what makes you happy in life at age 90, but you’ll get far more use from the discovery if it’s made at age 30.
The pursuit of self-realization, a deep understanding of the world and where you fit within it, knowledge of what makes you happy (and what doesn’t), and an outline of how you want to spend the time you’ve got as a conscious, sentient being is not a chase you have to put off until the rest of your life is lived. It’s an investment worth making sooner rather than later — something I view as the ultimate self-indulgence — and although it can be mentally demanding, it needn’t replace your other activities and responsibilities.
This isn’t an activity reserved for the wealthy or elderly.
I set aside a little time each day — 20 minutes — to do nothing at all. I sit and think. No listening to music, no chatting with a friend or staring at a poster or reading. Just me and my thoughts and a blank wall. It’s amazing the kinds of things that rise to the surface when you give your thoughts the time they need to percolate.
There are as many ways to approach this process of self-discovery as there are people, but mine is a starting point you’re welcome to use if you’ve been looking for an excuse to get started on your own philosophical deep-dive and don’t have an existing structure that works for you.
What’s more important than how you ask these questions, though, is that you’re thinking about them to begin with. From there, the amount of time, energy, and focus you put into answering them depends on what role you want the answers to play in your life moving forward.