#15 The Center of Self: Get ME Figured Out First

Last time I introduced the idea of Self. Then I punted.

I punted because the topic is confusing and scary and huge. You could fill a library with all the gunk psychologists, poets, philosophers, and lots of others have written on Self. 

So I'm going to attack it with a scalpel. Carve out and ignore 23 hours, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds of my average day. Hone in on the single second when I decide to get out of bed each morning. 

What thought in my brain triggers the muscle contraction that moves my foot toward that cold floor?

It’d be impressive if I could say world peace or saving cute little puppy dogs down at the shelter. Or if I said to care for my loving wife, children, etc. But, in reality, they don’t want me caring for them as my FIRST job. Especially the kids. They'd creep out if I started following them around and getting in their business. And besides, they need to do a few face plants of their own to learn life’s best lessons.

So this might sound terrible, but I think my day has to start and end with me. I. Keith. I have to exist and have a reason for being before I can be of useful service to anyone or any thing.  I need a shape.  A center.

Yes, it sounds obvious that "I" belongs at the center of Self. But I don’t think it’s so obvious in the messages we hear every day. We’re beaten over the head with collaboration and "There's no I in team".  We must be selfless. We live in service to others.   Blah, blah, blah.

To me, being primarily selfless each day means being a blob of jello. It’s a great way to waste my day doing suboptimal shit. For instance, if I’m Mr. “Everybody Else First” how do I set my priorities? How do I decide the order of the people I’m going to serve on the average Wednesday? Do I go with the loudest screamer? Or maybe the one who asks the nicest? Or maybe bow to peer pressure and just follow the herd? 

Nope, that won’t work for me.

I need something to anchor myself. Then I can be as selfless as I like. Then I can serve better and longer because I won’t feel rudderless or burned out.

I think the best way to look at this might be through the old, and still respected, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Remember this thing from high school psychology class? 


I’ll let Maslow himself refresh you on how it works. Here's a quote from a 1943 paper of his titled - A Theory of Human Motivation.

“In actual fact, most members of our society who are normal, are partially satisfied in all their basic needs and partially unsatisfied in all their basic needs at the same time. A more realistic description of the hierarchy would be in terms of decreasing percentages of satisfaction as we go up the hierarchy of prepotency. For instance…it is as if the average citizen is satisfied perhaps 85 per cent in his physiological needs, 70 per cent in his safety needs, 50 per cent in his love needs, 40 per cent in his self-esteem needs, and 10 per cent in his self-actualization needs.”

So you pretty much just start at the bottom and work your way up - satisfy as many needs as you can at each level.

At layer one, the physiological level, I have plenty of food and water. I also sleep like a baby and my excretions are just fine.

Level two is safety. I’m fortunate to live in a safe and free place relative to most of the world. And lady luck has shined on me/us in many ways so I don’t have to worry about resources or employment.

Level three is love and belonging. This one is about human connection. It's super important, and we're going to attack it down the road, but not today. And besides, I don’t wake up each day thinking I need more connection.  Maybe I should. Maybe I will someday. But right now I don’t.

When I wake up on the average day - ignoring the basics like mowing the grass and replacing my kids lost/wet/cracked iPhones - my mind heads to the top two layers of the triangle.  Confidence, achievement, respect, esteem, morality, creativity, problem solving, purpose, meaning, inner potential. 

Exactly what Maslow would predict. And at the tip top he talks about self-actualization. Which, in the same 1943 paper I mentioned earlier, he describes as…

“…the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”

Notice he doesn't say to become selfless. Or that there is no I in team. Or that you must live in service to everyone else to find meaning. Instead he says "become more and more what one is". That sounds real “inside out” to me. It sounds like I need to get my shit together FIRST. It sounds like he would agree that “I” belongs at the heart of my Self. 


So that's where I'm going to put it. I’m going to add a great big “I” dead center in my SELF circle.

And then I’m going to aim that “I” at Maslow’s top level - self actualization. I’m going to focus on becoming “everything that one is capable of becoming.”

Sounds pretty cool doesn't it? Unfortunately, I have no idea what I’m capable of becoming. 

But I'm pretty sure I know where to look. I think my answer lies somewhere in these terms. Mission, Vision, Purpose, Cause, Passion, Principles, Character, Culture, Style, Preferences, Personality, Values, Beliefs. 

These things multiply like rabbits in most personal and corporate “Do Better” manuals. And I've spent countless hours locked up in conference rooms trying to understand and wordsmith this crap. Trying to sound perfect. And guess what? After all that time and effort I still can't tell you the difference between Mission and Vision.  Same for Values and Beliefs. It just won't stick. It all starts to sound like Charlie Brown's teacher - Wa Wa Wa Wa.

BUT, I know there’s value in there somewhere, so I’m going to dive in. I’m going to explore the one that gets the most positive press - Passion. I want to figure out if Passion belongs at the center of the “I” in my Self circle. If Passion can help me become "everything that one is capable of becoming". 

A word of warning before I end for today. We're heading into a few posts that are primarily focused on Self. If you're here for Work stuff, just be patient. It's a necessary detour and I promise we'll circle back and apply it all in the context of Work.

I’ll close with a quote from a pretty successful guy that was also a believer in passion - Steve Jobs.

“You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you're not passionate enough from the start, you'll never stick it out.” 

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