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Weekly 3: You could do so much more

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Idea Journal Weekly 3

December 19 · Issue #222 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.


Summary: Are you leaving achievements “on the table”? This issue explores a few reasons why you may not be fulfilling your potential.
(~3 min read)

#1. Let the hierarchy guide you
Psychologist Abraham Maslow first proposed the now-popular “hierarchy of needs” in his 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation.  
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that to reach your full potential (“self-actualization”), you first need to satisfy your basic material and psychological needs: physiological (e.g., food, water), safety (e.g., shelter, physical security), belonging (e.g., love, supportive relationships), and self-esteem.
According to Maslow, you can’t reach self-actualization unless these basic needs are met.
For instance, if you live in a violent environment your need for safety is unmet. Or if you’re dealing with a turbulent personal relationship, your need for belonging and love is impacted. 
Although Maslow’s hierarchy has been criticized as simplistic and culturally biased, it can still be a helpful lens to understand a person’s performance. 
For example, if you see someone underperforming, you might ask yourself: 
  • Are their basic needs being met? 
  • Do they feel safe, physically and psychologically?
  • Do they have supportive and caring people in their lives?
  • What is their level of self-esteem?
Similarly, if someone is fulfilling their potential, they likely have their basic material and psychological needs covered.
Maslow’s hierarchy won’t explain every case of underperformance.
But like any framework or model, it doesn’t have to be perfect to be useful.
#2. Cut your fears down to size
Choreographer and dancer Twyla Tharp writes in her book The Creative Habit that fear is a natural part of any creative endeavor.
Why didn’t you speak up during that brainstorming session at work? When that idea for a new project came to you, why didn’t you pursue it?
There’s nothing wrong with having fears – the mistake is to let them paralyze you before you begin.
For Tharp, if you examine your concerns closely, you should be able to identify and break down the ones that are holding you back.
She names fives of the most common fears people face when they’re doing something new, along with some helpful perspectives for dealing with them:
I’m not sure how to do it: Doing is better than not doing, plus “we’re not talking about constructing the Brooklyn Bridge.” If you try and it doesn’t work, learn from your mistakes and use a different approach next time.
People will think less of me: Not the people who matter – your friends and family will still love you.
It will take too much time: Maybe, but if it’s something you really want to do, make the time. Tharp cites the golfer Ben Hogan’s idea that “Every day you don’t practice, you’re one day further from being good.”
It will cost money: Once your basic needs are met, money is there to be used: What better investment than in yourself?
It’s self-indulgentSo what? How often do you indulge yourself? Tharp notes that “You won’t be of much value to others if you don’t learn to value yourself and your efforts.”
#3. Live your true life, not a metaphor
Author Steven Pressfield writes in his book Turning Pro that sometimes, when we’re afraid of embracing our true calling, we’ll pursue a “shadow career” instead.
That shadow career is a metaphor for our real career. It has a similar shape, but it entails no risk: “If we fail at a shadow career the consequences are meaningless to us.”
He gives a few examples:
  • The musician who spends more time drinking and doing drugs than writing music.
  • The employee who works in a support capacity for an innovator because she’s afraid of taking the risk and becoming an innovator herself.
For Pressfield, both are cases of amateur behavior.
The amateur knows that becoming himself means being different from others. He knows that this could mean violating the expectations of the tribe, and he believes that without the tribe’s support, he can’t survive.
Therefore, the amateur stays in place and remains inauthentic: someone other than who he really is.
Pressfield advises: “If you’re dissatisfied with your current life, ask yourself what your current life is a metaphor for. That metaphor will point you toward your true calling.”
Quote of the week
“If people are disappointed in their careers yet still believe they are great and unrecognized, they may turn to various compensations–drugs, alcohol, sex with as many partners as possible, shopping, a superior, mocking attitude, et cetera.”
- Author Robert Greene in his book The Laws of Human Nature
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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