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Self-Fulfillment Versus Ego

Eric Bai
October 25th, 2021 · 1 min read

Everyone has a desire for some abstract “more”. The trick is to figure out which of these desires are healthy. Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the first few levels are easy to understand. We need survival and stability before more advanced needs.

Love/belonging and esteem are a bit more complicated. It’s pretty clear-cut what these things are, and totally neglecting these would be bad. But everyone has different levels of how much they need these two. Some are perfectly happy with less esteem than others, for example. That’s the distinction here from the previous physiological needs.

Self-actualization is the most interesting: it’s incredibly open-ended. What is the best way for someone to be the best version of themselves? Let’s explore a few categories, from most egotistical to least:

  • Having an exciting and romantic life: seeking adventure, or making a mark on the world, having an interesting life story. I think these are all very egotistical. You have a narrative in your head where you are the protagonist and you try to bend reality to be consistent with it. What does this really accomplish? It’s very self-serving. Arguably, this isn’t self-actualization at all, and seeking this out means you’re still stuck on gaining esteem.
  • Mastering a skill or craft: whether it be athletic, creative, business, or etc. This is not as egotistical — first and foremost, you are putting the craft before yourself. You are trying to express something that isn’t so much about you. Nonetheless, it’s hard to decouple your ego from your skills.
  • Making the world a better place: enriching the lives of the people around you. Being generous and virtuous. This is not egotistical at all. Maslow calls this transcendence, and revised versions of the hierarchy place this above self-actualization.

I think we all need to manage our egos to an extent, so the first one is always going to be around. But it’s the other two where you are living in accordance with the real world. It’s more spiritually fulfilling to work towards something with tangible results outside of your head.

By thinking of self-fulfillment in this way, we can more intentionally become the kind of person that makes the world a better place.

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