Deborah has 4 years of teaching experience and a master's degree in program development & management.
What is Self-Fulfillment?
Each of us has goals that we hope to achieve in our lifetime. What skills do you wish to acquire? What characteristic flaws do you want to overcome? Do you want to have a family? Do you strive to have a successful career? How do you wish to impact the community you live in? What is the legacy you wish to leave behind? These goals all come together to form our ideal life and the concept of self-fulfillment. Self-fulfillment, also known as self-realization or self-actualization, is the combination of the hopes we have for our lives as well as the plan we create for achieving them.
History of Self-Fulfillment
The idea of self-fulfillment dates back to Ancient Greece. The Greek philosopher, Socrates, preached this through the Socratic Tradition. He believed that everyone could discover their beliefs and values through something called self-examination. For example, think of a time when you had a strong emotional response to something such as crying during a scene in a movie or feeling angered by a political point of view. Why do you feel this way? This is self-examination, or the process of reflecting on your own behaviors and feelings and the motivations behind them.
This ideology stayed within the Greek culture and played a significant role during the Hellenic Age, also known as the golden age of philosophy. During this time, Alexander the Great spread their culture to create a vast and diverse empire. The people were not unified by traditional means, such as a political system or nationality. Instead, they were brought together by a fundamental value that was embedded in their education system. They embraced subjects like history, mathematics, art, and music all of which focused on one simple philosophy--attaining self-fulfillment and understanding.
We can also find the idea of self-fulfillment in more modern theories of psychology. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs was designed by the psychologist, Abraham Maslow, during his study on human motivation in the 1940s. Unlike other psychologists who were studying people with mental disorders, Maslow chose to study people who were successful in life. From his work, he concluded that human motivation was rooted in discovering our true potential through personal growth. In other words, we strive to attain self-fulfillment.
Even though self-fulfillment had a strong influence on the field of philosophy and led the Greeks through a golden age of self-discovery and enlightenment, there have been concerns raised about its usefulness and feasibility in modern times. Physiologist, Sigmund Freud, felt that the pursuit of self-awareness was an expression of the narcissistic ego and supported the idea of egoism, or the ethical theory that human behavior is motivated by self-interest. He felt that if a person is so interested in themselves, it leaves little to no room for other values. In other words, if you are focused entirely on doing what is best for you, are you able to recognize what is in the best interest of others?
A second argument highlighted by Freud is that there is no end to a person's aspirations and desires. Once you accomplish one goal you tend to set another. Therefore, self-fulfillment can never be truly reached and should not be one's sole focus in life. When mixed with the idea of egoism, it could lead someone to chase a goal that is unrealistic and unobtainable. Additionally, the idea of our 'best' self is subjective and based on perception. This means that our ideal self will always include our own prejudices which may override the common values of society. As a result, our conception of self-fulfillment could be harmful to ourselves and even others.
Let's use an example to demonstrate these ideas. Joseph is a small-time thief and mostly pickpockets on the street. Once he is more experienced at stealing, he hopes to take riskier items such as jewelry and art. Joseph has other criminal friends who commit crimes that are much worse than his, so he does not consider himself to be a bad person. In this situation, Joseph's perception of what is right and wrong has led him to believe that stealing is ok and his quest for self-fulfillment is about becoming a better thief. Unfortunately, his idea of his 'best self' breaks society's ethical code on stealing and hurts others in the process.
In this lesson, we discussed self-fulfillment. This is the ideal version of ourselves that we strive to be in life. The idea of self-fulfillment has been around for centuries and can be found in the teachings of Socrates as well as more modern theories such as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Both of these teachings support the notion that human motivation is deeply rooted in personal growth. Even though self-fulfillment is a popular concept, it has not been accepted by everyone. Some have contested that self-fulfillment supports egoism, or only being motivated by self-interest. Others have noted that there is no end to a person's hopes and wishes, so self-fulfillment can never actually be obtained.
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