Self actualization is the highest level of human existence. Self actualization is achieved by only the rarest among the rarest people. Few of us will ever meet someone who is truly self actualized, and fewer among us will achieve this lofty goal ourselves. Self actualized people are true to themselves; they are often altruistic, with an outward orientation that focuses on others, instead of themselves; and they often achieve a level of serene calm that is comforting to those in their presence. Famous self actualizers include Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, and Mahatma Gandhi. I am one of the fortunate people who have met, in person, not one, but two, people I believe to have achieved self actualization. Interestingly, I met both of them through introductions by my husband (as opposed to on my own or within my circle of friends and family). One of them was a Baptist minister and long time pastor of my husband’s church during his teens and early adulthood. His name was Dr. Jack Snell. Prior to my meeting him, my husband described him as a truly amazing person, unlike anyone else whom he had ever met. Having met more Baptist ministers than I can count, and having been unimpressed with the vast majority of them, needless to say, I was skeptical. My skepticism was quickly put to rest soon after meeting this person, who was everything, and perhaps more, than my husband had described. He was an interesting person who was keenly interested in me, just as much as I was interested in him. (Sadly, he passed away much too early, but his legacy lives within us.) The other person is Dr. Fran Kinne, an outstandingly wonderful woman who has achieved more “firsts” in her lifetime than everyone else I know, combined. My husband met her when he was a college student and she was the President of the university (that’s right, the President!). I was frightened about meeting her for the first time because she meant so much to my husband, not to mention is nationally and internationally famous. But, just as my husband’s former pastor had done, she immediately put me at ease by asking questions about me and seeming to know things I had accomplished. Both of these people are interesting, as individuals, because they are genuinely interested in others. I am constantly on the lookout for a third person who has achieved self actualization, but I am fortunate to have met two more than most people will ever meet!
I had learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in my Psychology 101 class, but the concept is a bit abstract, until you meet someone at the top of the pyramid. And it took my spouse, a psychologist, to point out to me what should have been obvious in these 2 individuals. One of the most striking traits of both of these, and I suppose others who are in this category, is their concern for others. They do not seek attention for themselves, though they frequently receive it. But, they make others feel important by taking a personal interest in the well being of others with whom they are interacting. Self actualizers, at least the 2 I’ve known, are fully comfortable “in their own skins” and can approach others without pretense. They can be intimidating, sure, due to their accomplishments or status in other ways. But, they find ways to make others feel at ease, even given status differences. I can only hope that, by observational learning, as well as the experiences I have had and continue to have, being around such people helps me climb that pyramid a little bit with each interaction.