Is self-actualization selfish?
A milestone birthday: time for reflection
“How does it feel to be 50?” someone asked me the day before my birthday.
“I’m not really that thrilled about it,” I replied.
“Why!” she demanded. “I’m grateful for every day!”
“Oh, I don’t know, I thought I would be further along…not working so hard…more ‘adult.’ ” I grasped for words that wouldn’t sound too superficial (such as “Not still trying to lose the baby weight…”) or lofty (“self-actualization”) because I didn’t – and still don’t, really – know how I felt about it. The birthday crept up on me because I had not wanted to think about it. A lot of times I feel like I’m pretending to be a grown up. I still like to shop in the “Juniors” section. “I don’t really feel like I’ve accomplished enough yet.”
“You have your children. Doesn’t that make you feel fulfilled?”
“I don’t feel like I have the time to do the things I need to do to take care of myself. I am not sleeping enough and I don’t have time to get to the gym regularly and I haven’t been writing like I want to.” Like I need to. I have sticky notes with story ideas all over my computer, desk, and notebook. “I don’t feel like I’m self-actualizing, I sighed. There, I said it, and the admission nearly brought me to tears.
She then proceeded to tell me how selfish I was. I think she said I was the most selfish person she knew. I deflated further and willed the tears not to spill from my eyes.
“Why is it selfish to want to achieve my full potential, including creative endeavors?” I asked. That’s all self-actualization is.
You can have it all, just not all at once
“I’m perfectly satisfied with having raised my kids and now I can enjoy watching them raise theirs. You can pursue your dreams after you’ve raised your children.”
“But, but, but…” I told her about another friend who had told me “use it or lose it” about my writing, “God gives you your gifts and talents and can take them away if you do not use them.” I tried justifying things with the fact that I am using my gifts and talents at my day job now, because I am a full-time ghostwriter. And sometimes parenting is kind of creative. Figuring out how to get your boys to cut back on their screen-time addictions is a skill…And tried being okay with that for a few moments.
But is that all? I hoped not. Maybe it is enough for other people but I don’t think it is for me. At the same time, I didn’t want to insult my friend or anyone else who feels that raising children is their highest calling.
I disengaged from that conversation: Allowing my friend to have her say while I tried to remain neutral, I offered, “Okay, you’ve given me an idea, maybe I’ll write a list of 50 accomplishments …” as I eased into a new subject. I wound up feeling really horrible about myself and shamed and decided I’d have to tuck the feelings away to be re-examined later. (And I haven’t made the list yet, either.)
The fact is, my father passed away at age 51 and my mother right after she turned 64. You can’t help but think of your own mortality as it relates to your parents. Although, no one really knows when they’ll die: when it’s your time, it’s your time. But imagine if you knew you only had a day or a year or 14 years left to live? Would you want to be drudging along, not sleeping enough, not eating right, and not being the best you can be?
You may have to postpone self-actualization
On my actual birthday, I heard from one of my oldest and best friends. She told me basically the same thing in a much kinder way: essentially, sometimes you have to put off self-actualization and not feel bad about it.
Maybe I will never feel like a “real” grownup, one who has matching shoes and handbag and wears lipstick when she leaves the house. I still wear sneakers, sweatpants, and a hoodie most days (and was recently validated to see in one of my favorite stores, a department called “athleisure,” so see, there is such a thing as the style of dress I prefer) – but I am working, running a household, and raising kids. I try to eat right, sleep enough, and work out, but I really need to try harder. Those are basic needs for self-care. And today, anyway, I am writing.
What do you think: is being a mom achieving your full potential?
Do you have a hard time taking care of your basic needs, never mind self-actualization?
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