Sometimes, it’s easy to lose the freshness of life. The pure naiveness of it. The effortless, beautiful brain space that looks at nature and sees safety. The righteous notion that we are many versions of ourselves; to know those versions is to be powerful. The practical idea that we are a mass of water and feelings, trying to make sense of a world bigger than we can rightfully imagine.
When the James Webb Space Telescope captured images of the unseen universe and Jupiter, my brain went to a place I feared. How could the atmosphere keep going; how does expansiveness hold and hide us? I shrank as if I could only see through the tiniest keyhole, and seeing all those galaxies made me forget who I was. At first, instead of appreciating the galactic wonder, I came to terms with something obvious. We float. All I know to be sure: We spin and spin and spin.
So, how do we ground ourselves? How do we find joy in the basic goods of life? While seeing the galaxy in such detail gives us pure bewilderment, how do I allow stale experiences beyond the big stuff to offer a sense of purpose again? And above all, how the hell do I get back to earth?
What is self-actualization exactly?
In my hum-drum of daily reading, Instagram surfing, and pointless walks around my yard while I listen to podcasts, I discovered the phrase “self-actualization.” What is self-actualization exactly? In psychology, it is the process by which an individual reaches their full potential. Okay, great. But what does that mean? Exercising is a process that I know I can use to reach my full potential. So why does anticipating going on a run make me want to turn into a pile of ash? Shouldn’t being “actualized” make me feel happy, no matter what?
To better understand this, I turned to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. According to an article by Scott Barry Kaufman in Scientific American (Writer’s Note: Who doesn’t spend time on a science website at all hours of the day?), Maslow’s emphasis focused “on the notion that self-actualized people are motivated by health, growth, wholeness, integration, humanitarian purpose, and the ‘real problems of life.’” It’s important to note, self-actualization isn’t perfection or things always going smoothly. You can be self-actualized and still face difficulties (Case A: Me, imagining 10,000 galaxies somehow shoved into one grain of sand).
To better understand how this process worked, I began to define self-actualization as the simple act of knowing who I am and being able to reside inside that space for a while. Or, as Maslow would gorgeously put it, “healthy self-realization on the path to self-transcendence.”
Simplify the idea of personal acceptance.
Everything I write about attributes to self-actualization in some way. I am constantly trying to define, understand, and share myself. And in today’s world, built on technology and the ever-beloved hustle, self-actualization has become more crucial than I’ve realized. And harder to accomplish. How do I have the time to accept my quirks and live inside them?
According to the internet, we have the time to accept all these things. Self-actualization is acceptance and authenticity and equanimity and purpose and humanitarianism and a good moral attitude and peek experiences and WHO’S TIRED READING THIS? I know I am.
I am constantly trying to define, understand, and share myself. And in today’s world, built on technology and the ever-beloved hustle, self-actualization has become more crucial than I’ve realized.
How can we simplify actualization for ourselves? How can we become closer to who we are and accept that in a way that feels like surrender? Instead of battle?
Two words: alone time.
In a Girls Night In newsletter, Jodi Elliott wrote a submission that explained how she started referring to her alone time as “actualization time.” She writes, “What I do is go downstairs and get into the groove of me, the groove of my 20-year-old me and 30-year-old me and 41-year-old me and think thoughts and write words and spend time with myself. I think margarita-fueled thoughts about lost loves and hang aspirational design pictures on my bulletin board. I read poems and empty my inbox. In short, I actualize the fuck out of myself by sitting down and ruminating and being with me, all my love and quiet, and motherhood and success and lost dreams. I feel every inch of that for a few hours every other night.”
Aw, that is bliss.
Shouldn’t we focus on ruminating constantly? Make time for things that bring us such bland joy, their directness helps us become quiet and listen to who we are? We rarely build space to spend time with ourselves, and we should. We are not good to the world unless we do. We owe it to our children. We owe it to the environment and our family.
Here are a few things I do when I have actualization time:
- Water and trim my plants
- Paint a horse and foal by numbers while watching re-runs of Fixer to Fabulous
- Prep a box in my house for the Goodwill
- Paint butterflies on flat river rocks
- Stand next to a horse
- Read old journal entries
- Spend countless hours in an antique store
- Get a little wine drunk alone and listen to Fleetwood Mac
- Tear photos of house inspiration out of old magazines and paste them in a notebook like I used to do with Justin Timberlake pictures
- Listen to music with no words—imagine all of the lives I didn’t or could have
A lot of things happen during these moments. Most of them require me to be quiet, so I’m able to sit with my thoughts; come face to face with the reality of my flaws and quirks. I remember who I was when I was a little girl and compare that to now. I quickly realize we are a lot like nature, and the only constant is change.
Here are a few things that ruin any sense of actualization:
- A doom-scroll session on social media
- Stress-shopping Amazon
- Being surrounded by people in a small room (AKA networking)
- Responding to multiple Teams messages at once
- Reading a book that I don’t like
- Counting how many “likes” I got on my Instagram post
- Validating my self-worth through popularity
When I ruin my actualization process, I feel overwhelmed by my spirit. I become easily distracted. I’m unkind. I’m shifty and drive with careless regard. I spend too much money and sit inside guilt longer. I am frustrated with my anger and, like some kind of cruel domino, feel that flicker-push of things falling all at once. I let myself unravel slowly, almost without knowing. I get stuck in these cycles, and I know we all do.
I’m not sure if I would define self-actualization as growth.
I know Maslow does, but I struggle to feel the pressure of self. Awareness is attributed to growth, of course. But while a “writer must write” to feel happy, self-actualization can actually be the worst of it, too. A writer must also be a bad writer, stop writing, sit in water, and understand who they are without it. Our best selves must be the worst of ourselves, too. We must be a bad self and a good self, stop “selfing” altogether, sit in water, meditate, and understand who we are without the rest.
Elliott writes at the end of the newsletter, “I’ve come to think of ‘actualized’ not as being the brightest, most successful, most ambitious part of me. But the most humble and true part of me.”
She’s right. The simple fact of the matter is: We are who we are. We need to sit with that. Go actualize the f*ck out of your life. Right now, in this moment, we are all we have.
Brittany Chaffee is an avid storyteller, professional empath, and author. On the daily, she gets paid to strategize and create content for brands. Off work hours, it’s all about a well-lit place, warm bread, and good company. She lives in St.Paul with her baby brother cats, Rami and Monkey. Follow her on Instagram, read more about her latest book, Borderline, and (most importantly) go hug your mother.