“Learning always involves self-transcendence. Learning calls forth what is in us, helping us to move toward authenticity and wholeness” (Karl Rahner)
One of the most profound battles of life is becoming your best self – living up to your full potential and contributing meaningfully to society. Because development is recognised as a tough journey, millions of articles and books have been authored on the subject and businesses have been built to assist people along their respective journeys (be these journeys personal or professional). Self-help books (not all of them helpful unfortunately) occupy large sections in libraries, coaches abound, and millions of dollars are spent on training initiatives, mostly to good effect and some even facilitating profound impact and positive change.
One of the fundamental problems with all these interventions, however, is that they mostly focus on individual performance improvement, achieving your goals, bettering your skills, fulfilling your vision, winning and being on top of your game. This can be likened to the top triangle on Maslow’s initial Hierarchy of Needs model where, after your physical, safety, social and esteem needs have been met, self-actualisation can be realised. This reaching of one’s full potential include needs like partner acquisition, parenting, developing and utilising talents and skills, and pursuing goals. Many academics criticised the model, however, suggesting that culture, gender, life-orientation, age, and circumstance play roles in determining the hierarchy (e.g.: differences between individualist and collectivist societies, or the need for security is often felt more strongly in older people, etc.). They also felt that the various need stages overlap and are not necessarily sequential in nature. Notwithstanding some criticism, however, the model has largely endured, but many don’t know that in Maslow’s later career, he added to the self-actualisation level and called the addition “self-transcendence” – satisfying spiritual needs or giving to something that is beyond oneself – suggesting that the focus of the human being should shift from internal satisfaction to external issues that need solutions.
Viktor Frankl, (“Man’s Search for Meaning”), affirms this concept by saying: “Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfil or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets oneself — by giving one to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human one is and the more one actualises oneself. What is called self-actualisation is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more one would miss it. In other words, self-actualisation is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.”
Self-transcendence relates to God, faith, and a riveting perception of your role in meeting the needs of others in our ailing world. Becoming your best self involves striving towards higher-level goals that allow you to serve someone/or a cause beyond yourself. As your focus shifts to external needs, selfishness subsides, and behaviour becomes aligned to acts of contribution.
Faith in God, coupled with a deep sense of what is truly important, calibrates your life’s value proposition and moves you towards the fulfilment of intrinsic goals (like emotional intimacy, personal growth, and societal contribution) and away from extrinsic goals (like material possessions, physical attractiveness, and social popularity) over time. It enables the best in you to be realised and expressed in meaningful acts of kindness towards others. It accelerates your potential and embeds a legacy that is worth leaving.