As we wind down the year, and especially during this season of giving, not only is it a great time to take stock of how we met our goals on a business level, but also on a personal level. It’s also the time of year to be calibrating those goals for next year.

It’s important to set both business goals and personal goals.

But sometimes it’s hard to decide or understand the importance of what kind of goals will help move us along in our lives.

I often wonder how many people take time out of their busy lives to contemplate the ultimate goal. Where they really want to be, what truly is important in life to achieve.

Some people get stuck on certain levels. This happens mostly because they are not aware of creating a path through life. There’s an importance to setting goals for many aspects of life. It’s easy to stagnate at a certain level simply by ignoring important aspects of life while in pursuit of other levels.

Let me explain. I remember years ago while I was still traveling around the world and sailing, I was working with non-profit organizations and teaching teenagers a myriad of experiences on boats, from scuba diving to environmental education. I was taking a break and visiting my father in Rockville when he said, “You know, you live your life at the highest level of the pyramid.” He proceeded to explain to me the five levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Just as a quick overview, Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who introduced this concept in 1943 in his paper, A Theory of Human Motivation. The gist of it was that Maslow envisioned human motivation as a pyramid with the most basic needs at the bottom, as the foundation and self-actualization at the top.

  • First we must fill our Physiological Needs – Food, water, air, sleep, and warmth. Without achieving these everything else is secondary.
  • The next level is Security Needs – this is comprised of money, job, health, secure neighborhoods and a roof over your head.
  • Once these are fulfilled needs such as Social Needs begin to take prioritythe need for love, friendship, manifested through involvement with social, religious and community groups.
  • This kind of involvement leads into Esteem Needs – these needs encompass self worth, a need for social recognition and acceptance.
  • But the highest level of the pyramid is the one that interests me the most. Self-Actualizing Needs. People who are operating on this level have shed concern for what other people think, and work toward their purest potential. They are self aware and begin to work on a level not only for themselves but for others. Not because they are seeking approval, but because it’s part of full-filling their ultimate potential.

When my father said I lived at the top of the pyramid, he meant that he saw someone who was no longer concerned about what other people thought. I was living in the moment not conforming to the traditional expectations and completely immersed in experiencing the world moment by moment.

Because of these world and life experiences I developed a deep empathy for others, and was always on a quest on how I could help or do good for others. Not for the approval of others, but for the sheer experience of giving.

When you give of yourself unconditionally you get back 10 fold. But it’s not always a quantifiable item you get back. And really those are the best kind.

I have to admit though, it’s not always easy to stay at the higher levels of the pyramid. When we get involved beyond our needs to our wants we can get stuck in the lower levels. Missing the point of the possibilities of progressing to the higher levels. Please don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with focusing on the levels which involve security and social needs. But once you experience what it’s like to shed some of the baggage that goes along with these levels;

  • The petty bickering
  • Concern with what other people think of you
  • One ups contests in business and friendships
  • Gossip
  • Keeping up with the Jones

You start to get down to the root of what really makes you happy. Your higher cause if you will. What makes you truly tick. I’ve found these moments sitting on a rock near a river in Lesotho, sitting on a beach during a lightning storm in Australia, sitting on the bow of a sail boat at anchor under a star-filled sky.

I’ve found that joy talking about all the possibilities of life with teenagers while sitting in a trampoline on the bow of a catamaran in the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, seeing how people improve their lives by educating themselves about crops in coffee fields in La Paz Honduras, seeing the sense of discovery in the face of a child in poverty with a camera in their hand documenting their life in the city dump in Guatemala City.

I find that joy again as I get involved with projects and people who are giving of themselves to help others. More and more since I’ve been able to break away from the rat race of an office cubicle work which I experienced briefly. I’m able to get back to that place where I can figure out how to give back. Which for me is what is ultimately fulfilling.

So it’s that time of year to take stock of what you are doing, where you are going and where you want to be. And it may be helpful to examine what level you live on, and where you think you might want to go.