One of the most important lessons I learned while I was researching motivation is that authenticity is motivating.
Authenticity is the condition or quality of being authentic. The definition of authentic, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is of undisputed origin; genuine. The dictionary further informs us that the origin of the word is from the Greek word authentikos meaning ‘principal or genuine’.
Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who is considered the father of motivation. He created a hierarchy of needs or motivators. His hierarchy has five levels. At the bottom of the hierarchy are the physiological needs, such as food, water, and air. The next level up are the safety needs, the need to keep your body, resources, employment and property secure. In the third level up are the love or belonging needs, the need to have friends and family and the need for sexual intimacy. The fourth level up is esteem needs, confidence in yourself, the respect of others, and a sense of achievement. The fifth and final level is called self actualization. In describing this level, Maslow said, “What a man can be, he must be.”
Maslow asserted that you have to achieve the lower levels before moving up to the higher levels, for example, if you don’t have food to eat (level one) you would be motivated to find food, but would not be motivated by a need for friends (the third level).
Maslow saw being authentic, being the genuine you, as the ultimate motivator, that which would motivate you after all your other needs were met.
Given how motivating being authentic is, you would think that there could be nothing more motivating than working on becoming who you genuinely are, your authentic self. But this does not seem to be the case for most of us. Instead, many of us will work for years for someone else, living in roles assigned to us by someone else, rather than being or working toward being who we authentically are.
I’ve often asked myself why this is. I came up with several reasons. One major reason, I believe, is that some of us don’t have any clue who we authentically are. We have gone through life meeting other peoples’ expectations, starting with our family’s, then our friends’ (peer pressure) and then a spouse. Others of us may have a clue, or maybe a really strong idea, of who we genuinely are, but we don’t believe we have permission to be that person; no one has ever given us permission and we don’t realize or believe we can give permission to ourselves.
Maybe Maslow is right and the reason so many of us do not work toward becoming actualized is we haven’t yet achieved, in our minds anyway, the four lower levels in the hierarchy.
But it seems to me that we can be working on meeting those lower needs, and still be working on finding out who we are and becoming that person.
Discovering who you really are may be the most important discovery you ever make. When you are genuine, when you are doing the things that fulfill you, the things you love, you will have more energy, you will have greater persistence, you will have greater creativity and you will have more joy in your life.