Where I Tell Maslow and Career Gurus to Suck It

One of the biggest things I learned at the Kennedy Conference is that psychology in the hands of hucksters is an easy way to make money and build a career. Case in point: the resurgence in popularity of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

For those of you who don’t know, Maslow was a dude who was interested in studying people who are successful and well-adjusted (in his opinion). He wanted to understand higher states of performance, human motivation, and the ability to transcend the normal bullshit of human existence to operate on a higher level.

Maslow ranked the needs of humans and put the needs in a pyramid — kind of like an early version of the food pyramid. He believed it is important for human beings to poop — but a truly awesome and amazing person will only succeed if he poopseatsfeels safe, and becomes self-actualized.

  • Self-actualized, you ask? What does that really mean?

Who the hell knows. It’s one of those elusive goals. You never quite get there because you’re human and flawed — so you keep paying gurus and yoga instructors and therapists and chiropractors to lead you down a path of self-actualization that doesn’t really exist.

I know this much.

  • Maslow has a ton of detractors, some of whom believe that you can’t rank the human existence in such a banal, silly way. We all have basic needs that need to be met, but prioritizing them in a pyramid doesn’t fully demonstrate the complexity of human nature.
  • Others believe that Maslow is full of shit and his research was faulty and sketchy, especially when he talks about self-actualization and self-transcendence. He created a theory that has a little psychology mixed in with a little Buddhism and a little Jung. It’s a nice theory, but the research doesn’t hold up.

I think one person’s self-actualization is another person’s sham. The people who followed Charles Manson had their basic needs met and felt that Manson’s philosophies gave them morality clarity, spiritual purpose, and a sense of being. Then they killed Sharon Tate.


Now back to this conference that I just attended. One of the keynote speakers alluded to Maslow’s theory, although he forgot to state that it’s a theory, and the speaker offered a career fitness regimen where you get all mentally buff & shit by taking ownership of your life and your career. I think the message is great in many ways. Don’t be a victim. Don’t be bullied by Corporate America. Stand up when an organization devalues your work. Be willing to walk away from the shenanigans in life that distract you from your personal goals.

  • How do you do it? You do this by taking a personal inventory with the goal of self-actualization.

This is where career gurus can shove it up their asses, in my opinion. I think it’s elitist to suggest that a successful career is based on transcending basic human needs and changing the world. Gazing at your navel and aligning your career objectives and personal values with Maslow’s theory comes from being in a privileged position where your kids go to prep schools and you have time to contemplate the meaning of life and work.

For a majority of Americans, we work for money — good or bad. We try very hard to find work that doesn’t devalue our human existence; however, loving your job because it makes some kind of ‘spiritual sense for you’ is not an inalienable right. It’s a luxury afforded to a privileged class of people.

So if you want to find peace and self-fulfillment, don’t buy a book from any career guru who tells you that the key to your success at work is to basically build your self-esteem and feel good. It’s nonsense. You want to maximize your own potential and possibility at work? You want a great and fulfilling career?

  • Show up,
  • work hard,
  • be humble,
  • be opening to learning new things,
  • and commit to doing a great job.

This is not rocket science, people. Maslow proved that.

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Morten Soltveit

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