When we arrive at a threshold, whether it's a beginning, an ending or both, our focus may shift from our higher order human needs to our most basic human needs. That is, if our basic needs are not being satisfied.
This is a well-known theory of psychologist, Abraham Maslow, and his model of hierarchical needs. Maslow's research shows that if our basic requirements for survival such as food and shelter are not satisfied, it is unlikely that we'll be able to focus on our higher order of needs such as meaning and purpose. Maslow describes our hierarchy of needs in this order:
1. Physiological (food, shelter, water, air)
2. Safety and Security (personal and financial)
3. Love and Belonging (family, friends, intimacy)
4. Esteem (acceptance, achievement and respect)
5. Self-actualization (meaning and potential)
Although we may not have thought of our recent economic plight in terms of Maslow, the upheaval it created helps us to become reacquainted with his theory. And, it may help us understand our inability to make decisions that were less difficult in the past. It makes sense that when our basic and fundamental needs are threatened, we abandon the pursuit of higher order needs. Protecting our basic needs, according to Maslow, will always be necessary to the foundation of quality of life.
Where do you find yourself in Maslow's hierarchy? You may have been leaning toward retirement, or seeking a job with more flexibility to give you time to pursue your dreams. Yet, when the economy crashed, you had to readjust and keep the status quo. Or, you may have lost your job in a downsizing, and are just beginning to get back on your feet.
Decisions about purpose and meaning will not be on our radar if our basic needs are not secured. When we are assured they are being met, we will also need the assurance of a close relationship with family and friends. Then we will be able to move to the higher levels of human needs. As each level of needs is satisfied, we are more likely to focus on self-actualization and think broadly and deeply about our potential for a purpose-filled life.
If it's time to be thinking about your life "post career," yet you feel stuck and indecisive, take a measure of your circumstances. Are your needs being met on levels one, two, and three? Are you recovering from a set back? Or, have you recovered and are not yet ready to pursue your greater potential and purpose?
Wherever you find yourself, and whatever must work itself out, focus on what you can do, and the resources and support you need to get back on solid ground. Put your time and energy there. It's important to understand that things may not be the same as before. This takes acceptance in order to move on. When you feel reassured that you have done what you can do, you will find room to once again seek satisfaction at the higher levels of your human needs.