Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs got revised at the very end of Maslow’s life … by Maslow himself.
As a gentle reminder, his hierarchy prioritizes basic needs first (physiological and safety) followed by the psychological needs of belonging and self-esteem before reaching the pinnacle, self-actualization.
Maslow’s Hierarchy = Incomplete
It turns out Maslow thought he had made a mistake because, at the end of his life, he identified another step after self-actualization. He named the new zenith self-transcendence which is about the need to serve others, i.e. humanity. Maslow saw self-transcendence as moving beyond the self of self-actualization.
Transcendence in Concept
Some cultures describe transcendence as wisdom, when you’ve “climbed beyond” the knowledge you have accumulated and integrated or internalized that knowledge in a way that you can interpret it to others.
Spiritual teachers of all faiths explain this transition to transcendence by using language that connects to their audiences, so each generation absorbs this universal intelligence in a way they understand.
For example, Hindus call the state of transcendence Samadhi, Buddhists call it Nirvana while Christians refer to transcendence through the Resurrection. More modern teachers like Eckhart Tolle and Marianne Williamson use different terminology to suit modern tastes like “spacious awareness” and “return to love.” Abraham-Hicks finds transcendence through alignment.
Each spiritual teacher explains transcendence as a shift from ego identification to spirit. When that happens, you realize you are One. You are One with God, the Holy Spirit, all who have come before you and have yet to come.
Transcendence in Action
Each generation offers its gift of wisdom to the next one. For example, boomers taught Gen Xers how to question the status quo. Gen Xers taught millennials about portable careers, that is, developing transferable skills that apply in multiple industries and careers. Millennials are teaching Gen Zs how to create effectively as a team.
In this way, knowledge is never lost. Even a cursory study of history shows the transference of information over the course of time. You start to see the effects of this accumulation of knowledge as blueprints revealing patterns of behaviour.
I’ve observed that each young generation feels alienated in some way. For instance, today’s Gen Zs feel horrified at what previous generations have done to the earth in the name of endless growth and, in truth, they’re right.
Younger generations don’t feel they’re part of “society” yet and so they approach it with a critical eye. They want to differentiate themselves from the norms of society. Their fresh eyes allow them to shape society to their moulding until they eventually become the soothsayers themselves.
From One to All
When Maslow initially ended his hierarchy at self-actualization, he said the goal of life is self-fulfilment. He realized too late it wasn’t true.
Fulfilment doesn’t come from knowledge or even wisdom. Fulfilment comes from what you do with that knowledge and wisdom. That’s the pyramidion of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
When the old teach the young, they gain fulfilment by recognizing the ultimate “need” for each human is to see All as One. Fulfillment comes through serving others.
To serve others is to share, heal, and help in your own distinctive way. I truly believe people feel most fulfilled by following the path of service, which you do by shining your light.
I love Maslow’s end-of-life story which highlights his moment of transcendence.
May you see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs henceforward in a new light.