Income and its Influence Towards Self-Actualization: Can Employment Help us Realize Our True Self

I am WholeFrom Humble Beginnings…
Initially, when day-dreaming how the topic could be broken down, my thoughts were partially based on the idea that people can come to a point of self-awareness in life; the idea of self-awareness being channelled within Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and employment. I bore with me a fuzzy feeling that we take Maslow’s hierarchy structure for granted because, like most things in life that look perfect; it comforts our sense of safety in an anarchic world.

I am of the view that money, sadly, is the substance that makes the world go round. When I started developing this post, paranoia took over and hopefully you can feed off it as a sub-theme of this writing as I try and guide you through it. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad burden to carry over, if anything, it gives good reason to either show support or reservation as you read further. I want to bring into consideration the question, can an individual come to a place of self-awareness within the workplace or does it require meditative introspection? At this point, I assume some old-school managers are frowning on my pseudo-entropic approach but, if you’re young, vibrant, and inquisitive, read on and test me!

Dr. Bussin (2011: 7) presents a set of case studies exploring how different cultures acknowledge reward schemes divergently. According to his assessment, Chinese employees value informal recognition for work, which is antithetical to the way Germans view recognition. In the same league, Japanese employees view improved working conditions as signs of acknowledgement whereas, to Americans this is of little value. This culmination shows there is no singularity that suits all employees of all culture across different geographic locations. There is reason to question what employee happiness truly is and from such a review, how can self-realization be brought about?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: An Introduction
Different levels of the hierarchy of needs are seen below:

(, 2012)

The base level of the hierarchy looks at it basic physiological needs which, upon being satisfactorily met permit ascension to higher needs till, finally, self-actualization is achieved. Money is one basic needs, it falls within the safety needs but, because we are employed for it, I wanted to test the waters and see if an early assessment could enlighten us about its relation to the question at hand.

Gerhart & Rynes (in Bussin, 2003:48) say,

“Money is the crucial incentive because, as a medium of exchange, it is the most instrumental. No other incentive or motivational technique comes even close to money with respect to its instrumental value.”

It would be easy to be lured by the immediate appeal that the riddle of self-actualization has been solved using Gerhart and Rynes’ enlightenment. The barrelled trade-off that money is a mode of incentive-based communication may influence us to believe all development will evolve from a job to higher needs. An interpretation like that is clearly not the case. Anywhere in the world right now if you Google, “I hate my job”, a legion of search results of individuals who loathe their jobs appear.

Two early conclusions can be drawn thus far:

  1. maybe my initial interpretation of Gerhart and Rynes is wrong and;
  2. possibly, money, which we get from jobs, is merely the lubricant that gets the cogs of life moving but it, of itself, is insufficient to help people to come to a place of actualization, unless actualization is tied to cases of depression and office anxiety – thanks Google!

“Paradoxes of the self”, a term used by Baggini (2011:2) to address the kaleidoscope interpretation we have of ourselves and others is an interesting addition to the deconstruction of the question at hand. Baggini questions, why it is that when our sick suffer a slow death, by the time they actually pass on, the majority of the mourning is actually over. On an opposing pole we carry a sense of sympathy for senior adults who lie in old-age homes. Rejecting the use of the word paradox, because of its depressing insinuation, the author prefers the usage of the term riddle; implying that man is a riddle – a slightly more uplifting impression. So then, if they are dead to us, who are we mourning for? Who is the self of the deceased? And, at what point did we separate from their self?

The question of identity and the self is a subject that runs parallel as we gradually try and climb the hierarchy of needs to a point where the self reaches self-actualization, it will not be sided but be used as one of the baselines as we explore the needs. I am of the view that this person, the self, is romanticized by us, and for us because we don’t know who we are as humans and have therefore created our Frankenstein identity called the self. Sam Harris wrote an interesting book called The End of Faith that looks into the nature of man’s identity in religious circles. The book can be easily classified as a religious misnomer to anyone who is an adamant christian – a noun I hate because it rationalizes ignorance in researching the history of any church and its deities. Blasphemer, ungodly, Gentile, all terms that would probably initially strike general consensus having read or heard of a book such as Harris’. To me, it was pure genius, it can easily be protected under the idea, if you have nothing to fear, then what do you fear? It is because of this book that I started wondering how I could broaden the idea of a person’s identity into the workplace and away from his traditional resolution within religious settings.

The spectrum to answer this question is broad and cannot be filtered with ease. Shall the answer be sought using a psychological channel, a religious paradigm, or a sociological scope? In essence the routes to a conclusion are many, but for the sake of this blog I’ll follow Baggini (2011: 5) on his take, one that extrapolates on, what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for saying a person at one time is the same as a person at another?

I am left with an unsatisfying conclusion on the identity of the self through Baggini– who sleeps well at night at the thought that your identity is a pastiche – you’re mostly fake – a construct of your environment and your absorption of it? Maslow’s hierarchy of needs became the next stop to arrive at when trying to reach a conclusion on man’s true identity. A pyramid diagram representing the different levels of needs that people have carries a foundational position in the minds of many when thinking of transcendence. Before going any further, I would like to toss a word and say the hierarchy of needs is a fun read, whatever criticism it may to be subject to, I appreciate the level of simplicity it has been written with, so whether it is seen as good or bad, I hope it will get some admiration for being a quick (and pleasurable) read.

Physiological needs
The base level of the hierarchy looks at it basic physiological needs. They include basic needs, such as the desire for food. These needs are sought after in an effort to reach homeostasis. Homeostasis is “the body’s automatic efforts to maintain a constant, normal state of the blood steam (Maslow, 1987: 15).” So, for a biology‑101 understanding we can look at the manner in which the body tries to maintain blood sugar, the oxygen in the body and the salts in the body.

Needs at this level can be substituted by other needs, therefore, the person who is hungry may drink water in an effort to deal with their hunger. They are “prepotent”, this means when considering food, books and a hug, if all the needs were placed in extreme depravation, an individual would seek after the most important need: food, before trying to address other higher needs in the hierarchy.

Maslow states (1987: 17):

“Another peculiar characteristic of the human organism when it is dominated by a certain need is that the whole philosophy of the future tends to change. For our chronically and extremely hungry person, Utopia can be defined simply as a place where there is plenty of food.”

The first thought that sparked off in my mind off the above quote was whether it is possible to guinea‑pig employees into what they should hope and aspire for. I can think of a reason or two why an employer would want to do this – train the serf enough to work the computers, but not enough to be a self-adequate entrepreneur by limiting their access to food with a low income. So, using this moment as a checkpoint, I think we can all ask ourselves: are we gifted? Do we know we are gifted? Safely knowing we all are, I ask you, what are you doing to make the real you be seen? We can say with some safety that the sense of Utopia for some employees is jaded by a poor salary. Maybe the mystery of why a person of low income will invest in brand clothing and belittle learning is solved.

Safety Needs
A level above the physiological needs are the safety needs. These needs encompass aspects such as security, stability, freedom from fear and chaos (Maslow,1987: 18). An individual may be wholly dominated by this need sphere in two channels, the first being that they are overwhelmed by it and refuse to look to life beyond the need; the second, they become too comfortable with the satisfaction of this need they do not feel a sense to look beyond it. In the first setting the individual would could be crushed so much by their manager that they are too emotionally drained to excel the safety needs. The second channel would carry with it the false delusion of self-actualization in the misled individual’s eye. An example would be a setting where someone lives in a suburb with no crime, no natural disasters and things of the like. Too much conformity to comforts of this setting could delude such a person from seeking higher levels in the hierarchy.

The Belongingness and Love Needs
This need, as with the others is entered into upon satisfactory gratification of those preceding it. The approach that is used to show its reality is to rather interesting as it is accounted for via its absence (Maslow,1987: 20)! This need encompasses but is not limited to a sense of being loved, affection, and belongingness.

To see the unsatisfaction of the need, we are presented with sample scenarios where an individual may strive for a connection with relatives, be conscious of their lack of friends, children, or a mate. So, to understand its purpose, look at the converse of the bad situations that have just been presented.

The evidence that is said to exist to account for this need is said to be found in publications such as novels, autobiographies, poems and the like (Maslow,1987: 20). I am liberal with my approach towards this need. I believe the need can be observed in more subtle ways than poetry, I will go as far as saying this publication is evidence of this. We don’t need to go looking into overtly romantic works to see this (romantic being used in all spectrums of the word) but any artistic expression is a mystery into it’s content-creators psyche and just because it is hard to interpret doesn’t mean it should be dismissed.

My initial stance that I am happily paranoid can be used as a scale to read into my sense of belongingness within my mental framework of what I believe constitutes the need of belongingness and love in the workplace, and so I believe the same line of thinking is easily transplantable to anybody’s works of expression

I don’t consider co-workers my family, some people are gifted in separating work from family and some people are less fortunate. The interesting take from this point is that a sense of selfishness around the need reveals itself that is independent from the work environment. From this need and beyond, there is no deeply embedded implication that employee-employer relationships are pivotal, rather there are insinuations of the nuclear family taking precedence.

Esteem needs
Needs under this umbrella are said to fall into two pockets. Under the first pocket, they include the desire for strength, achievement, adequacy and others. The second pocket would be desires for reputation. Satisfaction of these needs include feelings of competence in the world and repression of them relate to a sense of failure (Maslow,1987: 21). Is a person of worth to the world under a strict boss for meeting the individuals expectations, and therefore being part of something bigger than himself?

I would like to detour for a moment and talk about a game I was playing, Karoshi. The game is about a suicidal salesman, the Android version, of all the ones I have played, is the most story-telling. Basically, Karoshi must commit suicide because he hates his job, and the only thing that brings joy into his life is his wife. During the course of the game you encounter Karoshi’s boss who breaks his spirit. Fine, it’s a game, but what is the bigger lesson I am trying to work off? Is it possible that by meeting someone else’s needs you can devalue your own esteem needs?

The Self-actualization Need
At the pinnacle of the needs pyramid is the self-actualization need. A key characteristic of this need is that it looks at what people can and must to do, rather than merely just existing on the earth. Examples provided are in the form of musicians, who must make music, artists who must paint, and also poets who must write (Maslow,1987: 22). This need revolves around a sense of self-completion within the individual more than seeking to attain something higher. Maslow completes his writing on this need by saying, “the comon [sic] feature of the needs for self-actualization is that their emergence usually rests upon some prior satisfaction of the physiological, safety, love, and esteem needs.

The self-actualization need contrasts greatly with what I personally considered the highest level for the human organism. I was thinking more along the lines of an aura and transcendence. I’m not too happy limiting human existence to just the physical and ignoring that we have deeper needs, some that seem to defy the boarders of emotion into a quasi-spiritual domain. When we think about love, is it just a need lower in the hierarchy to help facilitate us to reach higher up to become musicians and artists? I do not feel at ease by this idea.

Having reached our apex, I have reservations and areas of agreement with the hierarchy of needs. Reflecting on the Hierarchy of Needs as a whole, I find it very physical and materialistic, I did not see provisions for non-physical realities like love, God and so on. How the entire framework would suit someone who is a pastor or witchdoctor isn’t quite clear to me, this is all falling back on the initial question and asking if people in those professions are fit for the hierarchy, and can find self-actualizations in them.

My support for the hierarchy is probably odd but affectually attuned. The manner in which it is written is appealing, it is not your everyday words-larger-than-life academic publication, it makes for a good read. Indirectly, its inviting manner of having been written gives it an approachable air and by so doing, weighs me emotionally towards it. Being less superficial, it does bear coherence, it feels convergent to its apex in a logical manner. For something as complex as the human organism, I will give it praise in trying to comprehend us – there cannot be a one-size-fits-all to such a complex organism.

And finally, back to the bigger question, can an individual reach self-actualization via employment? I have to say: No! Why would we believe such an idea? I believe people need something to live for. In as much as Neo hated the idea that the Matrix was an illusion, we are afraid of being wholly real to ourselves. Some of you reading this hate your jobs with all of your soul, and I don’t think it’s wrong; I believe it’s your inner self telling you that you are not adapting to who you are meant to be. Furthermore, we are too dynamic to be defined behind suits and man-made labels like “lawyer”, “doctor”, and “professor”. A new-born child isn’t told to call their parents by their employment titles, but rather “mama” and “papa” will suffice. Maybe, just maybe, you’re not an android – just saying.

Baggini, J. 2011. The Ego Trick: What Does It Mean to Be You?  London:  Granta Books
Dr. Bussin, M. 2011. The Remuneration Handbook for Africa: A Practical and Informative Handbook for Managing Reward and Recognition in Africa. Knowres. Randburg: Publishing (Pty) Ltd.
Harris, S. 2006. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. London:  Free Press.
Maslow, A. 1987. Motivation and Personality. 3rd edition. University of Santa Clara: London
Wikipedia. 2012. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs [O]. Available:’s_hierarchy_of_needs.
Accessed 29 September 2012



7 thoughts on “Income and its Influence Towards Self-Actualization: Can Employment Help us Realize Our True Self

  1. The G.O.A.T November 27, 2012 / 4:35 pm

    The most profound thing i have heard, and yet one of the most simple things, was: “If you want to know the product, consult the producer” ~ You won’t find who you are in man-made activities, organisations and institutes, nor in the cosmos….go to the producer, go to God

    • Michael November 28, 2012 / 12:09 pm

      I must say that this is quite impresive boss! how did you cm with this idea?

      • berenglerotholi1 November 28, 2012 / 12:27 pm

        Partially thank the University of Stellenbosch, my lecturers got me interested in hypermedia and its application! On the other end, this is stuff I think about, it comes by from time to time

  2. Michael Nkakala November 28, 2012 / 12:11 pm

    its my birthday today and i’m reading quite an interesting posts! huuum!

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