Recently, I was trying to explain Maslow's theory of motivation to my psychology class at DeVry. Maslow developed his concept of a hierarchy of needs to explain what motivates people. Some of my students just weren't getting it. I went on about the motivation to acquire food, avoid pain, and find security. I told them that Maslow theorized that until these basic needs were satisfied, we wouldn't move up the hierarchy of needs. Once we acquired these elemental needs, we would move to the next level: the need to belong and to be loved. As I looked out over my class, it was clear that I was losing them. By the time that I started to explain the self-actualization level, it was quite apparent that many of them didn't understand. The fog of doubt and confusion was written clearly upon their faces.
Whenever I hit an educational brick wall while teaching, it really motivates me to overcome the obstacle by quickly redefining the point in terms of my students' lives. After circling the room like a person trolling around a lake looking for the elusive fish that got away, it suddenly dawned on me. I blurted out, "Michael Jordan's return to the NBA as a player is an act of self-actualization!" I quickly got their attention if not yet their understanding. At least, they were listening again. I continued by saying that Jordan is not motivated by financial concerns or the need to be recognized. That is blatantly obvious. He can't spend all his money nor is there a corner of the world that hasn't been exposed to MJ either on the hardwood or on clothing products. Jordan's return is for self-actualization-Maslow's self-actualization level. As an aside, I told them that the motivation behind retiring from basketball and trying out for baseball was also a self-actualization attempt on his part. He wanted to see what he could do in another sport. He wanted to be all that he could be.
His long-awaited re-return to basketball is awaited by us all. We will benefit from his return to the NBA and will soon see him once more soar on his way to the basket. However, he isn't doing it for us but rather for himself. But, who is going to complain? Won't it be grand to see him flash his sheepish smile after another remarkable lay-up? It is as if he says, "I love doing that, and I get paid for it!" Who enjoyed playing the game as much as Jordan?
It wasn't long before my class had a good idea about Maslow due to my morphing Maslow and Michael. Much of the other concepts, theories, and understanding that we talked about during the semester will soon be forgotten. However, they won't forget Maslow's hierarchy of needs as long as they live. More importantly, I hope that they will look at their own lives and continue to move toward self-actualization. As MJ is preparing for a comeback, my students, you, and I are left impatiently to rewind our memories of Michael playing the game like no other. However, Jordan gives us all a model of how to morph our lives into Maslow's hierarchy of needs and become all that we can be.
Essentially, Maslow was an environmentalist. Other environmentalists remind us that we should not waste vital resources like our air, water, trees, and animals of our world. Maslow shows us how to motivate us to avoid wasting ourselves-our most precious resource. By moving up his hierarchy of needs, we more fully utilize all the talents. Ask yourself a very chilling question: how much more time do I have here on earth? A year, five years, twenty years, or more. Regardless of your prediction, time is fleeting for each of us to reach Maslow's final stage of self-actualization. Get a plan. Figure out what you need to do to get to your peak-performance. Get motivated. Internalize the morphing of Maslow and Michael by taking MJ's advice to all of us: "Just do it!"
This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 8/23/01.