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How to Achieve Your Full Potential as a Writer

Carol Tice

Are you the best, most creative, prolific, and successful writer you could be?

If not, it’s probably because some critical need you have is not being met.

This lack in your life is preventing you from becoming your best, most productive self.

The good news is that if you identify and address your problem, you can take your writing, and your life, to a whole new level of satisfaction and success.

What might you be missing that you need?

In a 1943 paper, the psychologist Abraham Maslow posited a theory of human self-actualization. By studying successful, creatively fulfilled people, Maslow came up with a hierarchy of needs that must be met in order to live fully and achieve our full potential.

It’s often depicted as a pyramid. First, you need a large, critical foundation of basic needs met. Without that, you can’t build a successful life.

Once those basic needs are met, you can move on to addressing more sophisticated needs, and so on, until you reach the top level of achievement, where all your needs are satisfied and you can attain self-actualization.

What people need

Here is a rundown on Maslow’s hierarchy (which was expanded in the 1970s from a five-step to a seven-step process). Take a look at this checklist of needs and see if you spot something that’s missing from your life:

  1. Survival: Basics such as air, drink, food, clothing, and sleep (Interestingly, the hierarchy also places sex here.)
  2. Comfort: Warmth and protection from the elements, the rule of law, feeling safe from danger
  3. Belonging: The need to feel part of a community, to have relationships, and feel loved
  4. Competence: We long to have accomplishments and be recognized for them
  5. Cognition: The need to explore new ideas, learn and understand
  6. Aesthetics: We crave symmetry, order, and beauty in our world
  7. Self-actualization: With these needs met, we can fulfill our potential

Once you’re at the top of this pyramid, the next step in the hierarchy is transcendence — moving beyond the pursuit of achieving your own potential to helping others achieve theirs.

I don’t know about you, but reading over this list I felt both some elation, and some sadness.

On the one hand, in some aspects I feel like I am achieving self-actualization, or at least getting in the ballpark. I look at what I’m writing and the response it gets from readers and often feel like I’m at the top of my game.

I love the work I do and the clients I write for. I’m well-paid and able to pick and choose clients.

But then…I see areas where there’s a lack in my life. If my household could be more calm and less cluttered, for instance, would my mind be more fully alive? Or if I made the time to cultivate more and deeper personal friendships?

I could probably come up with amazing new ideas that would take my writing career to a new high. Maybe I’d have already written that tantalizing young-adult novel idea I keep tossing around with my daughter, for instance.

Who knows what heights my writing might achieve, under more ideal circumstances.

The habits of self-actualized people

Besides addressing these needs so that we can create from a more secure base to support our creativity, what else can we do to achieve our potential?

Maslow identified a set of traits common in self-actualized people. I found them similar to the traits we often talk about a lot here on the blog when our subject is overcoming fears and obstacles to achieve your writing dreams. His list:

  • Experiencing life in a childlike way, fully absorbed in our task and open to new experiences
  • Trying new things instead of sticking to safe paths
  • Listening to your inner voice rather than authority figures or the majority
  • Honesty with yourself and others
  • A willingness to be unpopular if your views are different
  • Hard-working and responsible
  • Breaking down defenses and moving out of comfort zones to take on new challenges

Everyone gets there in their own way, Maslow reported, but these were traits seemed to be indicators that a person could take advantage of the satisfaction of their needs to unleash their creativity.

This second list challenges me in so many ways. I’m hard-working and responsible yes, but am I doing enough to break out of habits and walk new paths?

For sure, I don’t spend enough time listening to that little voice inside.

How about you?

What do you need to achieve your potential? Leave a comment and tell us what’s missing.