17 min read

These days I need some face-to-face coaching interactions with my teachers so I can feel connected and effective within my career as an educational leader. I will also need paper products and disinfectant soon, but that looks less and less likely each time I see the empty shelves at my grocery store.

I find myself needing to identify ways to continually learn and help others to overcome the melancholy that nips at my heels with my life so disrupted. I need my second job to start up again. None of these are wants for me. I need them to experience the full breadth of well-being that stimulates my most healthy and creative self.

For me, creativity is essential for thriving.

Needs are required or essential things. Recent events surrounding the spread of the coronavirus have made me get very real with myself about what I truly need and what I give my energy to.

Educators around the world are all assessing their needs. Some need new skills in distance learning to ensure they are meeting their job security and esteem needs. Many are faced with needing financial security when their second job could no longer function. (Yes, I know what it is like to teach and still need side jobs due to the increasing cost of living!) People all over the internet are talking about needing the sunshine, time with separately quarantined loved ones, and a return to normalcy.

I have been toiling away at my esteem and self-actualization needs as a coping mechanism for quarantine. However, I find myself still struggling emotionally with unmet needs that I could not quite put my finger on. That is, I couldn’t name them because I was repressing them while I targeted my more pleasant needs, such as activities that calm my anxiety, social connection, and creativity. This led me to authentically reexamine where I am in regard to my needs. I assure you it is worth the time.

Let me take a step back just in case you are not familiar with the framework I will be considering as I further discuss needs. Look at the graphic below, which depicts the hierarchy of human needs as perceived by a man named Abraham Maslow.

As you examine the hierarchy, take a moment to note any apparent needs you might be deficient in at this time. We will explore each one as I make practical suggestions and provide you with links to guide you to possible next steps you can take to address them even while quarantined.

First, bear with me as I round out the background of the hierarchy for educators who may have come in through alternative certification pathways and such. They may not have had the benefit of exploring Maslow’s framework within educational coursework.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist and philosopher practicing early in the 20th century. He developed the hierarchy of human needs pictured above. Maslow argued that for a person to obtain the highest levels for personal development, which he referred to as self-actualization, their more foundational needs typically must be met.

I will admit that the first version of this article went straight to self-actualization because, again, that is how I have been coping with the recent isolation driven by the shutdown of our society.

As I was meditating earlier this week, a persistent thought pierced through my peace: Not everyone is capable of addressing their self-actualization needs right now. Perhaps my discomfort comes from trying too hard to meet my own higher needs while repressing the fears and insecurities around my shaky foundation during this time. Self-care, after all, should be an essential part of my every day life if that is the message I am putting out to the world.

If your basic needs are currently met, and you want to target self-development, skip to the section on Self-Actualization now. I have some intriguing assessments and tasks for you there to help you explore characteristics about yourself you might not have considered before.

Tier 1: Physiological Needs

Let’s face it: Quarantine refocused the world’s attention and shifted our needs. How can we safely obtain food? For those of us without in-home significant others, are there ways to meet our sexual needs in fulfilling and ethical ways? What will we do about hygiene if we run out of toilet paper?  

If this is where you are, stop beating yourself up about not reorganizing closets and struggling to manage all of the requests for your social presence online. Permit yourself to BE present with your basic needs.

There is grace in being mindful about your physiological needs. Most of the profoundly effective mindfulness strategies take place in the realm of savoring the fulfillment of basic requirements. Mindful eating, doing a moving meditation while you sweep the floor, and attending to your breath are just a few examples.

Strategies for Meeting and Maintaining Your Physiological Needs

  • Keep a food journal on what you eat to help you find unhealthy patterns.
  • Create meal plans while using inexpensive and healthy foods.
  • Keep a sleep log to establish what sleep habits are healthiest for you and develop routines that maximize your sleep needs.
  • Establish a healthy way to meet sexual needs with ethical resources.
  • Use your breath to connect with your body and quieten your overbusy mind. Breathing meditations are a core practice in mindfulness and other meditation methods. Start with just 5 minutes a day and see what happens. What do you have to lose?
  • Get hydrated. I keep finding myself dry lipped and excessively thirsty, so I know I have been ignoring my hydration needs while I work online all day. Chronic dehydration negatively affects every system in the body, including the brain.
  • Track your moods and gain new insight on strategies to maximize the positive feelings while managing the less enjoyable ones. Yale has developed a mood tracker. It does cost 99 cents, but it is a great way to find patterns in your mood so that you can take preemptive measures to minimize undesired mood shifts.
  • Practice gratitude. Somehow, focusing on those things we are genuinely grateful for daily can have a profound effect on our mental and emotional well-being. (There is even scientific research supporting this!)

Tier 2: Safety Needs

My brain is hardwired to continually attend to my personal development and self-actualization needs as a coping strategy. However, I find myself struggling in areas around safety and security right now. When I fight the urge to dwell on such matters, it undermines the progress I make in my personal growth.

How can I self-actualize when I feel uncertain about my finances and my health? The truth is that it took a friend to clue me in to the fact that I am doing myself a disservice when I always push for growth in tier five of Maslow’s Hierarchy without addressing my deficits in the area of security.  

Strategies for Meeting and Maintaining Your Safety Needs

  • Create a budget and begin using it.
  • Build a plan for paying off debt. The limitations on travel and entertainment during quarantine may afford you some extra cash to put toward the first debt you target. When that is paid off, you can allocate the payments that were going into the first debt toward paying on the second.
  • Research skills you need to maximize your employment. Take online courses to level up your current situation. There are great sources for free learning all over the internet.
  • Find ways to exercise that maximize your overall well-being. Why not take advantage of free yoga classes?

Tier 3: Love and Belonging Needs

This one poses a unique challenge in the time of the coronavirus. If you have loved ones with whom you enjoy spending time within your safe space, celebrate that! Now more than ever, our children and significant others need our time and attention. Find ways to give of your time without giving too much. It is about balance.

Strategies for Meeting and Maintaining Your Love and Belonging Needs

  • Find unique and fun ways to express your love to people, whether in person or virtually. There are lots of options that are free!
  • Hang out with friends and loved ones virtually. There are tons of options here like Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Skype, and Zoom.
  • Research interest group meetups in your area so you can go socialize with people who get you when the stay at home orders are lifted. Reach out to the organizer and ask about books and websites you can use to develop your understanding of the common interest.
  • Join online groups, read free books, and seek out online social outlets that target your interests.
  • Find your Love Languages and begin discussing with your loved ones on how you can exercise your top languages in ways that meet their needs. Get them to do the same and calibrate your efforts to make quarantine as pleasant as possible.
  • Write love letters to your friends and family and mail them. There is just something compelling about the written word arriving in the mailbox.
  • Beware social media paradox. Some studies have shown that the very outlets we use to connect to people can lead to depression and low self-esteem if they are accessed too often or during dark moods.
  • If you are single, online dating sites are still an option. If this is an avenue you are taking, be cautious in this time where meeting them in person may take a while. You never know who is on the other device messaging you. Avoid the urge to bare your soul. Instead, get them involved in meaningful conversations by asking thought-provoking questions.

Tier 4: Esteem Needs

There is a reason that esteem is often used as a reward. High levels of esteem feels good. Many of us are struggling with this as we toil at work from home. There may be nobody to see and truly acknowledge what we are accomplishing. You are doing great things. This is simply one of those times where you must find ways to meet your esteem needs from a place deep within.

Esteem could be defined as the need to respect and genuinely appreciate ourselves. So while external validation is always enjoyable, it is the internal validation that means the most in the long run.

Strategies for Meeting and Maintaining Your Esteem Needs

  • Make a list of things that make you feel successful. Focus on things that are doable right now. At the top of my esteem list is helping others with my knowledge and having systems in place that make my house run well. Turn your list into a series of goals. Make sure they are realistic, given your current circumstances. Do something on the menu you created every day that you can.
  • Altruism is the act of selflessly regarding the well-being of others and taking action to improve their condition. Acts of altruism can trigger positive esteem even when nobody knows what you have done. That is the point. People all over the world are struggling right now. Can you help in some way without the expectation of something in return?
  • Create content that helps other educators with current needs.

Tier 5: Self-actualization Needs

Here we are at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy.

Self-actualization is the realization of our intellectual, creative, and social potential achieved through intentional thoughts and behaviors. It is guided by our intrinsic motivation to be our best selves rather than by external motivators, such as money and fame. Maslow developed his hierarchy in a way that has self-actualization at the pinnacle.

I contend that we can apply self-actualization strategies regardless of where we are on the pyramid so long as we are also attending to our essential needs. In fact, in doing so, we can often optimize conditions for other more foundational needs to be met.

Happiness is a strange thing. The very things we think will make us happier (more money, for example) don’t after a certain point. There have been studies and research done on this paradox. For example, a study done by Princeton University reports a direct correlation between income and happiness until an individual brings in about $75,000. Beyond that, more money does not make for a significant increase in satisfaction. Time to pursue habits that do elicit joy.

Maslow discusses this leveling up of need in his work, “A Theory of Human Motivation,” wherein he contends that as soon as a prepotent goal is met, the next higher need presents itself. 

Thus, man is a perpetually wanting animal.”

Abraham Maslow, 1943

Start Self-actualizing with Some Character Building

Our behaviors are often driven by our character. Fortunately for us, our character is not static. However, it can be challenging to develop and change the mental and moral qualities that distinguish us among individuals. It takes intention and dedication.

Much like a fingerprint, typical attributes of character may be present in each of us, but how we exercise and present our nature makes us one of a kind. How we live out our principles and values can evolve. It can be overwhelming to decide where to start when we set out to self-actualize by developing our character. Let me get you started.

There are easy to use assessments available on demand (and for FREE) that can help. I have linked them within this section to help you get started. They will open in a separate tab so you can use the tool and then return to this article to further explore how the information you ascertain through these resources can be applied within the context of connecting with your core self.

Each of the tools will require you to develop a profile. The information and resources they provide are beneficial and worth the time. I have used each of them personally, and you can easily control how the sites contact you. I despise spam, and none of these have opened me up to unwanted contacts.

Let’s Start with Your Primary Archetypes

Carl Jung, a Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist who is best known as the founder of analytic psychology, developed what he referred to as archetypes in the early 20th century.

Archetypes are the personas that manifest in the ways we behave when we interact with the environment and other individuals.

First, take a moment to identify your primary archetypes. Note that this tool has adapted the concept a bit and includes a few contemporary archetypes that replace some of those identified by Jung. After you take a brief quiz, you will be presented with an image of your top three archetypes, such as mine below.

Once you have identified your fundamental archetypes, you can use them to guide the exploration of your strengths and challenges through a more focused lens.

In addition to defining archetypes, Jung also identified what he called “shadow archetypes.” These shadows help us to understand our more deep-seated instincts. They exist as part of our unconscious mind and consist of desires, weaknesses, repressed ideas, and possible shortcomings. Typically, they are formed through high-impact life events and out of our attempts to adapt to cultural norms and the expectations of others. The tool above also identifies your shadow archetypes.

Having a better understanding of the overarching themes in your persona allows you to zoom in on those aspects that best serve your personal and professional goals. It also guides your thoughts as you research ways to develop your social interactions and to address the deficiencies that may be hindering you.

Now Let’s Explore Your Character Strengths

This one took me by surprise, and I would like to think that I know myself pretty well. When I took the Character Strengths assessment linked below, it wasn’t the top strengths that took me off guard. It was the bottom five strengths that gave me pause and allowed me to get very real with myself.

Before proceeding, use this tool provided by the VIA Institute on Character to develop a ranked list of your character strengths. Try not to overthink it or rate the questions on how you wish you were. That will just affirm your misconceptions about yourself, and there is no growth there. Go ahead. I’ll wait…

Print the list if you can. If not, jot down the top and bottom four character strengths in the list. My first four made complete sense to me, but I was a little taken back by the bottom four.

It is important to note here that all of the items on your list are strengths. They are all things we should aim to be, and they cannot all be at the top. The bottom ones should not be confused with a list of deficits. They can, however, help us to identify parts of our character we may wish to grow. So, then why did it bother me so much that zest, prudence, and humor were at the bottom? Gut check time!

The truth is that while I am a very self-motivated and active person, I do lack some self-regulation. I can blame it on my Attention Deficit Disorder or coping mechanisms when my mental health is a struggle, but the truth is I had never given it much thought. THAT is what this next exercise is all about.

Now what?

Each day, I want you to determine whether you are in a place where you need success or if you are in a growth mindset.

If you are craving success on a particular day, perhaps to improve your mood, try to exercise each of your top four strengths. Just last night, I felt the need to find a happy place. So, I took some virtual tours of architectural wonders to admire their beauty and excellence of craftsmanship.

If, however, you are in a growth mindset, you will find ways to put your bottom four strengths into practice. For example, I have begun reading books and taking online classes aimed at improving my humor, mainly while speaking publicly.

I appreciate the time you took today to read this article. It demonstrates your dedication to personal growth: an admirable quality. These are crumbs leading the way to clever thinking and action that you should continue beyond my examples. Remember, a brain that is involved in active doing and learning is less likely to get stuck in dark places.

Stay strong. Stay positive. Stay Mindful!


Fordham, M. S., & Fordham, F. (2019, July 22). Carl Jung. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Carl-Jung

Maslow, A. H. (2018). Theory of human motivation. Wilder Publications.

Sullivan, E. (2019, September 11). Self-actualization. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/science/self-actualization

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2020, March 28). Abraham Maslow. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Abraham-H-Maslow

What is Self-Actualization? A Psychologist’s Definition [ Examples]. (2020, January 13). Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/self-actualization/

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