I was speaking with a prospective franchisee last week and I asked him, “Why are you considering starting your own business?” His answer said it all.
“I have always felt like I was missing something. I know I was meant for more in this life.”
This is not the first time I’ve heard this sentiment. Many people tend to feel this way at least once throughout the course of a lifetime, and it often has to do with feeling unfulfilled in their work. It is human nature to search for meaning in the world, as well as in your own life. So if you feel like you are still searching, it’s time to ask yourself:
What do you want?
More From Entrepreneur.com
Seriously, have you ever taken the time to clearly and definitively figure out what you really want in your life, your career, your family or simply yourself?
This is one of those devilishly complex questions. People often spend years asking this question. Sometimes, the answer even changes as you grow older. So how do you begin to find an answer?
A good starting point is needs versus wants. We all probably learned this as schoolchildren. A need is something you have to have; then there’s a want, or something you would like to have.
But the wants versus needs debate is deeper than this. Anyone who has taken Psychology 101 might have had to study "The Hierarchy of Needs" proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation.” Maslow posited that human needs are arranged in a hierarchy:
Level One: Biological and physiological needs. These are air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex and sleep.
Level Two: Safety needs. That is, protection from the elements, security, order, law, stability and freedom from fear.
Level Three: Love and belonging needs. These are friendship, intimacy, affection and love, from work group, family, friends and romantic relationships.
Level Four: Esteem needs. These include achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, control and respect from others.
Level Five: Self-actualization needs. These include realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.
Most of the people I work with as a franchise coach have their level one and level two needs covered. The fortunate ones also have a strong, loving support network providing level three -- belongingness. The large majority of us spend our time focused on level four -- esteem needs. This desire for achievement, control, independence and respect from others is what gets us up in the morning and drives us forward each day. This leaves level five -- self-actualization. This final level seems to be the challenge for most people.
Self-actualization is really the art of reaching personal potential and fulfillment. Remember the prospective franchisee I mentioned at the start of this article? This man had spent the majority of his working life focused on level four needs and one could say that he had objectively achieved level four. However, he was still missing level five. Why is this? How can a person fulfill their esteem needs but fail in self-actualization? It may have something to do with where these needs are satisfied.
Level four can be achieved in corporate America. As an employee, you can succeed in achievement, status, growth and experiences. Unfortunately, no job description includes “self-actualization.” Self-actualization cannot be found in corporate America nor can your friends give it to you as a gift. Self-actualization comes from within. It requires looking within yourself and becoming the person you have always thought you could become. It requires the willingness to take measured risks and exhibit personal confidence. It requires separating yourself from what friends and neighbors expect you to do and, instead, following the path that you have always wanted to take. The corporate job will not get you there because you do not have full control of your life. Self-fulfillment can only occur when you are in control and you are able create the future that you want.
Related: 3 Strategies for Hacking Happiness
The secret to happiness? It’s all about you. If you are happy going to work and can somehow achieve self-actualization on weekends through outside activities, then leave well enough alone. You are on the right path. But if you’re like most Americans, and you live in fear of the next big reorganization, then you need to consider changing your paradigm. It’s time to start taking control of both your career and your happiness. It’s time to realize your full potential.