taking your last sips of air.
How was life?
Are you going to die filled with regret or fulfillment?
Are there loved ones around you?
Is your bank account full or empty? Does it even matter?
This year I turned 30 and it made me reflect on the following:
How can we live life so that when we’re on our deathbed, we know we lived it to the absolute fullest?
I don’t have all the answers, but I do have 30 years of experience.
Through this, I’ve come up with a new hierarchy of how to live a fulfilling life. You start at the bottom of the pyramid and work your way up.
Here’s a quick illustration, but we’ll go through each section layer by layer and talk about why it matters and how you can actually do something about it.
This is a guest post by Katrina Razavi. Katrina is the founder of CommunicationforNerds.com where she helps socially anxious nerds become socially bulletproof and live their best lives. She blogs about social skills, change psychology, and life.
Introducing the Pyramid to Fulfillment
I. Safety and Security
“The fact is that people are good if only their fundamental wishes are satisfied, their wish for affection and security.” -Abraham Maslow
What is it?
This layer refers to the basics. Things many people have, but should not be taken for granted. This would be akin to the bottom two layers (“safety and physiological”) of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Things like food, shelter, and safety.
If you do not have these things your first priority is to go out there and get it. If you do have these things, say thank you.
If you have water, remember that “1 in 9 people worldwide do not have access to safe and clean drinking water.” Source.
If you have food in your fridge remember that “food insecurity—the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food— exists in 17.2 million households in America, 3.9 million of them with children.” Source.
I’ll say it again. If you have these things, say thank you.
Why does it matter?
Without the basic elements of water, air, shelter and food you can’t afford to worry about the layers above you. If you don’t have access to water, who gives a shit about creating a personal mission statement?
But here’s something to note about my pyramid. You do not have to “complete” one rung to go on to the next.
There are people who are mentally strong but are in horrible living situations or have been through very traumatic events.
Think about Holocaust survivors and people in dire circumstances that have risen above them. They may not have “safety” but they have the mental strength to get beyond their obstacles and become fulfilled in their own ways. These are people in circumstances that lack these basic elements but manage to achieve higher rungs of the pyramid. They are survivors, inspirers, and leaders.
Your Action Items
- If you don’t have physiological safety, get it
- If you’re reading this post, you probably have reasonable safety and security. If that’s the case, spend a moment to show some gratitude for the little things you have in life that others consider large. Write it down, internalize it, be grateful.
2. Mental Strength
“Whether you think you can or think you can’t. You are right.” -Henry Ford
A few years ago I had my own startup. I suffered from hardcore impostor syndrome. I felt like I wasn’t good enough and that I was fooling people to get ahead. Being a female in a male-dominated industry I also felt like an outsider.
This all made networking really hard for me. I hesitated approaching people I thought were more “important” or “successful” than I was.
I had all these assumptions and nonsense going on in my head and it got in the way.
Does that sound familiar?
Does your inner voice tell you you’re fat, dumb, or ugly?
It’s that inner voice that stops you from living life to the fullest, taking risks and putting your true self out there.
Why is mental strength vital?
That little voice in your head controls the outcome of your life.
I love Tony Robbins’ take on this. He’s someone who has transformed his own life. He went from an abusive childhood to becoming a successful entrepreneur.
Here’s what he says about the beliefs we form about ourselves:
“There is no more potent leverage in shaping human behavior than identity. You might ask, ‘Isn’t my identity limited by my experience?’ No, it’s limited by your interpretation of your experience.
Your identity is nothing but the decisions you’ve made about who you are, what you’ve decided to fuse yourself with. You become the labels you’ve given yourself.” -Tony Robbins
If your inner voice is constantly telling you that you’re not good enough, that you’ll never succeed, or that you’re going to be single forever….then you will live that out.
Your Action Item: Practice Self-Compassion
One of the best ways I combatted my own negative self-talk was by practicing self-compassion.
If I introduced myself to someone, I’d give myself props. If I felt like a conversation didn’t go well, I’d tell myself that it probably wasn’t as bad as I imagined it to be.
Whether or not that was true, didn’t really matter. It was my interpretation of the situation.
What mattered is that I showed myself a bit of love, just enough so that I could continue taking action.
When you catch yourself in a negative mental habit loop, break free of it by practicing self-compassion.
- First, identify the cues that trigger your inner-voice from bringing you down. It may be when you don’t know anyone at a party when you make a small mistake or stutter during a conversation.
- Next, replace whatever that negative voice would say with something kind, like “I’m a work in progress and I’m only going to get better.”
- Give yourself the freedom to fail while still being good to yourself
3. Human Connection
“No good thing is pleasant to possess without friends to share it.” -Seneca
Something funny happened when I started practicing self-compassion and socializing with my peers. I actually started liking it!
I enjoyed learning about new people, their struggles, their triumphs…it gave me a sense of connection to a community of fellow entrepreneurs.
I grossly underestimated how important human connections are.
Turns out, I’m not the only one.
A fascinating study researched commuters on the Chicago Subway. They had three groups of commuters: those who were instructed to enjoy their ride in solitude, those who were told to do whatever they usually do and the last group was told to have a conversation with whoever ended up sitting next to them.
Of all the groups, those who were instructed to have a conversation with a stranger reported the most positive train ride.
Those who were in the solitude condition reported the most negative.
And for those who talked to their seatmate, the longer the conversation…the better they perceived the commute!
Why is human connection vital?
We have a basic human need to belong. If you’ve ever been picked last on the basketball court, you know what I mean.
This goes back to caveman days when our ancestors had to be part of the “in group.” Being excluded meant you didn’t have access to food and shelter, which meant impending death.
Studies have shown that when subjects are “left out” the same parts of the brain that are activated during physical pain are activated when feeling left out.
We are humans, finding our “tribe” or connecting with other humans gives us a sense of identity and purpose.
Your Action Item: Connect with a Stranger
- Have a conversation with a complete stranger today, whether that’s engaging with your Uber driver, talking to your barista or introducing yourself to a coworker you’ve never spoken to.
“If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” -Tony Robbins
A few years ago, I had a job that I hated. Ironically, it was the highest salary I had ever made at that point in my life. I thought it was going to be the best thing ever.
The traveling took a toll on me, the product didn’t excite me, I was stressed out and working
60–70 hour weeks.
Worst of all, I didn’t feel like I was growing professionally.
Concurrently, I was consulting part-time for a different project I was passionate about.
One Sunday, I was at a coffee shop passionately working away on my consulting work. I was excited. That joy was killed when I realized I had to head home to get ready for my full-time job.
That was the moment I decided to quit.
Within two weeks I moved to San Francisco and joined the company I was consulting for full-time.
It was one of the best life decisions I’ve ever made.
Why is growth vital?
Growth can occur in many different facets of life: relationships, knowledge, skills, experiences, career, financial, etc.
The self-help and productivity spaces are multi-billion dollar industries. What other proof do you need that there’s a deep and innate need for humans to grow?
Your Action Item: Assess your Growth
- Audit the key factors of your life and honestly assess how strongly you feel like you’re either growing or have the potential to grow.
- Relationships (romantic, family, friends)
- Professional skills
- Hobbies (i.e. writing, wakeboarding)
- Rank each of these factors on a scale from 1 to 10 where 10 represents that you “strongly agree” that there’s growth potential in that arena.
- For factors that score under 7, take one action step to finding out how to grow or to change that part of your life. (i.e. If you feel like the potential for growth in career is low, figure out what skills you need to develop).
“If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life.” -Marcus Tullius Cicero
Although moving from LA to San Francisco isn’t a huge shift, relocating came with some challenges.
For one, I didn’t know anyone in San Francisco except for my future boss. I also had a set of new coworkers in a new company and a new industry.
It took me a few months to get into my groove, personally and professionally. But when I did, I felt confident. I felt like if I could survive that, I could survive way more than I’d ever give myself credit for previously.
I started making friends, adding value in my new full-time role and falling in love with San Francisco (which I never thought would happen when I first moved).
The quest for growth and fulfillment led me to feel more confident. In turn, that confidence gave me the ability to take risks at work, put myself out there to make friends and do plenty of things I never had the confidence to do in the past!
Why is confidence vital?
Confidence is true security. It is the inverse of “insecure.”
Why is growth before confidence?
In order to build confidence, you need to take action to start feeling confident.
But confidence isn’t a lightning bolt that strikes magically. It is a positive feedback loop.
The layers below confidence on the hierarchy help feed into the degree of confidence that you have. If you’re mentally strong, have the right relationships in your life, and are growing, you’ll feel more confident.
When you feel confident that will positively pour into other areas of your life making you mentally stronger, friendlier and more growth-oriented. It will help you beat the fear of failure, feel worthy and try things that other people think are crazy.
Your Action Item: Assess your Confidence
- Honestly assess how confident you are by ranking each of these statements 1–10. 1 being “strongly disagree” and 10 being “strongly agree”
- “I deeply care about what others think of me”
- “I fear rejection”
- “I fear failure”
- “There are many things I wish to do or achieve, but don’t try”
- “I’m scared to mess up”
If you feel like you’re not quite there, don’t fret. Again it takes a while to get there and it takes serious work on all the layers leading up to this state.
Start taking the action steps from previous layers to get to this state.
“Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have.” -Jim Rohn
So you’re mentally strong, connected to others, growing, and feeling confident.
But you’re not fulfilled until you do one major thing.
Get over yourself.
This entire time we’ve been talking about you.
How you can develop mental strength, how you can audit relationships, how you can feel confident.
But to truly prosper, you have to give in some capacity.
Extending beyond yourself is crucial if you want to feel fulfilled.
Why is self-extension important?
When you give, you strengthen all the layers below you. You grow, you connect and build relationship, all of which feed into your confidence.
Why do most of today’s billionaires pledge their money away to help others? Because it feels good.
It feels good to help another human, to shape their experience and to lend a helping hand.
There are so many ways to extend beyond yourself.
You can mentor, you can volunteer, you can donate, you can simply be nice to someone who looks left out at a party.
The moments when we remove the focus from ourselves, from that inner-talk, from that ego, the sooner we can experience fulfillment.
When you die, what do you want your legacy to be?
Your Action Item: Help Someone
- This week, take one small action that improves someone’s life big or small. You may decide to volunteer or forgive someone that you’ve been upset at for years. The point is to get beyond yourself.
Life is short, so make the most of it. Live your life in a way that gives you meaning and fulfillment. I don’t have all the answers, but I hope this hierarchy makes you think about how much life you have left and how you want to live it.
If you liked this article, you can download your free guide made exclusively for RMRS readers: 6 Action Steps to a Fulfilling Life that summarizes all of the action items into a step-by-step checklist. Sign up now to get the guide and tons of other free material to live your best life.
About the Author
Katrina Razavi is the founder of CommunicationforNerds.com where she helps socially anxious nerds become socially bulletproof and live their best lives. She blogs about social skills, change psychology, and life.
She created a free guide based on this article, exclusive to RMRS readers. Sign up and download your free guide: 6 Action Steps to a Fulfilling Life that summarizes all of the action items into a step-by-step checklist and include the Pyramid to Fulfillment. Sign up now to get the guide and tons of other free material to live your best life.