A Publication of WTVP

As a subscriber of an e-newsletter called The Painter’s Keys, I was impressed by a recent column written by Robert Genn. In it he addressed the importance of seeking out those activities that are so fulfilling there is no room for doubt about them; we simply must do them. In fact, when we don’t engage in those activities that fulfill our passionate sides, we run the risk of leading lives of quiet desperation, about which the famed poet Henry David Thoreau has written.

Genn’s column begins with a quote by famous psychologist Abraham Maslow: “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write—if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What one can be, one must be.”

So the million-dollar question for each of us is how do we find our own individual “must”?

According to Maslow, you don’t find your personal “must” until other basic life needs are met, such as the need for food, shelter, comfort and stability. The disadvantaged mother on the poor side of town is unlikely to discover her passionate, creative side when she is concerned with feeding her children and keeping them in shoes for the winter. While she may have a potential for writing beautiful poetry or sketching her children’s faces, while in survival mode, her potential goes untapped. The same applies to the soldier who has been called to fight in a war. At this point in his life, staying alive on the battlefield, not pursuing the passions of his heart, is his basic life need.

Yet for those of us who have been fortunate enough to have our basic life needs met, and, if we haven’t been plagued by difficult circumstances such as war, famine or poverty, we have a unique opportunity, perhaps even an obligation, to seek out those peak experiences that allow us to lead fully meaningful lives. When we are called to become all we can be, therein lies our “must.” In our quest to become fully engaged in our lives, our “must” might be to advocate for social change. We might feel our “must” is to embark on a new career path, even if it involves taking a smaller paycheck and odd work hours. It may mean we “must” use our recreational time to engage in a hobby at which family, friends and neighbors raise their eyebrows. Regardless, those who advance in the direction of their dreams, to those who consciously listen to the beat of their own drum—however measured or far away—ultimately become what Maslow calls “self-actualized.”

In The Painter’s Keys e-newsletter I found so inspiring, Genn speaks directly to his audience of artists, but his words speak to all of us about becoming “self-actualized” when he writes,

Systematically study, understand and neutralize the effects of lower needs. Accept the world in all of its complexity, mystery and ambiguity. Take cues from the winners in this world, not the losers. Keep the company of the doers, not the talkers. Play your personal game on as many levels as you’re able. Fall in love with your processes, innovations, dreams and higher ideals. Be sensitive to and welcome the arrival of peak experiences. Have no guilt when you see yourself becoming compulsive and proactive. Allow yourself to be swept up in your personal “must.”

So why get swept up in our own personal “must”? Because when we do, we aspire to be and to do something that not only feeds our souls, but inevitably contributes on some level to all humanity—our personal happiness. TPW