Insights: 99 Degrees is Not Enough to Succeed

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maslow copyWater boils at sea level at 100 degrees Celsius. Not 99 degrees, but 100 degrees. It has to reach its potential for water to boil.

People are often disappointed that they have not reached their potential; at times they may only miss it by one degree.

Just like water that is lukewarm and will never boil, people who do not live life beyond their basic needs will not actualize. Lukewarm goals will keep our life exactly that—lukewarm.

What leads people to live life lukewarm?

Fear, entitlement, low self-esteem, not taking responsibility, and living in survival mode will keep people limited. Life can be difficult, but we can still live out our potential.

I attended the Pacific Symphony gala last weekend where the conductor and music director Carl St.Clair was being honored for 25 years of service (he lived out his potential). During this time, St.Clair had the tragedy of losing his infant son. Despite this loss, he still was able to be at his potential. This doesn’t mean he did not grieve or have times of great pain that meant living in survival mode. It just means he was able to not get stuck in his loss. The pain will always be there at some level, but he realized he still needed to be all he can be.

Limits come less from what we experience but how we manage these experiences. Sometimes our limits come from what we have been told by family or society of how much we can or cannot accomplish.

I was told many times growing up that I would never make it in college. That was my family story—no one had gone to college. But to reach my boiling point, I had to go beyond my and my family’s belief system. St.Clair had to stand up and continue moving forward even after such an incredibly painful loss.

To have your life boil you must push it to that boiling point; you have to bring up the heat. Not always an easy task. As Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs explains, to live at your best, to self-actualize, we must meet a multi-level of needs.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs evolved from the 1960s into a 1970s model. The needs are:

  1. Biological and Physiological needs (food, air, water, shelter).
  2. Safety needs (security and stability).
  3. Love and belongingness needs (friendship, intimacy, love and affection).
  4. Self-esteem and Self-worth.
  5. Cognitive needs (knowledge, meaning, purpose).
  6. Aesthetic needs (appreciation and search for beauty, balance and form).
  7. Self-actualization needs (personal potential, self-fulfillment, personal growth).
  8. Transcendence needs (helping others achieve a higher level of living).

Maslow stated that only one in a hundred people actually self-actualize because people get stuck in one of the lower levels. When we blame others or not own that we need relationships, good self-esteem, a job, we cannot work at moving our life forward.

As a psychotherapist, I appreciate Maslow’s work because he had an interest in human potential rather than pathology; in other words, looking at what we can be rather than what is wrong.

Here is Maslow’s list of the characteristics of self-actualizers:

  1. Perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty.
  2. Accept themselves and others for who they are.
  3. Have a sense of spontaneity.
  4. Problem solver.
  5. Sense of humor.
  6. Can see things from an objective view.
  7. Use creativity.
  8. Resistant to conformity.
  9. Concerned about the welfare of humanity.
  10. Have a deep appreciation for basic-experience.
  11. Have deep interpersonal relationships.
  12. Pursue peak experiences.
  13. Need for alone time.
  14. A sense of fairness.
  15. Strong moral and ethical values.
  16. Experience all of life, the good and bad with full absorption and concentration.
  17. Try new things.
  18. Acknowledge your feelings without the influence of what others, society say.
  19. Being honest.
  20. Have the courage to have your own voice even though others may not like what you have to say.
  21. Taking responsibility for your life.
  22. Working hard.
  23. Know your defenses, your faults and having the courage to let them go or accept them for what they are.
  24. You know you do not have to be perfect, just your best and you can accept that.

Self-actualization does not mean we have mastered all areas of life, it just means we are aiming to be our best, to reach our own potential, to go past 99 degrees and reach 100.

Contact Dr. Zavala at or [email protected].




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