Life Is Hard


I often wonder why it feels as though life is such a bloody effort. Of course I’m grateful that for me it’s not a struggle for survival or a physical one but rather it’s a kind of internal battle that goes on incessantly inside my head.

I remember coming across Maslow’s hierarchy of needs when I was a psych student in the late 70’s. He wanted to explain what motivates people and came up with the idea that we have certain needs that we seek to fulfil and once fulfilled, we move on to the next one. These motivational needs are often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid.

the peak performance centre

It’s the self-actualization level that I’m interested in. Maslow reckoned:

What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization…It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.

 Ja well no fine (I find that if I read it slowly, it makes more sense).

Perhaps this extract from psychology today explains it better.

“Self-actualization” represents a concept derived from Humanistic psychological theory and, specifically, from the theory created by Abraham Maslow. Self-actualization, according to Maslow, represents growth of an individual toward fulfillment of the highest needs; those for meaning in life, in particular. Carl Rogers also created a theory implicating a “growth potential” whose aim was to integrate congruently the “real self” and the “ideal self” thereby cultivating the emergence of the “fully functioning person”.

So, if I understand Maslow and Rogers correctly, I think my problem is that my “real” self and my “ideal” self are incongruent and I am therefore unable to self-actualize. Whew, I’m glad I got that sorted!

I love plans, order, systems and routines. I spend hours preparing timetables, to do lists, strategic life plans and vision boards. And then I completely ignore them. I have a schedule stuck on my bathroom wall stating quite categorically that the day should start at 6 and, after doing my morning pages, followed by yoga and meditation, I should be washed, dressed, fed and ready to take on the world at 9. Well please, what was I thinking? That’s my ideal self; the real self is still in her pajamas at 11.

Recently, I drew up a roster for lunches and dinners, sharing them out between Peter and me. I even put some clip art pictures on it to make it look pretty and stuck it on the fridge door. A week later Peter pointedly remarked that I hadn’t prepared one meal since the roster went up. I had excuses but that’s not the point.

So why are my ideal and real selves not converging?

My ideal self is a vegetarian, non-drinking yogi. She floats around dressed in Judi Dench’s Best Exotic Marigold Hotel wardrobe. She writes every day, at a scheduled time; spends weekends intrepidly exploring the countryside with her camera; produces an abundance of fresh vegetables all year round from her well managed allotment; hosts lively soirées with aplomb; runs a well-oiled household; and still manages to effortlessly devote time to helping those less fortunate than her.

My real self, on the other hand, ingests a lot of toxins and does not exercise regularly. She can be found most mornings in her pjs and later in tracksuit pants and LL Bean moccasins. Her writing is sporadic; weekends are spent in bed watching telly; her allotment, soirées, household and community work are all equally disorganised, her input into all of them is frequently rather last minute. Did I mention she’s a procrastinator of note and often has a hangover?

Is it any wonder that there’s constant conflict in my head? I want to self-actualize, really I do, but it’s just so darn hard.


Buddy on the move

nose down a hole

nose down a hole

Buddy and Layla loving their walkies

Buddy and Layla loving their walkies



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4 Responses to Life Is Hard

  1. Chris Ammann says:

    I think you’ve just described the kind of life most of us lead. And it’s certainly a myth that everyone else is doing life better than you (though I know you didn’t say that); more organised, more fulfilled, happier, etc. Then you catch a glimpse of their real non-FaceBook world and realise with a shock that things are a shambles: the husband is having an affair, the daughter’s doing drugs and the wife is hooked on tranquilisers. Having said that, realising that change is possible is half the battle. Happy self-actualising and feel blessed that you are high enough up the triangle that you have the luxury of these worries! (PS: I am regurgitating my own mantras here I as try and remind myself of this as often as I can; i.e. you are not alone …)

    • Cathy says:

      Sometimes knowing that change is possible is a curse because I could be blissful in my ignorance! However I do feel blessed and wouldn’t want it any other way. It is, as always, reassuring to know that one is not alone, we can but persevere with moving on up the pyramid!

  2. Mike Hogan says:

    Cathy, I think your description of your life fits most of us.At work there is little choice but to be disciplined and follow to do lists. But freed from that at home the grass can always wait another day to be mowed. And when you migrate and effectively start all over you feel stuck in the safety level desperately paying off a mortgage and accumulating enough on which to retire.

  3. michele harpur says:

    Amen and ditto!

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