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Revisiting Maslow

June 2013

Ever since I studied psychology at UCDavis, I have seen Maslow’s hierarchy of needs playing out in a great many areas of life.  Here’s an example of the one I currently see around me:  I’m a huge fan of Encore.org.  It’s a terrific organization that pairs accomplished business professionals, often executives, with non-profits that could use their expertise.  These are considered “fellowships” and rarely come with even a modest salary, and it’s a temporary position.  Those I’ve talked to who have done it have found it enlightening and rewarding.  But there aren’t that many of them yet.

From Silicon Valley and San Francisco, Encore.org seems to attract a sufficient number of people to feed at least some of the need, but many of my retirement and transition coach colleagues can’t understand why more people aren’t clamoring to do this kind of thing.  Why, they wonder, aren’t more people starting to give back to society and bring greater meaning into their lives, especially after a career in the ‘callous’ world of business?  Why aren’t they looking to “self-actualize,” to put it in Maslows’ terms?

For most people in their 50s and 60s, the need is probably not entirely money, although many still believe they need to have some level of income and/or continue to fund a retirement bucket.  The greater need is that sense of belonging (the middle level of the pyramid) that they have in their current jobs as well as the need for self-esteem (the next one up in the hierarchy).  Both of these needs are almost always satisfied in a management or high-level individual contributor position in both large and small companies.

The phenomenon is also, obviously, the reason many people who are fully qualified to retire, do not do so.  Our job, as transition coaches, is to help people find ways to meet those two middle needs on Maslow’s hierarchy, social belonging and self-esteem, in new ways.  Until our clients can do that, many will be paralyzed at the top of the retirement cliff, scared to death to make that transitional leap into something new.