Using the Wrong Need Tool

For most of our ancient ancestors, the satisfaction of a lower need probably led to the natural satisfaction of the next need. For the hunter, becoming proficient at hunting satisfied our need for food, and the same skill we used for hunting, the use of a spear or bow, probably helped satisfy our need for safety at the same time. Being a good hunter probably made an individual highly sought after by the opposite gender and probably led to a pretty high feeling of oneself and one’s standing in the community. The tool used for our physiological needs was also great for each of our other, higher, needs as well.

The same argument could be made for the gatherer as well. Being a successful gatherer would likely be attractive to the opposite gender looking for someone who could produce and raise enough offspring to adulthood. This person would be praised, on some level, for raising a healthy family. Being a successful gatherer reverberated up the needs hierarchy as well.

This method of needs assessment and satisfaction seems to hold true for our ancestors through the agricultural and even the industrial revolution, but things seemed to have changed drastically as we transitioned into the information age. We might even say that things got flipped upside down. The physical, mental, and emotional attributes that signalled future success, became those of someone less admired. And the same attributes that might have led to a life of struggle or obscurity for our past ancestors are now ones that might lead to financial success.

Not only have the ways that we survive in the modern world changed drastically from the ways of our not so distant past, but so have the ways that we do everything. We have so many more options for how we will live our lives compared to our ancestors, it’s almost infinite. And the methods for satisfying our needs are infinite as well:
  • Physiological - Instead of hunting and gathering, our work can range from plumber, to influencer, to CEO.
  • Safety and Security -  Most of us are able to use the same tool (income) that we use for our physiological needs. 
  • Love and Belonging - Instead of a small tribe somewhere, we can meet people of all backgrounds from around the entire planet.
  • Esteem - The things that we can accomplish that would make us feel good about ourselves and our place in society are almost infinite as well.
  • Self-Actualization - It could be argued that this is a relatively new need for us humans. For our ancestors, if you lived long enough to start contemplating whether you are living the life you should be living, you were probably just happy to have lived that long. Now more and more of us are not only living long enough to be self-actualizing, but we have so many options.
Here’s the rub: while our society has evolved so rapidly, offering so many options (problems to solve), our inner caveman/cave woman still wants to use the same hammer (our labor) that worked for millennia. It would be so much simpler if we could just use the tool we use for food and shelter (our income), to find love, to find a social group, and to build our esteem at the same time. It’s like killing four birds with one stone. While so many people try to make this work, sadly for most, it does not.

We can focus on our career, become financially successful, by all the nice things that that income will allow, attract someone that’s attracted to those nice things, feel good about all the nice things that we can buy, and even attract friends that are enamored with those nice things so much that they might even look up to us. We will appear to everyone around us to be living an incredibly successful life, but deep down, consciously or subconsciously, we will know that all we really are, all that we have become is based on how much money we can earn and how much stuff we can buy. We will realize that it is all a fa├žade.

Many will continue to live this charade and even make the most of it. They will find a way to have fun and may even put their income and wealth to good use helping others. But it won’t make that empty feeling go away, and it will always be an insurmountable obstacle keeping us from living a self-fulfilling, self-actualizing life.

We must fight the urge to believe that the tool that we used to satisfy one need can be used to satisfy the next need.

Read more - Developing the Right Need Tool (Coming soon!)