Are You a Self-Actualizer or a Transcender?

January 3, 2017 – 5:00 am

“Theory Z” was the final theory by Abraham Maslow. Published after his death, this posthumous contribution to his body of work redefined his Pyramid of Needs by differentiating between Self-Actualizers and Transcenders. In his early work on the Pyramid of Needs, he originally had stated that only 1% of the populations became Self-Actualizers.

Having taught tends of thousands mental and physical high performers, I can state that there are the Very Good, and then they are the Great, and the distance between is wide. Maslow’s Theory Z helps to explain the necessary differences between the two.

Nearing the latter part of his career, Maslow assessed that health and happiness weren’t as infrequent as he had thought early in his work. As a result, he widened his idea of the Self-Actualizer to include anyone that was “good-hearted and energetic but not extremely creative.” Self-Actualizers were socially well-adjusted, happy and healthy, but not the inspirational high performers that he had originally associated with peak experiences.

Enter the Transcender.

With Maslow’s Theory Z, he explained that a new category of Self-Actualized individuals, as rare as 1-in-100 self-actualizers, should be named the Transcender. Transcenders deliberately live high performing lives. They meticulously craft peak experiences of flow into the practical routines of their lives.

They’re both revered and disliked because they are, by definition, “elite” performers; whom often “recognize each other” by their repetitive, rigorous and ritualistic routines. They are “less appalled by elitism” than other self-actualizers, and so, despite admiration for their uniqueness, they’re often the subject of enmity by those who aren’t Transcenders.

Transcenders are more likely to acknowledge elite performance in others than self-actualizers are, and considerably more likely than those who aren’t self-actualizers. Non-actualized individuals are likely to view transcenders as “lucky or privileged.” Self-Actualizers often view Transcenders as “odd, with unacceptable levels of obsessiveness to their routines.”

The enmity felt by Transcenders is often described by them as the fuel which placed them in their 1-in-100 status among Self-Actualizers. Being socially-ostracized actually gives the Transcenders mental, emotional and physical space to forge their peak experiences, alone but fulfilled.

Maslow explained that Transcenders place their highest life premium on peak experiences, and these moments become how they validate their existence. He said that Transcenders, “speak easily the language of Being, finding it relatively easy to express thoughts and feelings about the nature of existence.” Maslow explained that they see the sacred in the mundane of routine, and are “perpetually in awe of the practical reality of great human potential.” Transcenders are “conspicuously meta-motivated” and are likely to be statistical outliers who innovate new ways of achievement.

One should consider it to be totally acceptable to become a Self-Actualizer without becoming a Transcender. Most Self-Actualizers would never want to follow the highly routinized, disciplined, and risk-tolerant lives of Transcenders. You can lead a good, constructive life, and be happy as a Self-Actualizer, without the hardships of transcending.

Theory Z, however, explains that there’s a different type of happiness experienced by Transcenders; perhaps, not best described as “happiness.” There’s a particularly strong “discontent” continually experienced by Transcenders. This state of being unsettled causes Transcenders to not prize happiness in their lives over spelunking the depths of their potential.

Instead, Transcenders prioritize peak experiences above personal happiness. To them, the ever-delayed gratification of calculatedly building greater peaks, through extreme sacrifice and disciplined routines, is more fulfilling than the more instant gratification experienced by Self-Actualizers.

Understanding this distinction will help both Transcenders be more patient with the “happy puppy” of Self-Actualization, and help Self-Actualizers be more compassionate for the plight of the “mad scientists” locked in their studies.

Very Respectully,

Scott B. Sonnon

CST and TACFIT Founder

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