Self-actualisation

I have spent the last 10 years as a software engineer, but one thing that has always been beyond me, is the ability to properly express my thoughts visually through art and design.

Ever since I can remember I have always been fascinated with art, whether it was graffiti, photography, illustration, comics, fashion etc and growing up with an older cousin who was an amazing artist, I realised that this was the path I wanted to follow.

Sadly however, every time I put pen to paper, the results were less than appealing. I had an interest in art, but I couldn’t transfer what was in my head, onto paper. High school art classes were fun but, quickly made me realise that unless someone could invent a printer that I could connect to my brain, the ideas and creativity I visualised, were destined to be stuck in my head forever. My passion for art was pushed aside, as I thought that since I couldn’t draw, there was no point in me pursuing further artistic endeavours. I decided that my role, when it came to art was that of a spectator.

One of the issues with me thinking this way at such a young age was that I was too young to understand the time it took to be good at something. I would always look at the finished product and overlook the time and effort it may have taken to achieve it.

New Understanding

This understanding came much later in life as I began to appreciate first hand, how an individual can transform themselves if they were willing to put the work in. What lead me to this appreciation was reminiscing about the my journey, and all the experiences I had encountered along the way. I began pondering what the catalyst for success was, and how this could be articulated to help inspire others. What stood out the most in my journey was the contrast between my desire to become a “Computer Programmer” and the actual work it took in-order to achieve that desire.

I can remember when I decided that I wanted to study computer science at university, and I can also vividly remember the feeling I received 3 months into first semester when it dawned on me that I had very little knowledge on a subject I was about to devote the next 5 years of my life to studying. This realisation also dawned on many of my classmates and a number of them dropped out once the fun stopped and the hard work began. Once the buzz of new textbooks and sunny September days turned into grey winter mornings and intense 9am lectures.

I can honestly say I struggled with many subjects, and at times doubted whether I was cut out for the world of computer science. At the time, a lot of the subjects just didn’t makes sense to me. And like most naive 18 year olds, I just couldn’t see how certain subjects were going to help me build software.

But with hard work, dedication and perseverance, I fought through my self-doubt and began to “see the wood for the trees”. Slowly things started to make sense. Random unrelated subjects started to become more cohesive. My confidence increased and I actually started to enjoy myself. By the time I had completed my dissertation, the long list of unrelated subjects had transformed into a toolbox that I could dip into as and when I needed. My knowledge increased rapidly and the things I had learnt in theory were now being put into practice.

Within 6 months of graduating I was in full-time employment and was finally able to see the fruits of my labour and after 10 years I had managed to build a career based on my hard work. But the surreal part of it all was that I could still remember the feeling I had during the first few months of my degree and to go from knowing nothing to creating software that was relied upon by major companies, proved that I could achieve anything if I had the right dedication and direction.

Microwave Generation

This brought me to the conclusion that the skills we desire and admire in others, are most likely at our fingertips. Obviously we shouldn’t overlook natural talent and access to resources, but so many of us overlook, hard work, determination, repetition and direction. So much so that we have been coined the ‘Microwave Generation’. We see something and we want it instantly without the willingness to put in the work, or are discouraged once the things gets difficult.

I started to realise that my inability to express myself artistically may not have been a lack of talent, but a lack of determination. Based on previous achievements I now know that I didn’t put in the work necessary to be an artist. I didn’t put in 10,000 hours or even work past my initial self-doubts. I just quit because my sketches didn’t look like the comics or graffiti I admired. Like most youngsters, I lacked the dedication necessary to get me to a point where I could start to see a progression in my skills.

This is called ‘Self-actualisation’, and is a process by which an individual realises their own potential through self-discovery, self-reflection and self-exploration. But in-order to achieve self-actualisation, one must understand and the respect the journey it takes to get there. When an individual can comprehend and internalise this process, or even better, taste the success that comes from it, they’ll be equipped with the skills necessary to achieve anything they set their mind to.

Conclusion

Finally, I understand what my parents and teachers were trying to instil in me. But, if I’m honest, I also realise that the journey to self-actualisation is a personal one, that is best travelled alone. It’s the kind of process you have to encourage, nurture and demonstrate, but it’s not the kind of process you can teach. These are life lessons that need to be learnt firsthand through things like, pain, stress, self-doubt, embarrassment, failure, fatigue, disabilities etc etc, and as we know through human history, these are the some of the conditions that have created many of the most inspirational characters we know and love.

So now that I am a parent, my goal is to try and foster the development of my children’s self-actualisation process, so that they can realise their full potential. My aim is to facilitate this using my own experiences, so that they too can understand what can be achieved with the right mind state.

I also intend on challenging myself to see if I can acquire a few new skills of my own. Maybe it’s not too late to become the Artist or the UI Designer I’ve always wanted to be.

Watch this space!

Films that epitomise the self-actualisation process

Whiplash (2014)
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Cast Away (2000)
The Matrix (1999)