A New Hierarchy of Needs

Social NeedsEveryone hears about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in college. It’s all over Education classes, and I’m pretty sure that Psych classes make sure to cover it as well. The entire premise revolves around the idea that we have several “needs” that must be met in life in order achieve the ultimate goal of self-actualization.

Now, Maslow’s Hierarchy has encountered a lot of criticism, and probably isn’t completely valid, but it is a good spring board for thinking through what life requires of us as we move through our days trying to achieve “Success.” I agree with him that our basic needs must be met before we can seek healthy relationships with ourselves, each other, and the world. However, I don’t think that self-actualization is what we ultimately need to pursue, especially for those of us who are still finding our footing in the adult world.*

Outside of my Psychology and Education classes in college, I heard an alternate proposal for what this time in life is about, and how we should prioritize our life’s pursuits. I heard this sitting in a classroom, but I didn’t hear it from a professor. Instead, I heard this from a staff leader for a student fellowship on our campus, and it’s stuck with me ever since.

The Three M’s

I think generally we try to prioritize our careers and our romantic relationships in our 20’s. Dating and marriage weigh heavily on our minds, and we’re on high alert for a job that we think will make sense of our life. We do what we can to pursue these things in life, and we struggle to fit our life into the box that we assume it’s supposed to fill. This campus speaker I heard offered an alternate picture for what we should pursue based on three words: Master, Mission, Mate.

1) Master – You’ve got to figure out who your master is; what the ruling force over your life will be. Is it money? Love? The American Dream? Travel? Food? Career? God? Whatever it is, you need that in place first before you can take any steps toward accomplishing big life goals. For me, the point strikes home that I have to come to a point where I call God “Master” and acknowledge his sovereignty over my life before anything else can fall into place.

2) Mission – It’s really easy to feel like we have to find a mission for life first and foremost. Really, though, it needs to be second. Not until you have perspective of your Master can you look at your Mission to figure out where you’re heading. Here is where a vocational trajectory might come in to play, or a specific passion that works into life. After you know your Master, you can find your mission and pursue it.

3) Mate – Ah. That other part of life that it seems many of us constantly have on our minds. The dating game, and all of those possibilities. Whether you believe in soul-mates (I don’t) or you’re skeptical of relationships in general (again, not my perspective), you have probably given at least some thought to what Mate you want. In this time of life, we’ve got single years, dating years, and hopefully married years. Problem is, we try to skip right here without figuring out our Master and our Mission.

Without those two pieces in place, it’s pretty near impossible to find a Mate who fits. Don’t you want to be with someone who shares your same Master, who believes in your Mission and is willing to travel that road with you? If you don’t know those things about yourself, you will probably have a hard time maintaining a healthy relationship. [You may end up like Desiree on this season’s Bachelor, crying in a limo because you’re convinced that you can make someone happy…when you haven’t figured out that a healthy relationship is not about being able to “make someone happy.” Okay. Probably not, but still, it’s a possibility.]

For all of this, I think that I’m heading in the right direction for my Hierarchy of Needs. I know my Master, I’m learning more and more about my Mission, and I’m (fairly) content waiting for someone to come into my life who can share those aspects of my life with me. Until then, there are conversations with friends of “wouldn’t it be nice…”, but even without having everything figured out, I know I’m okay. Life is still good, even when there are more questions than answers in this great big mess of life.


*I just set you up for THE question, didn’t I? The one where we delve into the meaning of life, where we talk about what gives us a purpose and a reason to get out of bed each morning. Well, just to knock this one aside for a moment – I fall in the camp of people who believe that I was created by a good and loving God to accomplish the work that he has planned for my life. I have been given gifts and passions, skills and abilities, and the conviction that as a response to the incredible grace he offers me in light of my sin, I can turn in response and celebrate what he has given me by living a life that brings glory to Him. Though I know not everyone agrees with me that this is reason enough to keep living each day, it is what I cling to through all that life sends my way.