Carl Rogers described the actualizing tendency as something that exists within every living organism. It is a tendency to grow, develop, and realize one’s full potential. It can be thwarted, but it cannot be destroyed without destroying the organism itself. His person-centered approach was based on this belief, and the resulting trust that one can place in each person. In other words, we can trust that each person is driven forward by this actualizing tendency, and that under the right conditions it will flourish (Rogers, 1977, 1986/1989).
According to Abraham Maslow, life is a process of choices. At each point, we must choose between a progression choice and a regression choice. Although many people make safe, defensive choices, self-actualizing people regularly make growth choices(Maslow, 1971). Each growth choice moves the person closer to self-actualization, and the process continues throughout life.
So, consider your own life. Do you feel the actualizing tendency within you? Do you aspire to accomplish something great, or simply to be a good person in whatever path you choose? Think about your educational and/or career plans. Think about your life plans, and whether they include a family or special friends. Do you feel a calling that is pulling in one direction or another? The drive to accomplish, to make a contribution to your community or society, the belief that you are meant for great things, or simply that you are meant to be a source of support for others, all of these might be aspects of your actualizing tendency. Or are you moving through life without a plan, without goals? Do you skate along from day to day, with no destination in mind?
If you do feel your actualizing tendency, consider how you are living your life. Are you pursuing the steps necessary to accomplish your goals? Have you made choices, perhaps difficult choices, which have moved you forward toward those goals?
Basically, do you feel that you are on a path toward self-actualization, and do you think you should be? Is it reasonable to expect, or hope, that everyone might become self-actualized?
What might it be like to live a fully transcendent, self-actualized life? Although there are many different, and individual, answers to that question, we can find one example in the remarkable life of Peace Pilgrim (Friends of Peace Pilgrim, 1982). No one knows her original name, or exactly where or when she was born (other than it was on a small farm in the Eastern United States in the early 1900s). Her family was poor, but happy, and she enjoyed her childhood. Her life was fruitful, but eventually she found the world’s focus on self-centeredness and material goods to be unfulfilling. In 1953, she chose to leave her life behind. She adopted the name Peace Pilgrim, and began walking across America as a prayer for peace.
A pilgrim is a wanderer with a purpose…Mine is for peace, and that is why I am a Peace Pilgrim…My pilgrimage covers the entire peace picture: peace among nations, peace among groups, peace within our environment, peace among individuals, and the very, very important inner peace - which I talk about most often because that is where peace begins…I have no money. I do not accept any money on my pilgrimage. I belong to no organization…I own only what I wear and carry. There is nothing to tie me down. I am as free as a bird soaring in the sky.
I walk until given shelter, fast until given food. I don’t ask - it’s given without asking. Aren’t people good! There is a spark of good in everybody, no matter how deeply it may be buried, it is there. It’s waiting to govern your life gloriously. (pg. 25; Peace Pilgrim cited in Friends of Peace Pilgrim, 1982)
Between 1953 and her death in 1981, she walked, and walked, and walked. By 1964, she had walked 25,000 miles, including walking across the United States twice and through every Canadian province. After that, she no longer kept track of her mileage, but she completed at least four more pilgrimages, including Alaska, Hawaii, and a pilgrimage in Mexico. Among the many friends and admirers she met along the way, there are two notable people (whom psychology students should be familiar with) who provided comments for the cover of her book: Elisabeth Kubler-Ross called her “a wonderful lady,” and the popular author/counselor Wayne Dyer said “she is my hero.” As for your own life, Peace Pilgrim has some simple advice:
There is no glimpse of the light without walking the path. You can’t get it from anyone else, nor can you give it to anyone. Just take whatever steps seem easiest for you, and as you take a few steps it will be easier for you to take a few more. (pg. 91; Peace Pilgrim cited in Friends of Peace Pilgrim, 1982).