Maslow Teardown

Any discussion of the work-life balance is tantamount to multivariate analysis of individual prescriptions and preferences. As such, the preface of a personal opinion is necessary when it comes to a contentious topic that touches every one of us here. Our efforts at finding the perfect concoction of the same however leaves us in the peril of mistaking the tree for the forest. It is therefore essential that our perceptions as to our innermost feelings should continue to evolve as new information comes in, new experiences are tied in, older life is tumbled out of and new life is striven towards.

Having said that, some basic elements remain constant throughout. For instance, a deeper sense of engagement with everything that we do is what seems to drive our actions in the modern world. Engagement has its myriad segmentations and as we dive deeper the superfluous becomes marginal and then the significant. Because plodding ahead, our bigger picture gets convoluted and the demands of our immediate surroundings start to dominate the proceedings in our lives. Anyways, moving forward, the engagements we seek could broadly be categorized as:

  1. Intellectual engagement
  2. Emotional engagement
  3. Transcendental engagement
  4. Inspirational engagement

These facets are neither mutually exclusive nor collectively exhaustive so I am going against the tenet of trying to sweep in every angle of the nut de graf. Because the one thing I am certain about is that trying to do so invites opening yourself up to a deterministic world which so far as I am concerned is a totally preposterous situation.

There are multiple causes that determine which of these engagements find themselves perched on top of the other in terms of their pecking order. Some of these are enumerated as under:

  1. Era (of the society we live in; exogenous – these are determined by factors not in our control)
  2. Age (of the lifecycle of humans – a teenager may value transcendental engagement over emotional)
  3. Geography (the peculiarities of culture do manifest themselves in our desires)
  4. Personal life (your relationships influence your metrics)
  5. Class (your economic class affects your needs)

The Maslow’s hierarchy is a good structure on dissecting the engagement models. Although, my starting point is arguably the esteem and the self-actualization mode and therefore presumes its fundamental underpinning in the model from the get go. The dynamic nature of these innate curiosities is nevertheless important to point out. While commonly assumed to move sequentially, I would argue that the curiosities or the engagement-with-the-world that I am looking for redefines itself as competing sets of issues come to cloud our mental highway.

I digress. What I am after is the identification of the boundary that separates our work life from our personal life. As technology interweaves itself ominously in our lives, I would argue that the line is blurring at an astonishing pace. And the reason is we are increasingly adjudicating that dealing with intellectual complexity provides us with a far better sense of engagement than dealing with emotional complexity. We do shy away from seemingly interminable issues and as such our modes of engagement align themselves accordingly. As the era of the rationalists marches on, we identify ourselves with the complexities that we are increasingly led to believe we can master (technological superiority, neural intelligence, brain computing, enterprise value) at the expense of those that do not seem to have a logical end (existential angst, emotional torpor, emptiness of life, the spiritual vicissitude). And in so doing, we lead our identities to align with our work more so than our society.

I am reminded of a beautiful poem by WH Davies (see below). What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare? – if you unhinge the very definition of standing and staring (which in this instance was directed towards the beauty of the natural world around us) and peg it to the artificial crater we are building around us we are in no troubled waters because through this semantical dislocation, we have brought the definition to what suits us. An act we have continually over our evolutionary life cycle.


WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

What Prompted this:

  1. Existential Comics: The Story of the Caterpillar 
  2. Leisure – WH Davies
  3. Economist: Why do we work so hard? 
  4. WaitButWhy: Why people under 35 are so unhappy? 

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