What’s It All About?

Recently a baby boomer client who is getting ready to retire told me he’s been thinking a lot about an old 1960s song from an old 1960s movie. If you’re in that age bracket maybe your remember the movie Alfie, starring Michael Caine, and these lyrics by Burt Bacharach:

“What’s it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give….”

If you don’t remember the song, check it out on YouTube. I think it will resonate.

After all, “What’s it all about?” is a question that’s hard to avoid asking as you exit any chapter of life and enter a new one, whether it’s starting a career, getting married, having kids, relocating, changing careers, retiring… you name it.

It’s a question that can throw you into depression or project you into a new phase of an exciting and rich life. But ask yourself the question no matter how it makes you feel, because it’s going to get you on track to thinking about your next steps.

Life is all about our needs. I like to tell my clients, especially when they’re contemplating a new life passage, to familiarize themselves with The Hierarchy of Needs, an enduring concept that acclaimed psychologist Abraham Maslow first introduced in 1943.

Maslow mapped out a five-tier pyramid of human needs. At the base are physiological needs, such as food, water, and shelter. You know, the foundation of a working society. For those who lack the basics, every day is a struggle for survival. For those whose physiological needs are taken care of and then some, fulfillment is pretty much taken for granted.

On the second level up are what Maslow called safety needs such as security and protection. You can include money on this tier. We can’t feel safe without the protection of money.

At the third level up, our psychological needs appear, starting with belonging and love needs. This is our drive and desire for intimate relationships and friends. Is there a financial connection here? For sure; money plays an important role in our relationships.

Next up are esteem needs—the need for prestige and feelings of accomplishment. During our work life, we might fulfill these needs by being able to live in a certain home, drive a certain car or engage in certain experiences. The feeling that we’ve “made it” or that we’re recognized as successful drives many people in their careers.

How you grow up around money has a significant impact on how you define that feeling of accomplishment or what gives you a sense of self-esteem. Our esteem needs are most fulfilled when they’re internally driven, however. Externally derived esteem is a reflection of what you believe others think of you—and you can never be sure if your perception is accurate.

At the top of the pyramid is self-actualization; achieving one’s full potential, including creative activities. Call it the nirvana of life when you’re living your dream and your purpose. Not easily accomplished, but something to strive for.

So, to consider whether you’re meeting all five levels of needs, let’s go back to money, that pesky topic that creates, for many, so much angst and pressure.

What is your money mindset—i.e. what you learned about money growing up–and how does it support your belonging needs, your esteem needs, and your self-actualization needs?

What thoughts and beliefs hold you back from progressing up the pyramid? Some people grew up with great messages that put money and life into perspective. For example, money is a tool, or money is there to help my family and others.

Others have difficulty knowing the difference between more and enough, while others have detached themselves from the idea that money brings happiness..

It’s true you can’t buy happiness, but in reality, financial security can help prevent depression and anxiety if it allows you to meet certain needs. Yet it’s hard to believe we are put on this earth to make money as an end goal.

Assuming you are past the basic physiological and safety needs you start looking for  deeper gratification. Where do you get your esteem needs itch scratched? Where do you belong?

It’s a wide-open, terrifying, exhilarating, panorama of possibilities. It is a blank canvas and a large palette of colors. It’s unknown unless you devote the time and energy to excavating your purpose and aligning your actions.

Yes, anything new can be difficult, but you’ve been there before at other times of your life. You’ve figured it out because, well, you had to.

Consider your needs for where you are now and where you would like to be.  Don’t be afraid to test and challenge your own beliefs. You might find that you’ve been living with false narratives that pull you away from what it’s really all about for you.

What’s it all about?

We all need to answer the question in order to move forward. So keep asking yourself.