A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with my father over a cup of coffee at his place on the coast of North Carolina. I was telling him about the professional development session on Career Fulfillment I have been presenting lately and the positive audience response it has received. I feel in many ways that I have hit on a very important topic for music educators and teachers in general. My Dad is a retired educator, having spent the majority of his career as a school superintendent in western PA and enjoys a good conversation about education, educators, and the teacher's work environment. As he thought a little bit about my topic, he reminded me a little bit about his dissertation. My Dad earned his doctorate in the early 1970s from Penn State University. His dissertation was on Differences Between Parents' and Teachers' Perception of the Teacher's Role. He enthusiastically told me that during his review of the literature he encountered a great deal about Abraham Maslow and the "Hierarchy of Human Needs." He explained it to me briefly and I took a little bit of time to study some more on the topic. He told me that he felt it might have a little bit to do with my research and consideration of career fulfillment. I remembered studying a little bit about Maslow in my psychology courses back in the early 1980's, but really couldn't recall the details of the scholar or the models that he presented. Of course, my Dad studied Maslow's theory as it relates to Labor Relations. I am more interested in how it relates to career fulfillment for musicians and music educators.
Abraham Harold Maslow (1908 –1970) was an American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow's hierarchy of needs, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization. Maslow was a psychology professor at Alliant International University, Brandeis University, Brooklyn College, New School for Social Research, and Columbia University. He stressed the importance of focusing on the positive qualities in people. Maslow stated that human motivation is based on people seeking fulfillment and change through personal growth. Self-actualized people are those who were fulfilled and doing all they were capable of. The growth of self-actualization refers to the need for personal growth and discovery that is present throughout a person’s life. For Maslow, a person is always 'becoming' and never remains static in these terms. In self-actualization, a person comes to find a meaning to life that is important to them. (Wikipedia)
Sound like what we are touching on here?
Maslow also stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs and that some needs take precedence over others. Our most basic need is for physical survival, and this will be the first thing that motivates our behavior. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us, and so on.
As I begin to superimpose the Maslow theories over the models that I had encountered regarding career fulfillment, it became clear that the two were very closely related. This notion of always becoming and never being static is, in my opinion, one of the great keys to career fulfillment. We, as teachers, must always be seeking out new challenges, new ideas, new motivations, and new strategies for delivering information and inspiring students. There have been several times already this summer that I have personally noted that it is important for me to "remain relevant" as I am not doing any hands-on conducting or teaching like I have for the past several years. I don't want to be or become static!! I feel like that relevance is strongly related to the notion of "becoming." If we are always becoming, we will remain a work-in-progress. We will remain relevant. Sometimes artists refer to themselves as "creators." Perhaps "creators" are always "becoming."
Maslow's hierarchy of human needs looks something like this: At the most basic level, humans seek their physiological needs such as food and water. After those needs are met, they move to safety needs like shelter and protection. When those are met, they move to needs of belonging and love such as friendships and intimate relationships. (Sidebar: I am fascinated by the show, Alone, on the History Channel. 10 participants see who can survive in the wilderness alone for the longest. After studying this theory, I can see that they work their way up the hierarchy of human needs. First, they take care of food and water, then shelter and safety. The need for belonging and love is often where many of the participants in the show falter. They are spending day after day alone in the wilderness and simply can't go on. They desperately miss their family and their need for belonging and love causes them to "tap out.") Next, humans move to esteem needs such as prestige and accomplishments. When humans have met all of these needs, they move to self fulfillment needs including creative activities and living to their full potential. If we are truly self fulfilled, at the top of the needs hierarchy, humans will accept themselves and others for who they are, are free to recognize the needs and desires of others, and are capable of responding to the uniqueness of people and situations rather than responding to the demands of reality.
So, really, all of this career fulfillment talk for music educators is about the very highest level of human needs. We are talking about how teachers (1) achieve and maintain their full potential and (2) remain active in creative activities. Well, one of the areas is clear. Music Educators must pursue music-making activities throughout their career to continue to find fulfillment in the classroom. The process of teaching music can be a creative activity, but I believe that pedagogy and teaching is more strategy-oriented. Of course, we utilize all that we know about music when teaching, but I think we are obligated to keep creating music outside of the classroom. Music creation is how musicians continue to become. We are still a musical work in progress. I know from personal experience that when I am pursuing my own music-making, I feel more fulfilled, both in and outside the classroom.
Pursuing and achieving one's full potential in and throughout a career in music education can be a bit more elusive. How does that happen? I think that there are several steps to this. First, one must be self motivated to succeed at a high level. We can't be happy with "good enough." Young teachers can find this motivation for seeking their fullest potential by seeking out mentors that exemplify those ideals. When strong, fulfilled mentors are are present for young teachers, they in turn become fulfilled experienced teachers. Maintaining one's full potential for experienced teachers can be tough. The "been there, done that" mentality can be tough to overcome. This is where new professional development activities can be a motivator. Experienced teachers must find new activities, strategies, goals, and methods that allow them to continue to work and teach at their full potential. This is where self motivation is really important! All of this is to say that reaching one's full potential is vital to a sense of fulfillment no matter the level of experience. The trick is to stay in the race!! We must always seek to be better!
In the end, I really appreciate my Dad reminding me about Maslow and his theories. This is definitely all interrelated. I hope this has added a layer to your thought process on the topic of career fulfillment as a music educator.
Are you continuing to pursue creative activities? This summer I am working on some recording projects and trying to enhance my improvisation skills with some new ideas and methodologies. I am committed to practicing every day. Are you committed to reaching your full potential? My professional development at the Conn-Selmer Institute and a commitment to reading this summer will help me with this. (I will write about some of the books I am reading in a later post.)
Let me know your thoughts on this and I wish you all the best as you reach for your full potential and continue to pursue creative activities while you are at the top of the Hierarchy of Human Needs!!
And, Happy Fathers Day, Dad! Thanks for all of the great conversations over the years. Thanks for always encouraging me to think and reach for my best.