I am energized to spend this week reflecting on Tony Robbins’ list of unique human needs. Here’s the list in its entirety followed by a brief reflection on the quality of “Significance.”
Unique Human Needs
1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others
Part 3: Significance
I may have backed myself into a corner on this one. When I first had the impulse to do a series on these unique human needs I didn’t anticipate the kind of reflection it would ultimately require. I also didn’t think through the hard truth that sometimes, perhaps a lot of the time, I/we might need some of these needs a bit too much.
It’s not much of a stretch to envision someone needing too much certainty. We recognize that kind of person as being a bit anxious about new things, a bit more conservative in their decision-making. It’s also easy to imagine the person for whom uncertainty is the primary source of satisfaction. We recognize them as going out of their way to test limits and take risks, perhaps without consideration for other’s tolerances. While we tend to romanticize that person, they often end up oversimplifying their identity by holding on too tightly to one way of operating in the world.
For me, for a very long time, that was all that could be said of my relationship with significance. And while “significance” is a concept that I both admire and enjoy considering, the additional descriptive of feeling important or special hits home in a less admirable way.
Being special was always my hiding place, an overcompensation for all of the ways I felt unwanted, unoriginal and inauthentic. No one made me feel that way; it was just my version of an adaptation to the harsh realities of a broken family. That adaptation got expressed in lots of positive forms of “standing out” but it also made me quite vulnerable to those who weren’t up for heaping on the praise. I paid little attention to those who sincerely admired and believed in me, and focused all too much on those who seemed indifferent or even critical.
Overcoming my addiction to specialness – getting back to significance – has been, with no exaggeration, the most challenging and important developmental gateway of my adult life. It took me years of focused work to reorient myself, to understand that it was okay to need to feel significant, just not okay to need to feel so damn special all the time!
Today, what I most recognize and enjoy about significance is that others – be they students, clients, friends or family – are more than willing to celebrate my efforts when those efforts originate from my best or higher self. That higher self is focused on creating value for others through the particular contributions I am uniquely qualified to make.
When I operate from that place, significance takes care of itself.