Self Actualization: Filling a Hole That’s Shaped Like You

This is a life story of my mother.  Her life is an example of how to find a need in the world only you can fulfill.  It’s a glimpse of what it’s like to reach complete fulfillment – self actualization.

Introduction: My Mother’s Calling

My mother is a missionary. Well, that’s how I describe her to my English-speaking friends, as that is the closest word I can use to describe what she does. She is an ordained Christian minister acting mainly as a volunteer community organizer in a poor northeastern region of Brazil.

Why is she doing that, when she’s getting up in ages, has no need to work, and has lost her husband?

It’s because it’s her calling.

Despite her challenges, whenever I talk to her I feel an undeniable sense of fulfillment she feels. It’s not an overt, ecstatic eruption of joy, but more like a relief of doing what he/she is meant to do. It’s hard to describe if you’ve never experienced it, but there is a sensation of release that comes from doing no pretending, no forcing, only doing what’s essential to you.

She pursuing her calling, and she feels fulfilled. She has reached self actualization.

What Prepared Her

Like most women of her generation in Japan, she spent over half of adult life being a housewife. But she wasn’t without ambitions — she went to college and majored in pre-law, but then switched her major (very difficult to do in Japanese colleges) and got a degree in English education. Unfortunately her English rusted away as she never actually taught it or used it the years when she stayed at home.

Around the time I was born, her mother had a seizure and gad a surgery that removed parts of the brain that coordinated motor functions in her body. For a few years afterward, she retained some of her mobility, but after that, she became completely bed-ridden. My mother was not the oldest child in the family but her older sister was mentally challenged, so she was the main one who took care for her mother. When I was 4 we moved into my grandparents’ house — this was a stressful time, as my mother single-handedly took care of the 7-person household, which included me, my little brother, the aforementioned aunt, the bed-ridden grandmother, and my grandfather and my father who were mostly gone because of their jobs.

The most stressful part of this era lasted about 2 years.  Eventually we moved to another part of town, but she took care of her mother on and off for 10 years. When my grandmother passed away, I’m sure there was quite a bit of relief felt inside her.

Shortly after that, my family moved to São Paulo, Brazil because my father was transferred there by his company. Between them, the two cultures were literally worlds apart. There was a major culture shock initially but my family embraced Brazil for its more relaxed, happy-go-lucky culture. It was a nice change from the rigorous, driven and busy Japan.

While there, my parents encountered poverty that was beyond anything they knew prior to that. Yet they were also struck by how pure and hopeful these people were.  Inspired by this experience, my parents decided to go into ministry.

Upon returning to Japan after 5 years (and I came to US), my father quit his job and they both put themselves through seminary.  Upon becoming ordained, my parents went back to Brazil, to serve a Japanese church in São Paulo. Suprisingly, Brazil has the largest Japanese community outside of Japan.

The church they were at couldn’t afford to hire two pastors, so my father became the pastor and my mother became the head of the kindergarten that the church owned and operated. But this kindergarten was plagued with poor finance and operation to begin with, and never having run such an institution before, my mother struggled immensely at first. The church ended up stopping operation of the kindergarten shortly thereafter, and my mother was exhausted and spent, having taken responsibility for something that was cleary not her calling.

Pieces Coming Together

Upon recovering, she explored what other services she could offer to the community. The Japanese immigrants in Brazil were from pre-WWII era, and thus are old and dying.  So she thought up an idea to start a day service, basically a once-a-week elderly day care in which these Japanese elders can interact with each other, in their native tongue.

Here is where she felt the threads of life coming together in an unexpected way. In organizing this service, she established a non-profit organization, and wrote out all the job/volunteer roles and by-laws, where her pre-law training came in handy. Her teaching degree was useful in training other volunteers. And 10 years of caring for her own mother gave her insights on how to serve and meet the needs of these elders.

Christened as “Shalom”, her elderly day-service was very well-received. Embraced by both participants and volunteers, soon the organization ballooned up to over 30 volunteers and dozens of elderly. Even though she chose not to make it a religious organization, she was often asked to lead funerals and memorial services since she was an ordained minister, so her pastoral skills were also used.   One day a week became two, and by the time she left it to go back to Japan because my father became terminally ill, she had successfully trained her volunteer staff to take over and keep the organization going without her. The Japanese community of São Paulo gave her an award of appreciation for her community service.

On to a Greater Challenge

After my father passed away, my mother was overcome by her desire to return to Brazil. Upon seeing that Shalom was still thriving and had no need for her to return, she set her sight on the poorer northeastern region, where she and my father traveled many times and had acquaintances. This would be a greater challenge, as this time she would be immersed among real Brazilians. Unfazed, she dove right in with a 6-months stay this year. Next year she is officially going to begin a 3-year term as a missionary.

Although this year’s stay was mainly to explore what needs she could meet, her community organizing skills already were used in heading up a sewing class, giving women job skills. One day she told me about a young woman who was accepted to another job training course , but she couldn’t go because she had no means of getting to her class. She was too poor even to pay the measly bus fare! This prompted my mother to explore the possibility of establishing a fund that provides financial assistance to folks who are getting job training.

The Sense of Being Prepared

I can tell that she is firmly self-actualized, as despite immense challenges she faces, she is never discouraged, always energized, and radiantly happy. It took her until well into her 50s, but she has found her calling. Her health permitting (she is a very healthy woman over all), she plans to continue her work well into her 70s. I won’t be surprised if she does carry on until she’s quite old, as self actualization is a very rejuvenating state. I’m sure you’ve seen people who don’t look their age because they are engaged in meaningful work.

She told me a few times over the years that she had this sense that her life up to that point was preparing her for this work. In her case, the seemingly dissimilar skills such as pre-law studies and terminal care came together marvelously to enable her to do what was needed. I know that she felt gratified and fulfilled by having just the skills to call up when the situation called for it.

I’ve said before that your calling lies where your needs and the world’s needs meet. But as we go through the journey of inventorying our interests and assets, and exploring where we can use them to meet needs — we sometimes end up in an unimaginable place, utilizing previously unthinkable combinations of tools. It may be hard to imagine unless you’ve seen it, but it is a sense that somehow all the major pieces you acquired in your life all end up coming together, being used in such a unique way, that you just can’t imagine anybody else doing it.

I believe that one of the keys to achieving self actualization is finding a place where the unique combination of gifts you possess becomes integral to providing value to the world. And the more of your assets are being utilized, the more fulfilling it feels. The tricky part is, sometimes our skills and interests do seem incompatible, in that you have a hard time imagining a job or a role where all of them are being utilized.

But there is no such thing as a useless talent. If you haven’t found the place where your unique offerings are needed, that simply means you haven’t traveled far enough in your journey. The more unique the particular combinations of gifts you have, the harder you may have to search to find the place where you are needed.

But don’t give up, keep searching. The reward will be truly great when you find it. People will shout and scream for joy ar your arrival, for all along, they were waiting for you. For you are the only one — nobody else can do it.

Find a Hole Only You Can Fill

So in your personal evolution, I urge you to take stocks of pieces that are important to you, no matter how dissimilar and incompatible they seem. Then search for a situation where all of your important assets are used/needed.

In the process, you may end up inventing a new job. Look at Chrstine Kane, for example — a singer/songwriter/coach/inspirational speaker. Probably not a job title that existed before she made it up. Similarly, in my business plan I’m proposing to be a musician/blogger/community organizer/mentor/entrepreneur. I, too, am making it up, because no existing business is creative enough to think of how such a person can provide value to the world. But after 13 years of seeking, I finally found a way. If you don’t want to wait until your 50s or spend over a dozen years until reaching self actualization, do yourself a favor and go see my coach, Tom Volkar. His coaching service is uniquely designed to help you find a hole that’s shaped exactly like you.

Conclusion: Surrender to Your Uniqueness

We are all unique, there are no two people who are the same. True, most of our skills are not unique by themselves — but the particular combinations of them that you possess, and how they were shaped and developed in your life, is unduplicatable.

And when you reach self actualization — a fully realized you — you will be living a role that only you can fulfill. Do not accept any less. If your current situation doesn’t utilize all the diverse assets you have to offer, keep searching, keep upgrading, so that more and more of them are engaged. When all the essential ones are being utilized, you will feel fulfillment in a way never possible before. This is self actualization.  And this is one of the best contribution you can make to the world.

Have You Seen It?

Have you ever encountered an opportunity, a need or a role that you can’t imagine anyone else meeting it? Do you know anybody who has or unique/weird/eccentric jobs or roles? Please share your stories.


    1. Susan,

      Glad to hear my mother’s story shed some light for you! It is hard to grasp unless you really feel it, but you’ll be able to tell when you hit the place where all the threads running through your life start to come together. It’s an energy surge like no other. You feel so elated, you’d go “isn’t this too good to be true?” At least that’s been my experience. The joy and fulfillment you feel is simply unimaginable when you’re used to a more compromised or partially engaged state.

      You can find such a place! Just keep shedding baggage, hold on to only essentials.


  1. Ari,

    Thank you for sharing your story about your mother–I really enjoyed reading about it. Not surprisingly, it sounds as though she is a highly evolved person. In many ways, she reminds me of my own mother, who has also reached a high plan of self actualization. She works tirelessly for wonderful causes, giving far more of herself to others than she ever does to herself. These women are such great role models for us.

    Take care,


    Melinda´s last blog post..A Spiritual Awakening

    1. Hi Melinda,

      Well, the funny thing is that my father was a much more of an intellectual guy, more overtly “intelligent.” But my mother has always been a woman of singular, uncluttered intuition — one of those people who can really point out the heart of any issues, without really engaging in long-winded explanations (I musta got that part from my dad. ;-)) When she emptied her cup of all the unnecessary, hurtful things and just watched her world to see what she could offer it, she immediately came up with the idea for that day-service thing. My dad couldn’t do that, and died an unrealized man. My mom, on the other hand, seems to be becoming stronger and bigger with age. They are both dear to me and role models to me — my mother, of how to live, and my father, of how to end it properly, even if he died before he could realize his potential. I got great parts from both of them — for that, I’m eternally grateful.

      Sounds like you roots were in good soil, too. Not surprising, I suppose, considering what you’ve been able to overcome.


  2. Ari,

    Thanks for your Mom’s beautiful story and for your family’s story as well. With such inspiration it’s no wonder that you have decided to follow your bliss and develop the business that you are best suited for. You make several powerful points in this post. But the most powerful is this one. “If your current situation doesn’t utilize all the diverse assets you have to offer, keep searching, keep upgrading, so that more and more of them are engaged.”

    In my coaching practice that’s the thing that most folks have a hard time getting. It’s a process and they are better off to get close, jump in and adjust. As long as we keep adjusting to be a better and better fit for the business or work we were meant to do then we are in pursuit of our right livelihood. The closer you get to it, the more support you get from others.

    To answer your question yes, I’ve been blessed to know many folks who have found their calling. One of my earliest coaching clients Gina is a fine example of creating a combination of what makes you thrive. She’s deeply involved in the spiritual healing community, has a special events company where she promotes all manor of fun celebrations. Like 200 people all drumming on a river boat up and down Pittsburgh’s three rivers. She’s also a twice published author and exceptional writer.

    The only limits we have in life are self-created. Thanks for your link and most especially for your inspiration.

    Tom Volkar / Delightful Work´s last blog post..Does a Business Startup Have To Be Hard?

    1. Hi Tom,

      Well, doing the work you do, I expect you’ve seen a number of souls who have found their “sweet spot.” What you do is unique and much needed, especially if humanity is to evolve into a species where more of us (in terms of percentage) become fully-realized beings. I really believe that some sectors of society are poised for that transition. And we need more people like you. I intend to become one myself. 🙂

      Gina sounds like a really cool person. We should make an industry out of all of us who do unique/weird/unconventional self-created jobs. We’ll do an industry convention like they do in all other industries. Wouldn’t that be a sight! 😉


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