[commentary] Maria, Me, and Maslow


[commentary] Maria, Me, and Maslow

July 2016


Maria came in to work very happy today. Her countenance was much brighter than it had been at the end of last week. 

She told me that Saturday had been her Aunt’s 70th birthday and her entire extended family had gotten together for the day. She excitedly listed a half dozen different entrees that they had cooked up, and told me about the salsa band they had hired.

 Their uncle had a pool and so all the kids swam. She exclaimed that her boy had gotten in at noon, and eight hour laters, was still begging to stay inside. He grumpily jumped into the folds of the waiting terry cloth towel only after she sternly told him that it was too windy and that he would get sick. She laughed that his hands were purple and pruned by this point.

 It makes me happy to see her happy. She manages our Quality Assurance department. The work is slightly tedious and routine, but requires a skilled individual as it involves high organization and attention to detail. I worked in QA my first two summers and spent 10 hour days organizing the paperwork and learning the massive book of regulations for food manufacturers. I’m happy to be out of there and learning new things. I was getting very bored and frustrated once i had learned everything. 

But Maria is much more appreciative of the job. She spent her previous ten years doing QA for a meat company. The meat industry is several times more stressful as QA is inspected daily by federal contractors and subjected to severe examination. Meat is a high risk product ripe for food contamination and widespread poisoning. 

Given all this, she loves the relative stability of the dry foods industry. She’s happy to have a stable job that provides for her kids. But my tendency is to think that everyone thinks like me, and knowing how deeply upset I’d be about working in her position, sometimes I worry excessively. My father reprimands me and tells me that his offices are one of the best in the country. The operation is one of the best. People here are lucky. I’m reminded that different people have different natures depending on their circumstances. M is quite satisfied with her job. I need not worry unduly.


I was complaining today about the tediousness of all the paperwork I had to do, and how it left me feeling so empty some days. I wanted something more creative and meaningful. My father got upset with me and told me that I’m too ‘full.’ When he was in college, he was desperate for any kind of work to make his payments. He was even happy to move boxes all day long.

I sat in the meeting room venting to my brother On some level I knew that my father was right. But at the same time, I couldn’t escape the fact that these feelings I felt were so real, and not just the tantrums of a spoiled child.


I think Maslow’s hierarchy is very useful here. Maslow understood human nature not as fixed and singular, but dynamic and existing on a continuum. If physiological needs like food and shelter are not met, then psychological needs like love, belonging, self esteem, and creative activities take back stage. 

However, when these ‘physiological needs are taken care of and abundantly met, the psychological needs take center stage and are now experienced just as viscerally as a panging stomach. Interestingly, I think the man who had to endure hunger growing up, can’t completely empathize with a child who is fully fed and clothed, yet still upset due to something as non-mission critical as a lack of this sensation called ‘belonging.’

Sometimes i complain about how difficult it is to spend so much time working, with no real time to build friendships and community. Sometimes I complain about how the work is not nearly as pleasurable as studying and thinking. My father understands this and can empathize, but he also always shares with me how growing up he had no time for friends, and how he didn’t have the time to sit around and read. Every passing hour, he spent working and providing for his family. Indirectly, he is telling me that I need to suck it up and learn to be strong and independent of these feelings. I sense a miscommunication between us when it comes to thinking about relationships and community, as well as looking for a certain kind of work. I wonder if our differing perspectives might be rooted in our disparate childhoods, where levels of Maslow’s hierarchy manifested in differing degrees.


Anyhow, ruminations into the nature of man aside, I ended up buckling down and focusing intently on working through my tedious project. Surprisingly, two hours later i had made significant headway and felt much better about the whole thing as I suddenly realized that it could be finished relatively quickly. 

I’m hoping to get past this paperwork quickly so that I might pursue more novel and creative tasks once again. This summer has been a constant negotiation between work and some of the things I enjoy doing for fun. I feel like the things I’m learning about business are invaluable and as good as a real life MBA course. Also, i think my appreciation for student life has soared to new heights. I think come this fall I’m going to study harder than I ever have.