Self-Actualization Is an Exciting Journey in Four Stages


The self-actualization journey consists of four stages that enable a life of fulfillment. The first is an escape from your current reality imposed by others. The second is adjusting to the newly unfolding world of possibilities. The third is claiming your hidden treasure. And the fourth is living and working in the present moment. 

If you are reading this, you are probably looking for answers to questions like:

  • Is there something more to life than my current experience?
  • What is the meaning of this thing called life?

Or, perhaps your current situation is not what you had hoped for, and you’re asking:

  • How did I end up in this mess?
  • How do I get out?
  • And what’s in store for me in this reality?

My name is Philip, and whatever your level of dissatisfaction or frustration, I will do my best to guide you towards your self-actualization in this post. 

The Story of the Count of Monte Cristo

You have no doubt heard of the book The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas the father. You may have even read the book or seen one of the movies based on it.

If you haven’t, I would highly recommend that you rent out and watch the 2002 version with Jim Caviezel playing the lead. Here’s the Google Play link: https://bit.ly/39VZoWy

Though it is rather redacted, that version is very well-done, with amazing performances. And the script was written by someone who’s in touch with mythology. So, yes, a great watch.

You don’t need to know this story to reap full benefit from this guide. Just letting you know that I will be using elements of this story to help you understand and begin your journey towards your own self-actualization. 

This is a story of Edmond Dantes, a young man falsely accused and imprisoned, who escapes a hopeless and maddening imprisonment to see the world, claim an enormous treasure, and find peace in putting his treasure to good use. 

You may also be familiar with Joseph Campbell’s work and the stages of the Hero’s Journey. Well, all or most of these stages are contained in the simple four stages I am about to outline for you here. 

Yes, there will be spoilers if you don’t know the Count of Monte Cristo story. You’ve been warned.

Four Stages of Self Actualization

1. Arrange Your Escape

Imagine a troop of militia showing up at your doorstep in the middle of the night and dragging you away to a lonely and dark castle on an island offshore. No trial, no witnesses, no right to an attorney. Only a life sentence in solitary confinement. 

And all you get is daily food to keep you from starving and an annual birthday whipping by the warden who is the ugliest man you have ever met. 

That was the situation Dantes found himself in the story. And this is a metaphor for the situation people of all ages find themselves in today’s society.

For many of us, parents have done the best job they could in raising us. But their efforts still fell short of guiding us to the realization of our full potential. Unfortunately, more often than not we have inherited our parents’ fears, insecurities, and resentments. 

This is why we have all gone through “the difficult years,” when we sensed that something was wrong and started looking for role models and sources of guidance elsewhere. 

This was where television, society, religion, and other influences stepped in to shape us into who we eventually began to demonstrate. But one thing has eluded us – none of these forces have ever had our best interests in mind.

In fact, they managed to be effective only because of our Naivete. This was why Dantes ended up in his solitary cell at Chateau D’If – it was his punishment not for any kind of wrongdoing but for being naive. 

When he shouted at the guards through the gated window of his cell door, “What’s my crime? What’s my crime?!” – the right answer would have been: “Your naivete.”

Wherever you find yourself currently – physically, psychologically, sexually, and spiritually – you’re probably not in a very happy place. For otherwise, you would not be reading this guide.

You may find yourself feeling anywhere from empty to depressed to even scared to death. 

Whatever this place is, I offered you the metaphor of solitary confinement because it probably rings true for you on more than one level.

  • It feels lonely. 
  • It feels confining because of all the limitations that surround you (usually in the form of personal, professional, and financial obligations, but also in other ways).
  • And there seems to be no way out. 

This is why I call this section – the first stage – Arranging an Escape. 

Yes, you must plan and execute an escape. And the escape you must plan is very real – it’s not just a metaphor. Because your boundaries are real. And your challenge is to break through them in a very real sense. 

Only you can decide what this escape will look like for you. But let me give you my own example, and please note that yours does not have to be that radical. Or, perhaps it will be even more radical than mine. That will be up to you.

My Self-Actualization Example (The Escape Stage)

In the summer of 2019, I lived as one stressed-out, unhappy, broke, frustrated bachelor in Brooklyn, NY. 

My job paid alright, but New York was eating up most of my earnings. I had no savings. In addition, I was making payments on my debts. Needless to say, I had made some poor decisions upstream.

I lived just to eat and keep the roof over my head and also to help my father pay some of his bills. I had no time or energy for anything else. 

However, I did have something important, and that was my daily Inner Work practice of which I’ll talk more later, in Stage Four. 

On June 3, 2019, during one of my daily inner work practice sessions, I got an important insight, which came like a bolt of lightning:

I was going to quit everything I was doing, get on an airplane, and set out on a worldwide adventure to fulfill my True Life Purpose!

Within a week of this intense epiphany (which I call an Imperative), I had my air tickets to Odessa, Ukraine along with an AirBnB. I soon also had my ticket to Chiang Mai, Thailand, which was gonna be my next stop.

Here’s something important. When I made that decision, I had no money in the bank. When I flew out of the JFK airport on August 24, 2019, exactly 82 days after having the epiphany, I had about 1.5 months worth of expenses put away. 

I had no online income, no clients, no freelancer profile, and no job prospects in the places I was going. 

In other words, it was a real escape, much like the one performed by Dantes when he jumped off the cliff into the unknown. 

When you escape, you simply know you must go. You may not have any guarantee of survival. But you know what it would mean to stay where you are.

And again, you may want to prepare better for your jump, by saving ample money and/or acquiring a sellable skill. This depends on your situation. 

In my case, I knew it was time; I had faith it would work, and I just did it. To learn more about my escape in more detail, please watch this video: 

For you, escaping may literally mean:

  • Quitting your job
  • Leaving a toxic relationship 
  • Changing your living situation 
  • Getting a healing from an illness 
  • Changing your geographic location
  • Dropping an addiction
  • Getting out of debt

Notice that some of these situations can take time to escape and may not be a one-time event. For example, getting out of debt may take a couple of years while quitting your job could be done in a day.

So, the first step of your self-actualization would be to make the actual decision to escape, which is the most important part. The actual jump can be done immediately or after spending some time in phase two.

2. Take the Ferry to Freedom

After Dantes was out of the castle (he also killed the warden – the shadow father figure – in the process), he soon found himself stretched out on the beach, his emaciated body washed over by the fresh waves of the sea. 

He was free, and that felt unbelievable! However, he was totally disoriented in the newly found freedom because he hadn’t seen the sky in 13 years. He also had no money or food. 

All he had was the wisdom his prison mate Priest Faria had given him at Chateau D’If; and he also had a map of an enormous treasure hidden somewhere in the Mediterranean. 

This is something very important to understand. Dantes had a map that showed the location of a real treasure. However, was he ready to collect it?

No, he was not.

  • He was too malnourished and weak. 
  • He had to orient himself in the newly found freedom. 
  • He would probably need a helper. 
  • And he would at least need a boat to carry the treasure to a safe location.

If he tried to go straight for the treasure, he simply lacked the resources to do it, and he would fail. Even if he got the treasure, he probably couldn’t keep it because, disoriented in the world, he would have easily made crucial mistakes that would cost him the newly found fortune.

So, he had to wander for some months or even years before he was ready to collect the treasure. And when he did, he was truly in a position to hold on to it. 

I call this period of wandering taking the Ferry to Freedom. Or taking the Frigate – depending on your style 🙂 Dantes was not totally free when he escaped. He first became involved with a gang of smugglers and thieves with whom he had to sail the seas for some time.

This experience was necessary for him to complement the theory, the education he had received from the priest at the castle. 

Education + Experience = Wisdom. Book smarts + Street smarts = Maturity. 

So, the Ferry to Freedom is a necessary step on the journey from the Escape to collecting the Treasure.

My Self-Actualization Example (The Ferry to Freedom Stage)

Let’s connect this mythological representation with a real-life example by continuing with my story. 

On Aug 24, 2019, I abandoned my apartment, my car, my city, and my country by getting on an airplane. On Aug 25, 2019, I landed in Ukraine, and on Nov 1, 2019 – in Thailand. 

After 4 months in Thailand, I flew out to Da Nang, Vietnam, where I lived for almost 1.5 years during the pandemic. I then flew back to Ukraine, then lived in Mexico for a while, and only then it was time to come back to Brooklyn, NY and to see it with a totally fresh set of eyes.

And I’m definitely still on the journey. 

Throughout my adventure, I’ve been able to manifest the resources I have needed to not only survive but to also keep paying my old bills, all the while building multiple, purpose-driven streams of income. 

And I have stories of war (and love) to tell. But most importantly, I set out on a search for my own Treasure of Monte Cristo. 

3. Claim Your Treasure

The treasure which Dantes eventually finds and collects is described as probably the greatest treasure ever discovered by a man. It contained coins from old galleon ships and the gold of King Solomon. 

While you and I are not likely to come across ancient treasure chests filled with ducats and doublons jealously hidden by pirates, the Treasure of Monte Cristo is an important metaphor for a real treasure that we can actually find and claim as our own.

So, what is this Treasure?

Dr. Paul Dobransky refers to it as High Character, which is an essential quality of a mature human being.

Dr. Abraham Maslow would refer to it as Self-Actualization.

You must spend some time figuring out for yourself what your own Treasure of Monte Cristo really is. 

I’d like to give you my definition, as a synthesis of everything I’ve learned about setting goals, having aspirations, and finding and fulfilling a True Life Purpose.

This treasure is your gift that you are able to share with the world so that the world is willing to reward you generously for it.

The treasure that awaits the one who seeks it contains the following:

  • A high level of self-awareness (really knowing yourself)
  • A high level of understanding of your neuropotential (which informs your ideal work)
  • The ability and resources to engage in your labor of love 
  • Freedom from major inner boundaries (fear, anger, resistance to change, etc.)
  • Freedom from major external boundaries (debt, having to work a job you hate, etc.)
  • The courage to always do the right thing

Feel free to add anything else that is important to you or something you’ve learned to aspire to. But if you hit these points, you will know yourself as a very fulfilled person.

This treasure must be hunted down because it’s impossible to accidentally stumble upon it. And it is available to you provided that you have a map, are willing to do the escape, wander the seas amongst a bunch of shady characters, and rent a boat to sail to the promised grotto. 

And once you find and collect it, the world is truly your oyster. The discovery of your labor of love alone has a real fortune in store for you. Let’s talk about this for a second.

The future of work and business success is such that those who are purpose-driven will have a greater and greater share of the market.

Why is that?

Because in order to be really good at something, you need to find your inborn talents and strengths and develop them. If you don’t, you will be losing to those who do. Why?

Because a person who loves their work is willing to work harder, learn more, and try for a longer period of time than someone who is just in it for the money or just to put a roof over their head.

Because success in anything worthwhile is a result of sustained, focused effort. And it’s just hard to persist through all the hardships when you don’t love what you do. 

This reminds me of Jiddu Krishnamurti’s statement: “Work is an intolerable imprisonment.” Yes, it is, if you only work to make a living. 

But if you find out who you are, and the nature of your neurology, and then develop the ideal work based on your discoveries, you will have found your bliss. 

4. Evolve as an Awakened Entrepreneur

Why is there a fourth stage, Philip? Sounds like the Treasure of Monte Cristo is all I need and is, in the end, my self-actualization, my fulfillment. And if I achieve that, I’ll be a very happy camper.

Yes, you will be. 

But I must warn you of a mistake that almost all spiritual teachers, mentors, and coaches make today. It is mistaking an ambitious goal for self-actualization.

You watch YouTube videos, read books, even hire a coach. And the promised result is, naturally, in the future. 

And it has to be. A goal is always in the future because if it no longer is, then it is in the present (called success), or in the past (called experience). 

You see, in this guide I must take very good care not to give you just another goal in the future to aspire to. You have already traveled this type of path.

Here, I want to give you something more. Something that is truly a pearl of great price. 

And that is the ability to:

  • Live today, right now, no matter how difficult your situation may be
  • Have an inner guide who is like your own, personal Merlin or Gandalf
  • And to continually bring your ideal reality into existence.

I would like you to note two important things. 

First, I do not define your Treasure as a thing or a one-time accomplishment. No, I define it as a process. It is a way of life in which you have great freedom from all sorts of unhelpful bullshit and a high capacity to keep fulfilling your True Life Purpose. 

For example, the labor of love is an ongoing process. Unlike a Lamborghini, which is a thing. 

A thing is dead. A process is alive. 

And second, note that an escape and seafaring with a bunch of pirates is exciting. It’s like a video game played in real life. You have to be totally in the zone because if you’re not, you could botch the escape or end up dead hanging out among the pirates. 

What I’m trying to say is that I invite you to live your life fully starting immediately and without waiting for anything anymore. 

If we bring to mind the great teachings of the East, such as those of the Buddha and Lao Tzu, we’ll recall that:

Ambition always leads to disillusionment. 

Or, in the words of Osho, “There is no goal.”

No matter how lofty an ambition may be, once you achieve it, the state of euphoria begins to evaporate because you had placed expectations on it that could not be fulfilled. 

Why Awakened Entrepreneurship?

The word “entrepreneurship” comes from French “entreprendre,” which means “to undertake.” It is simply a process of undertaking something, of starting something up. 

Entrepreneurship is by its nature adventurous. It is virtually synonymous with adventure. But these are not the main reasons I became fascinated with it. 

Entrepreneurship done right enables much higher freedom than working for someone else. And growing freedom increases awareness and sets you on a path to Enlightenment.

In today’s world, it is very hard to be present and free of anxiety when saddled with debt or financial worries. 

By becoming an entrepreneur, you can earn your way to being free from money concerns. 

You can also gradually free yourself from all or most work you don’t really love to do. And that is priceless and only available through entrepreneurship (or through becoming a monk and renouncing the world altogether). 

But most importantly, 

Being an entrepreneur allows you to gradually develop your inborn gift and share it with the world in the most effective way possible. 

In other words, entrepreneurship enables self-actualization in an accelerated and profound way. 

The better you develop your gift, the more valuable it will be to other people. The better you get at sharing it with others, the more people you will touch.

Consequently, you will be earning more and living at an increasingly higher level of success, freedom, and happiness. 

So, being an awakened entrepreneur means that:

  • You don’t set absurd or ridiculous goals for yourself (such as become a billionaire or some other goal that lacks a connection to what would really make you feel alive)
  • You simply gradually improve your own conditions by means of building a purpose-driven source (or sources) of income
  • As you grow in this capacity, you begin to improve conditions around you, naturally
  • You tap into your spiritual energy in order for it to guide you on this path
  • You become more and more successful because you truly enjoy your work

For example, let’s say that you’re kinda good at making furniture. You’ve done it before or maybe you’ve worked as an apprentice to a carpenter.

You realize that you can design, build, and sell unique, custom furniture. You want to get started, but you have several problems that stand in your way:

  • You have a full-time job that sucks up most of your energy
  • You have responsibilities and bills to pay (maybe you have a debt)
  • You have little to no savings
  • You have a life partner who is less than supportive 
  • You are exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally

This situation may seem hopeless to the person experiencing it. But as an Awakened Entrepreneur, you would find creative ways to solve each and every one of these problems. And as you solve them, you gain greater and greater freedom from them.

Yes, it takes work, both inner and outer. But eventually, you find yourself building a table made from a single slab of oak, a thing of beauty, and you sell it to a customer who pays top dollar for custom-made furniture. 

You’ve made enough money to last long enough for you to build the next piece. So, you quit your job and focus on your purpose-driven business. It is scary but exhilarating. You are alive!

And that is success! You don’t have to earn millions to feel successful. You are doing what you love, it is an exciting adventure with obstacles and difficulties that you overcome, the courageous and creative person that you are.

And you gradually identify other factors that limit your life, and you dissolve them, too. All the while you are getting better at your craft, and one day you are ready to hire help. 

And thus you grow. And you find yourself living in the present moment because you are no longer dying inside every day in a cubicle; no – you are alive. 

That’s Awakened Entrepreneurship. 

Now you may say, Philip, how do I do all that? What is the best way to get started?

It’s time for me to share with you the inner work practice that is the foundation of Self-Actualization.

The Awareness-Insight-Manifestation (AIM) Wheel

I want to give you something that changed my life radically and completely when I discovered/created/synthesized it into being.

This paradigm (more of a practice, really) came to me in a series of Inner work sessions, sitting in deep silence. I had been doing it for about a year on a daily basis then, consistently, when this showed up about mid-2016.

Below is the diagram that will give you a visual representation of the Awareness-Insight-Manifestation (AIM) Wheel:

As you can see, the AIM Wheel is really a triple Yin/Yang symbol. It consists of three parts that whirl around an axis. 

Segment 1. Awareness/Surrender

The first segment is the state achieved through meditation. It is the state of no-mind. The aim of meditation is to get into this state.

You can also refer to it as the Buddha-field. When the Buddha was once asked who he was, he replied, “I am pure awareness.”

Why is becoming aware and surrendering to the situation the first segment?

For two reasons. 

First, by surrendering to the present moment, no matter what it brings, you put an end to your suffering (or, at least, diminish it significantly). Because the definition of inner suffering is “burning energy on the uncontrollable,” (Dr. Paul Dobransky). 

You stop shaking your fist at the gods and instead submit to them, thereby gaining their favor and potential cooperation, metaphorically speaking. 

And second, when you don’t first accept reality as it is at the present moment, you have no power to change the situation. You are resisting it, and what you resist persists. 

But once you have surrendered to the situation, now:

  • You can see it for what it is, not worse or better
  • You have the power to imagine an improved situation
  • You are mobilized to allocate resources to make a change.

Segment 2. Insight/Revelation

Once you have calmed your mind and relaxed into surrender, you are ready to receive answers from your subconscious mind. 

In this segment, you are cultivating a part of your mind that has been referred to as:

  • The superconscious mind
  • The second mind
  • Intuition
  • The sixth sense
  • The inner voice

See, it is impossible to tap into this subtle power without gaining control over your reactive mind. This is why we first meditate and surrender.

Why do we need insight? Because it is common for us not to know what we want. Or, if we know what we want, the goal is often inspired externally, not internally. 

For example, the goal could be a Lamborghini. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to drive a Lambo. But if this goal is inspired by some dude on YouTube who rented one out to impress you, that’s a problem.

An externally inspired goal is a problem because:

  • It is usually very hard to achieve
  • You may be tempted to compromise your integrity to achieve it
  • The process of achieving it is likely to make you and people around you miserable
  • It feels empty when you’ve finally attained it
  • It will diminish your freedom instead of increasing it (e.g. a Lambo is expensive, high-maintenance, can be stolen, scratched, etc, etc.)

Conversely, an internally inspired goal:

  • Feels right to both the heart and mind at the outset
  • Will be an exciting adventure to go after it
  • Can be very lofty and audacious without feeling unrealistic or ridiculous
  • Will draw on your dormant yet high-value talents and strengths
  • Will promote the state of flow 
  • Will lead to improved conditions for you, your team if you have any, and your clients

Segment 3. Manifesting

Now that you’ve settled into awareness and begun to receive insight as to what to aim for, you are ready to shape your reality according to the new information.

The more you practice the AIM Wheel as a daily ritual, the clearer your ideal goals will be to you. And the better your understanding of what you want and what is truly good for you and what will increase your freedom, success, and happiness, the more you’ll want to bring the new reality into existence.

This is where manifesting comes in. In this third segment, you use one or more exercises aimed at making your thoughts a reality. 

Yes, the Secret and the Law of Attraction talk about this a lot. But by reading this blueprint, you now know that there’s slightly more to changing your life than thinking positive thoughts.

The AIM Wheel Spins

The reason I use the triple yin/yang symbol to represent this practice is that it is alive. And the syntax, the order in which you begin to work with it is intentional.

Because if you are not sure what to aim for, it is premature to wish it into existence. 

And if you try to set goals without centering yourself first, you are likely to set some goals that are not necessarily conducive to self-actualization. 

And thus the wheel spins:

  • You calm your mind and center yourself
  • You begin to receive powerful insights
  • You begin to work on manifesting the newly inspired goal
  • You encounter obstacles and difficulties on the way, so you…
  • Calm your mind and surrender again (the cycle begins anew)
  • Receive insight on how to overcome the difficulties
  • Manifest the solution into being
  • And so on, continually, as you grow more conscious, free, successful, and fulfilled

I hope I’ve done a decent job here selling you on this inner work practice, this ritual that I practice every single day, virtually without fail. 

My longest streak of not skipping a single day is 1,137 days, which took place between July 2017 and September 2020 – the period in which I launched my own self-actualization journey.

Visual Recap

(The Four Stages and How the AIM Wheel Helps You in Each of Them)

Three Things You Can Do Right Now

One tool that’s been by my side at all times is a leather-bound journal. Get yourself one of those. Here are some important questions you can answer in it right now. 

1. Identify Your Imprisonment

  • What is limiting you right now? (What is the situation?)
  • What worldview or beliefs have you bought into in the past that have resulted in the current confining situation?
  • Which part of your situation is absolutely intolerable?

2. Question Your Limitations

  • What resources do you need in order to escape?
  • Which of the resources do you NOT have right now?
  • What obvious resources DO you have?
  • What hidden resources may you have that you were previously unaware of?

3. Imagine a Future of Freedom

  • What does the next step look like for you?
  • What is the long-term vision:
    • Financially?
    • In terms of health and energy?
    • Geographically?
    • Romantically?

Hope this has been helpful. I am honored and privileged to be a guide on your journey of self-actualization!

Philip S.

Philip Saparov

Philip Saparov is a Life Purpose Coach and a teacher of Awakened Entrepreneurship. He writes on how to become a successful entrepreneur and gain freedom, no matter where you're starting.

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