In 1954, Abraham Maslow introduced his Hierarchy of Needs model as a way to explain human motivation. From the time it was published, it has been taught to children who, I’m sure, have no life context for the meaning of it all.

A few years ago when I experienced a job loss and renewal, I began to consider how my personal hierarchy of needs was shaken. The time it took to rebuild my personal framework was longer and more difficult than I would have imagined. I’ve heard job loss referenced as a similar experience to any major life loss, including death. Having experienced a tremendous personal loss early in life, I had found it hard to believe that a job loss could have any similar impact to such a thing. However, the connection begins to make sense when I think of it in terms of the hierarchy of needs we all have. If one of those building blocks is removed, the whole Jenga tower of our lives begins to teeter. Those building blocks are upset by different life events, including death, divorce, or a significant job loss.

In my quest for an explanation of how the Hierarchy of Needs model could explain my psychological journey, I began to consider which of the building blocks were impacted most significantly. Following is my breakdown of observations, as well as tips for what you can do to build your own pyramid up after a major life change.

Physiological Needs

We all know that stress can have significant physiological effects. These physiological needs are the basis for human health, and can shake the entire pyramid. For months after the job loss, my appetite was shot, and I didn’t sleep well.

Tip: In the months following a major life change, focus on taking care of yourself. Make the time to rest, reflect, and eat a healthy diet.


We all have a need to feel secure in our ability to provide for our families and cover our basic needs for food, shelter and healthcare. Although my husband had a good, stable job, I suddenly felt insecure in my ability to contribute adequately for my family.

Tip: Make the time to prioritize what’s really important. If you face an unexpected life change, it can be comforting to take inventory of what really matters versus what was just fluff and filler.

Love / Belonging

When experiencing a major life change, nothing is more important than the support of family and friends. When the life event means the loss of relationships, it can be a painful part of the experience. Similar to divorce, job loss means the loss of friendships as loyalties are divided and common ground is lost.

Tip: Focus on relationships that really matter. During a major life change, it is easy to separate superficial relationships from meaningful ones. Remind yourself that superficial relationships have a very low value, meaning the loss is not as great as it first seems.


You may not think much about the need for self-esteem, confidence and respect until they are stripped away. After experiencing the loss of a parent at a relatively young age, I felt uncomfortable around family and friends. My confidence and sense of place was damaged, and the same was true when I experienced a job loss.

Tip: Stay involved in your community. Volunteer, create and find ways to use your talents while waiting for the next chapter in your life. In my case, I began blogging and writing, which led to new connections and opportunities.


I think of this pyramid topper as enlightenment. Once your basic and intermediate needs are met, you can begin to think creatively, solve problems and contribute beyond yourself for the greater good. In my case, I found my sense of self-actualization heightened after my job loss. I was no longer confined in a box of expectations and could begin to explore other interests and curiosities.

Tip: Use your life change as an opportunity to think and explore differently. Once you are released from a situation, it creates an opening to reestablish what will fill that void.

Within a year of losing my job, I launched a successful consulting company and made incredible connections that otherwise would not have been made. If you’re experiencing a major life change, I encourage you to take your own personal inventory of the Hierarchy of Needs. Focus on what’s important and remember that, with time, you will get back to the top again!

Want to know more? Download my free “Is It Stress or Is It Burnout” strategy guide here. You can also learn about my speaking and training programs here.