Ever Heard of the ‘Jonah Complex’?

Are you running from something you know you really need to do?

Jonah Complex

Ever heard of the ‘Jonah Complex’?

Possibly not – not many people have heard of the Jonah Complex. It doesn’t seem to get a lot of air-time alongside things like ‘Imposter Syndrome’ and some of the other better known ways of thinking about our many peculiarities.

But I think the Jonah Complex deserves some time in the limelight. It has a lot to offer, especially in this brave new world where so many people are reaching for a more balanced, purposeful way of living and working and where we really can’t afford people’s best talents to go to waste!

So what is the ‘Jonah Complex’?

Abraham Maslow coined the phrase in his book ‘The Farther Reaches of Human Nature‘. He was talking about ‘evasion of growth’, how despite us humans having an impulse towards trying to be the best versions of ourselves, something can block us.

Maslow believed that one of the blockers is the odd reality that many of us (not all, granted!) seem to run away from our best talents. We can hide (or hide from) those unique gifts that we’ve all been given by nature. We can pretend they’re not there instead of really stepping into them and expressing them in the world. 

Why is this?

Maslow thought that many of us ‘fear our best as well as our worst’. We fear our highest possibilities just as much as our lowest ones.

This is what he called the Jonah Complex, after the poor guy in the Bible who tried to run away from his fate and ended up in the belly of a whale (plenty of symbolism there)…

From what I see in my coaching practice this is lurking beneath the surface in more people than you might think. It doesn’t need to be about some huge, lifelong vocation – lots of people have talents that they could bring, gifts that they could share, that would take them a step closer to fulfilment.

Towards doing what they’re here to do, and being who they’re here to be.

What’s more, it’s surprised me how often these talents have a huge amount to offer other people, whether in business or community. They often have a very real quality of innovation and service.

Is this you? Are you running from something you know you really need to do?  

What is that secret something that you really don’t want to look back and wish that you did?

To borrow Maslow’s question…“If not you, then who else?”

Further Reading

Academy of Ideas: The Jonah Complex and the fear of Greatness

John Crossan: LinkedIn Profile

Also by John Crossan: Making Coaching Stick


Author: John Crossan

I help people and teams learn, grown and live their best lives and their best performance. For me, this is often about developing leadership - whether of an organisation, a team, or simply to 'lead' Self in our own lives. In practice, I help leaders to create outstanding leadership cultures and coaches to become outstanding coaches.

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