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Notes & Thoughts - Issue #3 - The Jonah Complex

October 22 · Issue #3 · View online
Notes & Thoughts
Welcome to the third issue of the weekly Notes & Thoughts newsletter from The Red Notebook!
First things first, our website finally went live! Thank you for your patience as we built it, you can check it out at
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be rolling out more Red Notebook content areas, specifically adding some videos as we build up our network.
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If you believe there’s someone who could greatly benefit from this, invite them to join the Red Notebook!
Thank you, and enjoy the newsletter!
Solomon King Benge

The Jonah Complex - The Fear of our Greatest Selves
Let’s get this out of the way: many - if not most - of us will never reach our greatest potential. We will strive for an ideal, and dream of a life and success that we will obsess over for decades, but ultimately, we’ll settle and compromise and leave this world having achieved only a fraction of what we dreamed.
There are a great many reasons for this, but one of the theories is that we fear our greatness more than we desire it.
As a friend said during a chat conversation, for many, the potential of the dream is often more comforting than the realization of the dream.
The philosopher Abraham Maslow - of the famous Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs - postulated that this could be a result of self-sabotage through “The Jonah Complex,” a limiting mindset that prevents us from achieving true self-actualization.
When I first stumbled upon the Jonah Complex a week or so ago from a friend’s tweet, I was blown away by how this subtle and subconscious self-limitation had affected my perception of and desire for success.
Maslow borrowed the name from the Bible character Jonah who tried many times to run away from the fate/destiny God had set on his life. Maslow extended it to represent the fear of one’s own greatness, and a representation of those who run away from their best talents and fullest selves. He says:
We fear our highest possibilities. We are generally afraid to become that which we glimpse in our most perfect moments, under the most perfect conditions, under the conditions of greatest courage. We enjoy and even thrill to the godlike possibilities we see in ourselves in such peak moments. And yet we simultaneously shiver with weakness, awe, and fear before these very same possibilities.
So often, we run away from the responsibilities dictated, or rather suggested by nature, by fate, even sometimes by accident, just as Jonah tried in vain to run away from his fate.
Sigmund Freud theorized further that this guilt could stem from traumas experienced in our childhood from parents, teachers or even siblings. The punishments we received when we constantly failed to meet increasingly tough challenges caused us to deem ourselves unworthy of any celebrations of success.
Also, our lives are filled with cautionary tales of people who dared to dream too big, like Icarus falling to his death because in a moment of exhilaration and celebration, he flew too close to the sun.
Jacob Peter Gowy's The Flight of Icarus (1635–1637)
Jacob Peter Gowy's The Flight of Icarus (1635–1637)
These complexes and traumas subconsciously hold us back because we want to constantly stay within the safe spaces, where we can simply be OK, safe and - supposedly - happy.
We are consumed by this feeling of unworthiness when we consider how great we could be. And for some, this may be rejected by our ego (and superego) as pure hubris, which we believe has no part in our manifestation of self and purpose.
There are, of course, other traits that could affect how we subconsciously hold back from success. Traits like introversion, or stage fright, or a general apathy towards the lime light. Or maybe we are beholden to the safety of the crowds and tribes we find ourselves in and are afraid that we’ll lose that belonging once we step out too far.
I personally have struggled with this for my entire career: the idea of putting myself out there, away from my comfort zone makes me incredibly anxious and exhausted, to the extent that I deliberately limit my social engagements. I am aware that success comes with a price, and I know, looking back that I have consciously held myself back from truly achieving the success I envision.
But I am also deeply aware that the work I do demands that I step out of comfort and security and channel the voice and authority I need to represent the people that I have chosen to serve, so that I may find the resources they need to thrive and be better and more successful.
Now that I know what it’s called, I know have a Jonah Complex, and I’m being intentional about navigating what this means for my dreams and ambitions for me, my work, and my purpose.
Reflect on this.
What is your vision of your greatest self, and how has that affected your pursuit of greatness? Do not think exclusively of material wealth, as opulence can be a turn off for many of us, but think of you at the highest peak of your personal and professional potential. What does that look like, and how can you work towards being comfortable with that vision (if it scares you)?
But more importantly, have you been living a life below your potential, simply because you didn’t deem yourself worthy or capable of the greatness you see? How far off your North Star are you and how can you get back?
Read This: More on the Jonah Complex
I cannot possibly exhaust the scope of The Jonah Complex, but I encourage you to dive deeper in this article that focuses on childhood, and this one that explores how we can break it. And if you have some time and means, read The Farther Reaches of Human Nature by Abraham Maslow.
Daily Snippets: Weekly Highlights Summary
Every morning, between 5:30am and 6:30am, I share short snippets of articles I am reading, and I curate them on the RedNotebook website.
This week’s highlights for me were:
Listen to This: Self-Actualization is Limitless
In this podcast from Reboot, Henry May discusses the conflict of identity, the feeling of unworthiness in his work, and explores how that fear might be holding him back from better leadership and having a fuller self at work and at home.
How might the journey of entrepreneurship, specifically his own, open up new opportunities for him to grow? How might entrepreneurship be a powerful journey of self-actualization? 
I hope you enjoyed this week’s newsletter!
Connect and Share with us!
We are building a community of African entrepreneurs and business professionals, and we leverage social media heavily, so please take a minute to connect with us and follow us on the following platforms:  Twitter - Facebook - Instagram - YouTube - LinkedIn and Telegram.
And lastly, communities are not built in isolation. If you believe there’s someone who could greatly benefit from this, invite them to join the Red Notebook!
Thank you, and see you next week!
Solomon King Benge
Founder - Fundi Bots and Curator - The Red Notebook.
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