#1255 The Jonah Complex

Quit Running from Your Destiny

Scott Barry Kaufman is one of the world’s leading positive psychologists.

We featured one of his earlier books called Wired to Create. So, when a bunch of our Heroes recommended his new book called Transcend I was eager to get it. (👈 Thank you!! Keep ‘em coming, please!)


In short, it’s an update on Abraham Maslow’s thinking—moving us beyond self-actualizing into the ULTIMATE realm of “transcending” ourselves in service to the world. Or, as Scott puts it in the sub-title to the book: “The New Science of Self-Actualization.”

It’s an important, wise book. If you’re into the science of Optimizing and Actualizing, I think you’ll love it as much as I did. Check out the Notes, get it, etc.


I imagine we’ll talk about a number of Big Ideas from that book. Today I want to chat about one in particular.

Have you ever heard of “The Jonah Complex”? I hadn’t before Scott introduced me to it.

We meet Jonah in the Old Testament. God has big plans for him.


Jonah isn’t such a big fan of those big plans.


He tries to hide from God and avoid his destiny.

Of course, important detail to the story: You can’t hide from God. (Hah!)

So, eventually, Jonah accepts his fate and does what he’s here’s to do.

Scott talks about this in a chapter on “Self-Esteem” in which he walks us through a nuanced discussion about what healthy ambition (and pride) looks like vis-a-vis the less healthy expression of ambition and pride that shows up in what psychologists call “vulnerable” and “grandiose narcissism.”

We’ll save that important, nuanced discussion for another time.

For now, here’s how Scott frames it in Transcend: “Maslow argued that in order to avoid punishment from society, the person ‘becomes humble, ingratiating, appeasing, even masochistic. In short, due to fear of punishment for being superior, she becomes inferior and throws away some of her possibilities for humanness. For the sake of safety and security, she cripples and stunts herself. . . . That is, she is evading the task for which she was born, so to speak. She is evading her destiny.’ Maslow refers to this as the ‘Jonah Complex,’ a phenomenon described by the historian Frank Manuel. This phrase is based on the biblical tale of Jonah who, out of fear, tries to run from God’s prophecy, but he can find no place to hide. Finally, accepting his fate, he does what he is called to do.”

He continues by saying: “So let me state this as clearly as possible: you may not be entitled to shine, but you have a right to shine, because you are a worthy human being. Changing your self-limiting narratives about your worthiness, asserting needs in a healthy way, overcoming your avoidance of fearful experiences, and taking responsibility for your behaviors—these actions strengthen and stabilize the vulnerable self. The great irony is that the less you focus on whether you are worthy and competent, and take that as a given, the greater the chances you will consistently accept your inherent worth.”

That’s Today’s +1.

Are you being called by God or whatever you call that power that’s bigger than you?

If yes, are you answering the call?

If not, are you quieting down long enough to hear that quiet voice?

As you’ve probably picked up by now 😉, I believe we are ALL being called to shine.


Let’s humbly yet powerfully answer that call as we overcome our avoidance of fearful experiences, take responsibility for our behaviors and take it as a given that we are worthy.

Then go give our families, communities, and the world all we’ve got.


How about TODAY.

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