rsz_download_whale1Or when the belly of a whale feels like a good choice.

Maslow had a way with words.  He is most famous for the Hierarchy of Needs.  My vote is for the Jonah Complex.

According to Wikipedia the Jonah complex is the fear of success which prevents self-actualization, or the realization of one’s potential.[1][2] It is the fear of one’s own greatness, the evasion of one’s destiny, or the avoidance of exercising one’s talents.[1][3]


“It’s warm and cozy, but the view is terrible.”  –Jonah


While Jonah ran from his fate/responsibility/ability I don’t think he is alone in running.  The idea of the Jonah complex begs the question: why?  What is the benefit of avoiding the exercising of one’s talents?  Answers to this question will be personal and vary.  Likely answers include: easier to not challenge self-perception, easier to not challenge perception of others, and ability to manage expectations with a lower bar.

What the Jonah complex looks like at work (one might call this Whale Talk):

“Somebody needs to take charge and give some direction on this project. [but not me]”

“I am just not a strong communicator.”

“Nobody will listen to my suggestions anyway [so why try].”

“I’m just more comfortable in an operations/sales/logistics/finance/support role.”

All of the above (and we all have our own variants) can be real “whale-sized” assumptions.  Potential is one of those great unknowns.  The fact is that we won’t know our potential until we try – and explore and try again.

The antidote may be in an ability to be discerning about thoughts that are simple cautions from those thoughts that are about setting comfortable limits.

At work one might ask: “For the things that I am saying yes/no to…to what extent is that Jonah’s whale talking to me?”  As leaders we have a responsibility to manage our own whales as well as help those on our team manage their whales.  Bonus: for more impact in your sphere, help your team and peers check their whale assumptions.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” – Marianne Williamson