It is November. We have changed the clocks, most of our children have had half term, the trees are changing colour and very beautiful. Leaves are blowing around and little children are kicking them up. In my garden the squirrels are doing what squirrels do and hiding all sorts of goodies which they will then forget. The days are shortening and many of us are pleased to draw the curtains and stay home in the warm rather than venturing out.
So it is strange that I am about to bring you a tale of the sea.
A few months back I wrote about the Imposter Syndrome which has always been rife but is currently something many people are speaking about. I think it is because it has a name and so people can grasp it and discuss it. Now I am going to give you another syndrome but much less well known. I have heard it called the Jonah Syndrome – that is where the sea comes in.
Many of you know that my original discipline was theology, so I have a slightly different take on biblical stories. I believe this one is an allegory – whales do not swallow people and then vomit them up on a foreign shore. However, this is the part of the story that most people remember, especially as we like whales. The problem is we miss the purpose of the journey and the reason Jonah was drowning in the first place. The story starts as many do, with God needing someone to be his spokesman. He wants Jonah to go to Nineveh (Mosul to you and me), a very dangerous place then as now and speak to the people. It was a tricky mission – getting in and getting out safely. Jonah ran off and caught a ship to escape from God. When a huge storm blew up the sailors looked for a reason. Jonah volunteered straight away acknowledging that it was down to him and his disobedience. He faced it and told them to throw him overboard. Reluctantly they did so and the storm subsided, so they were OK. In the meantime, God conjured up a rescuing whale to swallow Jonah and protect him from the sea. In the way of these things Jonah realises he should have done what he was asked and then the whale spews him up on dry land. The allegory goes on a bit but never explains the syndrome. So in general conversation to be a Jonah is to see the downside of everything just like Eeyore.
In the Old Testament God is always asking human beings to do things – to be his voice. Often he tells them not to worry about what to say as he will supply the words and help them with the presentation. Usually they ignore him because they do not believe they are equipped to do it (back to the Imposter Syndrome). They do not believe they speak eloquently and can be persuasive. However, the truth of these ancient stories is that the individuals fear success and its consequences. They are frightened of boasting or overinflating their achievements. They do not want to recognise that they have the needed talents and skills because that would mean using them; and where might that lead?
On Sunday our children were grappling with this (I will not tell you another biblical story) and came up with a wonderful prayer. Part of it says:
Help me to be honest about the attributes and achievements to which I can lay claim, for the sake of my self-confidence and worth; but to do it without putting other people down.
Isn’t that wonderful? Recognise what you are, where you are unique and own it but do not put other people down by the way you express it.
Exercising those talents and skills means you could become very successful and there is nothing wrong with that. Being successful does not mean you are proud or boastful it means you are exercising the potential you have been given. Because you are successful does not mean that someone else is not. Being successful is not bad it is good. It is right to be yourself in all your fulness. There is no need to be frightened of it.
Cast your mind back to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. “Be not afraid of greatness. Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them”.
The only difficulty might be for you to understand how to use this knowledge. Putting other people down is not what it is for. Helping other people find and exercise their gifts is what it is all about.
So let’s forget Jonah. Let’s call it the Fear of Success Syndrome. Do you have it? Are you frightened of what success might mean for you? Are you frightened you might not be able to handle it well? Visualisation is key to most success and maybe you are not letting yourself see yourself being good at something – it is a sure way that it will not happen. Fears hold us back.
Try a different approach. Listen to others and what they think you can achieve. Take the step. It will be fine. Then another step will present itself and gradually you will understand your own gifts. Your potential becomes real. Exercising skill will make it even better.
Fear of success syndrome is not as prevalent as Imposter Syndrome but there is plenty of it about. If you recognise yourself then get some help. All the fears you have of success can be dealt with. Success is not finite there is enough around for everyone. Why not claim your share?
Of course as a mentor I think this is where you should seek someone like me to support you, encourage you, help you determine progress and how to make more. I am always happy to speak with anyone, off the meter, to help explore possibilities and whether/how to take them forward. Please feel free to contact me.
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Life is good; let’s live it to the full, enjoy it and be the best we can be.
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