On Having the Courage to Step into Your Own Greatness

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If you deliberately plan to be less than you are capable of being, then I warn you that you’ll be deeply unhappy for the rest of your life. You will be evading your own capacities, your own possibilities.  Abraham Maslow

Last week I was on a course and in the final session delegates answered the question “what is the metaphor for where you are now?”

There was a dandelion who saw the seeds of his week’s learning spreading far and wide; a bird who’d flown his cage; a tulip who’s petals were opening; a pebble making ripples on a pond; a warrior who now understood her mission; an opened music box full of jewels she didn’t know she had; a brave performer under the spotlight on the stage, not watching from the crowd; a woman who’d been unmasked. The trainer suggested I was a pineapple.

Metaphors allow us to explain the complexity of who we are, vividly and richly. As an undergraduate I recall writing about green lights in The Great Gatsby and Catherine’s love for Linton being “foliage in the woods” compared to “the eternal rocks beneath” of her love for Heathcliff. But I hadn’t considered the power of using metaphors to help me paint a picture of my own future.

When asked to describe ourselves through metaphor, sometimes our intuitive self will describe an object or image before we know why. At an unconscious level we may have understanding about ourselves that we haven’t consciously considered or articulated yet. The image we describe from our intuitive self is often one our conscious self would question, judge or analyse.

Non-judgmentally considering the metaphor that our intuitive self describes can be a good way to kick into touch any “who am I to be a writer / start a business / act / invent something” beliefs we often have about ourselves when we’re exploring making a lifeshift.

Such thoughts can often be traced, not to fear of failure, but to fear of greatness. Psychologist Abraham Maslow suggested there is an innate tendency in all humans towards mediocrity and conformity, calling the condition the Jonah complex, after the biblical character Jonah who attempted to flee the fate God had decreed upon him.

In describing the “fear of one’s own greatness” Maslow reminds us that when we consider our dreams to be a crazy fantasy or deluded, we compare our knowledge of our inner private selves, with all its weaknesses and shortcomings with the faultless, perfect image of the role model writer / entrepreneur / actor / inventor we’ve put on a pedestal. Not appreciating of course, that in their own introspective moments, our role models have had the same thoughts, but gone ahead and done it anyway.

In that session last week I was wearing a jumper with a large sequinned pineapple, and the trainer joked that I was that pineapple, sparkling bright was her intent.

But the image of the pineapple is deeply symbolic. Through history, it has been a symbol of generosity, friendship and hospitality. Not two minutes from my house is one of my favourite buildings, a well constructed in 1789 with the most magnificent golden pineapple on its top, symbolising the far-away lands the merchants had returned from and the wealth they were subsequently enjoying.

Entering into this new phase, establishing a business that connects purpose and wealth creation drawing upon my global experience, maybe I’m entering my own Scottish Enlightenment?

Or maybe I’m prickly on the outside, sweet on the inside? Nope, I’ll kick those “who am I” thoughts into touch and go with the spirit of the Scottish Enlightenment because like the Edinburgh that flourished during the late 1700s I’m bubbling with energy, bursting with new ideas, and in my own way seeking to change the world.

The pineapple is the perfect metaphor for where I am right now. Clearly I hadn’t considered the symbolism when I’d seized the opportunity to grab a bargain and purchase Markus Lupfer for Top Shop. My unconscious, as ever, is one step ahead of me, even when shopping.
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