We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do

– Albert Einsteinalbert einstein

Our early mental models are sometimes protected by immature and arrogant habits that we may or may not be aware of. This is often the fuel that powers “relative success” that can result in high levels of achievement in narrow domains of our lives. The problem with this type of achievement is that it often comes at the expense of other areas of our personality. In rare cases where access to genius is preserved (i.e. survives development), exceptional achievement can be powered by this type of energy. Where this is the case, the parts of ourselves that have been neglected occasionally remind us that we may be paying too high a price for the fuel that is propelling us.  If the gentle and occasional reminders are ignored, the neglected parts begin to create emotional symptoms and eventually disrupt our interpersonal connections with others. As the signals that “all is not well” get stronger it takes more time and effort to keep them suppressed.

All of us have the choice of heeding the call to learn more about ourselves or simply increasing the intensity of our current direction in an effort to forestall or avoid the confrontation with our real self. I can think of two great geniuses, Steve Jobs and Vincent Van Gogh, that made opposite choices. Van Gogh choose to isolate himself from others and to fill the empty space with his work. The world benefitted but he was never able to know his real self and in the end gave up. You see, Van Gogh was a replacement child. His older brother who had been born one year earlier to the day had died and in their grief his parents decided to give Vincent the same name since he also had the same birth day and month. Any wonder why it was so difficult for him to discover who he truly was.

Steve Jobs was more fortunate. He was eventually able to become aware of the cost/benefit of his early mental models by responding to personal crises and setbacks as a signal that he needed to look deeper into himself. His transition was described by leadership scholar Warren Bennis as his personal and leadership metamorphosis.  He eventually developed into a far more empathic human being and wise leader but the transition may have come too late for him to enjoy a fuller life.

Dr. Candace Pert noted that there is no emotional state that is not mimicked by the immune system. Choices have consequences for ourselves and others. One can only wonder what effect years of relentless high drive, chronic interpersonal stress, and perfectionism had on Job’s daily cortisol levels which are closely related to proper glucose metabolism. On the positive side, we can all be grateful that Steve Jobs was able and willing to enlarge his earlier mental models.

What choice will you make?