Carl Rogers And His Potatoes – A Story About Potential
Article about Carl Rogers and his famous analogy “Potatoes in the Basement“
What is the goal of life?
If you had asked Carl Rogers (1902-1987), it would be that the goal of life is to be that self that is genuinely you.
..but what does this mean, and who the hell is this Rogers guy?
Who Was Carl Ransom Rogers?
If you have not heard of him, Rogers was an American psychologist known for his powerful psychotherapy method known as client-centred therapy.
He was also one of the founding figures of humanistic psychology and is widely regarded as one of the most eminent thinkers in psychology and psychotherapy.
Contrary to the psychoanalysts, Rogers was more focused on forging a strong therapeutic alliance with his clients, rather than playing the role of the authoritative expert whose job it was to fix the client.
This stance of NOT viewing his clients as patients, but as equals, was a cardinal sin in the therapeutic world, and it earned him countless attacks from the psychoanalytic wing.
Rogers started a revolution that is still going on today.
A big problem with therapy is that if the counsellor gives active advice, and tells the client what to do, they automatically project their own values onto the client, and guides the client in becoming more like the counsellor rather than helping the client to become who they want to be.
Rogers was of the fierce conviction that no one in the world knew more about the client than the client themselves.
In a way, Rogers saw it as his job help the client discover their own powers that would allow them to self-actualise.
Just like an oak has the information to become an oak tree, Rogers believed that each individual has the means to fulfil their potential and self-actualise.
…What has this to do with potatoes?
While doing some research for my upcoming book series, “The Home Therapist“, I decided that it was an excellent call to study the work of Rogers, and while doing so, I stumbled over one of the stories he that deeply moved me, and that I had to share with you:
I remember that in my boyhood, the bin in which we stored our winter’s supply of potatoes was in the basement, several feet below a small window. The conditions were unfavourable, but the potatoes would begin to sprout — pale, white sprouts, so unlike the healthy green shoots, they sent up when planted in the soil in the spring. But these sad, spindly sprouts would grow 2 or 3 feet in length as they reached toward the distant light of the window. The sprouts were, in their bizarre, futile growth, a sort of desperate expression of the directional tendency I have been describing. They would never become plants, never mature, never fulfil their real potential. But under the most adverse circumstances, they were striving to become. Life would not give up, even if it could not flourish. In dealing with clients whose lives have been terribly warped, in working with men and women on the backwards of state hospitals, I often think of those potato sprouts. So unfavourable have been the conditions in which these people have developed that their lives often seem abnormal, twisted, scarcely human. Yet, the directional tendency in them can be trusted. The clue to understanding their behaviour is that they are striving, in the only ways that they perceive as available to them, to move toward growth, toward becoming. To healthy persons, the results may seem bizarre and futile, but they are life’s desperate attempt to become itself.
Source Carl Rogers (1980) A way of being
Moral Of The Story
The story is an excellent example of our uncontainable drive to grow towards the light, even if we live in an unfavourable environment.
Just like the potatoes in the story, we all have an inborn calling to expand our sprouts and become who we are.
Nowadays, many people are stuck in their inauthentic existence because they are afraid that if they dared to show the world who they truly are, that they would experience social exclusion.
In case nobody told you: you are a highly valuable, unique, and ever-evolving being.
Nobody can see the world as you do, nobody has triumphed over the same hardships, nobody can love the way you do, and certainly, nobody knows what the content of your life’s book should be about.
Unlike the potatoes in Rogers story, it is up to you to awaken, grow legs, and move out of the basement and create your ideal circumstances.
This is the time to divorce your past, kill your “shoulds”, “musts”, and “have to’s”, and take a pen in your hand and architect a first draft of who you want to be.
This life that you have is yours.
Act like it.
Thank you for reading,
Call to Action
When you study Carl Rogers, I would not recommend that you start with his books or articles, but that you begin by observing Carl in action.
In terms of emphatic understanding, warmth, caring, and genuine liking for his clients, Rogers was on another level. I firmly believe that everybody should watch how this master therapist listens and is present with his clients.
Today’s homework is to watch one of Carl therapeutic interviews and observe him and his client, Sylvia, carefully, and write down afterwards what you noticed about Rogers in terms of presence, empathic understanding, and genuine liking.
Take out a pen and a piece of paper and answer the following questions:
- What surprised you about the interview?
- What did you learn from Rogers?
- What did you learn from Sylvia?
If you had to describe the relationship you have with yourself to somebody else, how would you describe it?