I believe we can’t have a career without change, and we can’t change jobs without some degree of transformation and also you dont have to change jobs to grow!
A new challenge is by definition something we have to grow to meet.
We don’t come completely pre-qualified for it, but hopefully we have the raw material that qualifies us to figure it out.
That’s the work of transformation – it’s not matching ourselves to roles that reflect exactly what we did before.
It’s metamorphosing into a future state.
Science holds some fascinating lessons on this topic.
In recent years, researchers have begun using technology to peer into one of the most extraordinary examples of metamorphosis on the planet – that of a caterpillar into a butterfly.
I will confess I always thought the caterpillar wrapped itself up into a cocoon-like case and then grew some wings into its sides. I was wrong. If you consult a textbook, it will explain that what actually happens is the caterpillar releases enzymes that digest its body and its previous self melts into a sort of yellowish white goo before it reconstitutes into a butterfly.
It’s been hard to figure out exactly how a caterpillar goes from goo to butterfly. Historically, scientists would slice open a chrysalis and that would give them a snapshot of the goo in time. Then they would do the same with another at a slightly different point in time and try to understand the progression. More recently, scientists have used micro CT to capture x-ray cross sections of the chrysalis and turn them into a 3D model in order to watch the metamorphosis. This has illuminated some very interesting nuances.
In turns out the caterpillar doesn’t completely fall apart into nothing. Muscles break down into pieces that can be reused. The tracheal tubes get bigger. (From its first day as a chrysalis, a painted lady butterfly has the breathing tubes of an adult!) Some cells in the soup create imaginal discs, which produce adult body parts like the antennae, the eyes, each leg and wing. If you were to examine that chrysalis, you would see just outside the goo, pressed against the sides, those body parts hanging out, awaiting the future self that is emerging.
And if that’s not cool enough, researchers have discovered in moths that memory storing neurons stay intact in the goo and become part of the new brain.
The scientists found that if they repeatedly zapped caterpillars with an electrical surge along with a smell to create an aversion, their future moth states avoided the odor. The moths in the experiment remembered their past trauma as caterpillars.
I imagine your mind – like mine – is alight with the apt metaphors of this metamorphosis. So was the Radiolab journalist Molly Webster when she reported this story.
She said it provoked in her the following thoughts: “It’s not just what we carry forward from our past into the future. It’s the idea, what of my future self is in me right now?”
To truly transform, we don’t have to fully fall apart – though part of it requires descent into a state that looks and feels like goo. What really happens is that there are parts we keep, parts we create or grow, and parts that we must leave behind.
There are some hard parts we remember. And all the while, we have the biological means to breathe through it all.
Discovering this science has gotten me thinking about psychology as well. Because there is a concept in psychology called “imago.”
In science, that’s the last stage of an insect’s metamorphosis
. In psychology, it’s the notion of what we carry along through our previous selves up to now.
It’s the frustrations we have now that are reflections of past pain.
These are the core issues we always seem to have, dating back to childhood experiences.
If we don’t work through them, they can skew the way we see others and stymie our own ability to connect.
Our past, if held too tightly, can prevent us from being truly present to what is before us and who is with us.
We’ll bring our imago to work, and that is no way to lead.
What we let go is as important as what we take on.
I believe it’s a good time of year to think about these topics.
We’re taking stock of the past months and making resolutions for the next year. It’s a good time to ask the questions, what do we want to leave behind? What do we wish to re-imagine? And what future selves are ready to emerge?
To me, the most amazing part of the story of metamorphosis is that the caterpillar comes with everything it needs to become something else. It is equipped to let the past dissolve and prepared to engineer its own future parts. I like to think, so are we.
Sent with Love