The thing about moving out of your comfort zone (which is what I was writing about in my last post, The uncomfortable comfort zone) is that it can also be a painful process, which is probably why so many of us shy away from it, or put it off until we just can’t stand being where we are any longer. Whether we’re trying to practise new behaviours in our personal relationships, our professional lives or elsewhere, change can be scary, slow and excruciating at times. I was going to say that it’s often a case of one step forward and two steps back but I don’t think that’s true, at least not for me. It’s more like two steps forward and one step back, because when I’m challenging patterns of behaviour that go back decades, each step is more like a leap. A life of constant leaps forward, however, probably isn’t realistic, hence the one step back. If I’m doing something differently for the first time – after years of doing things the same old way – then it’s inevitable that I’m going to make some mistakes, fall back into my old ways or need some breathing space. It’s a bit like a baby learning to walk and stumbling every few steps or bumping into furniture and having to sit down for a while to take stock, recharge its batteries and muster enough courage to get up and try to walk again, knowing it’s probably heading for some more stumbles and bumps but it’ll get there in the end.
The other image that comes to mind is that of a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis and preparing to fly. It seems this is a pretty common metaphor for life’s struggles – having done a little bit of research on other sites and blogs – but it’s one I feel is worth repeating. The butterfly has to struggle to break through the chrysalis. It’s a long, arduous process and some butterflies don’t make it. But there’s no shortcut or easy way out. The struggle is necessary. I’ve come across a number of references to a story about a man who decided to help a butterfly out of its cocoon after watching it struggle. He snipped the chrysalis, hoping the butterfly would emerge, stretch its wings and fly. But the butterfly didn’t – its wings weren’t fully developed. The struggle out of the cocoon was necessary to force the fluid into the butterfly’s wings and strengthen them so it could fly.
Here are a couple of YouTube videos of a Monarch emerging from its cocoon. The first is quite long but has some great music. The second is shorter, if you prefer.
This is the shorter one, with a classical accompaniment:
I guess it’s the same for life and life’s struggles. There are no shortcuts. Or rather, there may appear to be shortcuts but they won’t take me where I want to go. I hope I can remember this when I’m grumbling that things aren’t happening in my time or complaining that life doesn’t flow as smoothly as I’d like it to. The struggles and the challenges and the learning that come from them prepare us for what lies ahead. This reminds me of that Nietzsche quote (I didn’t realise it was Nietzsche until I looked it up just now): ‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger’.
Maybe those struggles even help us to fly, eventually.