Meaningful change is hard. Period.
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I’ve been out on the west coast for the past month visiting friends and family, an endeavor that requires a lot of time travelling on planes and ferry boats. It gave me time to think about the notion of change and why it can feel so hard that we’d rather stay with the status quo than take steps to alter our course. Maybe it’s because deep down we all want the big life changes to be easy or at least easier. But something I’ve learned through my adventure travels is that is that no transformation comes from a place of comfort. Bottom line is we’ve got to be willing to endure whatever pain or suffering is inherent in the change we’re making, in order to come out the other side better and stronger.
It always brings to mind another tenet that I like to remember when life takes a hard turn, and that is that every suffering has a hidden meaning. I really try to remember that when things are not going well or I’m suffering to some degree. What’s the lesson here? What am I supposed to be learning?
Sometimes there’s an answer and sometimes not, but the process itself is a good one because it requires introspection, something we’re getting further and further away from in our overly-connected lives. Introspection lets us ask “what’s holding me back,” and introspection lets us answer from that place where we tell the truth.
In a previous blog, I talked a little bit about a bike accident I had in Moab, Utah last year, and how it had really done a number on my confidence. The process of reclaiming it has been slow and excruciating, but I’m trusting that if I keep riding through this uncomfortable phase, I’ll morph my current fear into future confidence. It’s a literal example of no transformation coming from a place of comfort.
This applies not just to physical endeavors but emotional ones too. One of the reasons for the extended visit out west is that my parents both need to make a transition to assisted living, and it’s not an easy change for them. It’s also a transition for us, the kids, because as soon as the family home is sold, life as we knew it with our parents is over. It's a painful place for all of us. My siblings and I believe that our parents will be safer, happier and able to enjoy the last of their good years if they are in a place that literally caters to their individual needs. But that doesn’t make this transformation any less difficult. It just makes it bearable, knowing that there’s a positive outcome on the other side.
There’s an analogy I like to think of and it involves caterpillars. We all know that a caterpillar can’t become a butterfly until it first goes into a cocoon. I always thought that once in there it sort of slimmed down, grew some sassy wings and then emerged all triumphant and beautiful, but that’s not what happens. Before the caterpillar can become the butterfly, it melts. It liquefies. Even scientists don’t know why. Now, if you asked the caterpillar – assuming it could speak – if it wanted to be a butterfly, it would say “of course!” until you told it what it had to endure to become one. Then it would be quite happy to stay earthbound. And we’re like that – we want to spread our wings and fly but we’re daunted by the process of getting there.
There’s another reason I like the butterfly analogy. It’s one of the most profound examples of transformation: a transformation not just of shape but of purpose. Think of it – the creature changes from a voracious destroyer of plants to one that ensures their survival by pollinating them. Can there be anything more astonishing?
The caterpillar, of course, doesn’t have a choice as to whether it will eventually fly or not. It’s simply obeying nature’s orders when it takes its long, transformational nap. But we do have a choice, and when we make the hard one, we have to trust that our discomfort and our suffering will not be for nothing. There will be a payoff at the end.
What about you? Is there a caterpillar-to-butterfly experience in your future or your past?