How does a caterpillar transform into a butterfly? It forms a cocoon around itself and then gets busy, right? Wrong…its skin splits open revealing a chrysalis underneath! Then while some organs remain intact, the rest of the inner contents break down and reorganize themselves into a brand new creature, all within about 10-14 days. Here’s an epic video of a monarch caterpillar shedding it’s skin. NOW YOU KNOW (Bill Nye, of course).
*Note: butterflies do not form cocoons, however moths do spin silk cocoons inside which they shed their skin, becoming pupa.
As a retired athlete I’ve been undergoing a lovely journey of transformation myself! Yes, that is exaggerated cheer, but liquified inner contents don’t exactly sound like a party either, no matter how magnificent the result. This identity shift certainly hasn’t always been a joy, but it hasn’t been all that uncomfortable either. It has mostly been a quiet, zen era of exploration and listening inward, with endless support from family and friends. I’ve rehashed my track career many times in my head and my notebooks, looking for signs of pitfalls and life lessons, all the while having an ear to the ground to detect even a hint of the desire to return (nada). I walked and sprinted along the riverbank at sunrise for three months straight. I’ve meditated and kept a dream journal. I’ve wandered into the magical forest of free webinars and TED videos…which appears to go on forever, thanks to social media’s targeted ads and recommended content.
Through all of this committed exploration I’ve come to realize this:
“the past is never as relevant as we think it is.” – Danielle Laporte.
The past certainly has value in it’s delivery of us to this moment, as part of the complex web of everything that exists. But every moment moving forward is a new opportunity to choose who we are, leaving behind who we were. The journey isn’t a linear path – we’re not standing somewhere in time and space and with only 360 degrees to choose from for our next step. Maybe we can dig down, or unfurl new wings and fly upwards? Or perhaps even make a sudden quantum leap to some other place and time entirely, with no direct bearing on where we were a moment ago.
The biggest change I have faced since leaving athletics is having the time, energy, and desire to decide. Besides the occasional fork in the road, my life as an athlete (as I saw it) really only required me to make one decision: to pursue my sport. After that, the all-encompassing athlete lifestyle took over and most decisions fell neatly into place, following the clear North Star I set for myself. My athlete days were regimented and predictable, punctuated by epic challenges and equally epic episodes of self care. In hindsight, it sort of reminds me of the focused existence of a caterpillar: eat, eat, crawl to a new leaf, eat some more.
The all-time greats in every field seem more like caterpillars that have transformed into butterflies; they take advantage of the rigid structure of best practices, and exercise ownership of their situation making room for individuality and creativity. They transform themselves, or rather, they shed their caterpillar skin, turn inward, and then reveal their authentic inner selves as beautiful butterflies with super-caterpillar capabilities.
While I loved track and field deeply and felt so much joy in giving my all for the past 20 years, I always had a hint of unease, especially when it came to the external goals of qualifying for teams and the quest for funding needed to continue to pursue this dream. At the time, I interpreted that unease as a hunger to improve, and the solution was to just devote myself further, to dig deeper. Now I recognize it as the yearnings of a caterpillar, a sense that there is something else out there, new ways to uniquely contribute to my community and serve others. So now I am searching, not necessarily with a specific destination in mind, but simply and whole-heartedly enjoying my newfound inner compass that has replaced that external North Star.
I want to take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude, as an athlete and a person, for your support over the past decade of my journey. It was a wild ride and I am so grateful for all of it, especially all the genuine connections I’ve made with others as as result of this crazy dream. Thank you!!!
Cheers to transformation!