The Necessary Cocoon

     Before a butterfly experiences the first flap of its wings, it must go through a very sacred process, so sacred that it occurs in a little room hidden from the rest of the world. From the start to the end, no one can tell what’s going on inside that silky shell. But one thing’s for sure: within the privacy of the cocoon, the wriggling, leaf-eating caterpillar is being transformed into a beautiful, nectar-worthy butterfly. Soon enough he will leave behind his squirmy ways to take to the skies! Well, maybe not the skies, but he won’t have to crawl that much anymore – flitting from flower to sweet flower will be his new way of life.

In all stages of life, whenever we reach the natural end of any cycle, we will have to go through a very similar process of metamorphosis. Leaving behind the slow, wormy ways of our past may not be an easy task for us, especially because to everyone else, we don’t seem to be doing anything! We’re just, you know, hiding in there, in the cocoon, sloshing in our own mess. We even ask if will we come out of it any better. But the answer already resonates within the fluttering wings of every single butterfly in the world; they go through it, and they all, like you will soon, emerge triumphant.

Spinning a Sacred Place

In the very beginning, before the transformation, we may have been hit by a sudden realization. Perhaps, an epiphany dawns upon us while we are in the showers, or your parents/spouse/children, say something that really jolted you to your senses Whatever the case, we are displaced, we are dislodged. A ticking in our clocks tell us that we are no longer going to survive if we continue in our current state. The caterpillar must transform. So we start spinning the cocoon. The first few threads are pure deceit. We lie to ourselves, saying in warm, soothing tones, that everything will be alright, that perhaps we don’t need to change at all. What do you mean change? We were doing fine all this while! And then come the threads of worry. But what if what they said were true? How will I cope?  Slowly, these threads become threads of faith. Perhaps I should embrace change. Perhaps at the end of it, I will come out better, stronger, more resilient. And so our cocoon is spun with the threads of all our various hopes and fears, combining and interweaving to form our sacred place.

What on Earth is Going On In There?

Whether it is that we begin to shy away from people, or we start to throw ourselves headlong into work and endless activities, the result is the same. We are hiding a tender part of ourselves in the sacred place, in the cocoon. And putting up the mask will ensure that no one can truly see the transformation. No, they can’t pierce the veil to have a good, clear view of what’s going on inside, so they might become prone to guessing. Oh, he’s becoming lazier and lazier He’ll never amount to anything. Or, she’s completely succumbed to workaholism. Really pity her children. Or, Just ignore that person, it’ll be better of for you. None of their guesses are entirely right of course, as they don’t have an inkling of the transformation going on within. Well, neither do you. So many parts of you inside the cocoon are undergoing tremendous change simultaneously so that it gets really difficult to keep track of yourself. It’s a state of chaos, a state of mess. Outside, you look composed, but nobody knows about what is going on inside of you.

Within the cocoon, a caterpillar’s organs and tissue break down into a primal soup of information and raw material. Slowly, as if following a grand, but hidden design, it re-assembles itself to form adult cells and organs. The new takes the place of the old in an elegant, sacred process, protected away from the rest of the world. But while it is still raw, still soup, it can’t figure out the head or tail of anything at all. And neither can the rest of the world. In the cocoon, it is completely vulnerable, yet entirely safe. While you may overhear your colleagues badmouthing you, it all seems to slip off somehow. While your project might end up in the drain, it doesn’t really hurt you so much to the core. You just pick it up and start over again. Somehow, you are in a weak position, yet completely immune. You are transforming, you are changing, you may be in the pit, cold, shivering, and afraid, but you aren’t shattered. You are merely reforming. You are recycling everything inside you, you are turning it around and upside down. All the failures, all the insults, all the negativity is being used as raw material. It is being transformed, and nobody knows how it works, but it does.

Out of the cocoon

And then nature justifies itself. All the time spent tucked away in a corner of the universe where nothing can really get in, or out, was for one specific purpose. And the revelation of that purpose would only come about when time itself has reached its point of ripening – the cocoon breaks, and from its broken husks emerge a fully grown, flight-capable butterfly. From a fairly immobile, slowly squirming caterpillar to a fluttering butterfly – who for once in his life could afford to feed only on nectar, thanks to the fantastic wings – the secret was in the time spent away in the cocoon.

But during that time, there is always a little bit of doubt: what if I can’t break out? What if the cocoon is too strong, or… I am too weak? The consequences seem fatal. The newly morphed butterfly would be trapped in his own shell; his means of transformation becomes his own casket, and stuck in there, it would be a very, very slow death. But despite this fatal possibility, when the time comes for the butterfly to break lose, it will break lose. At times, it could take hours. It could feel as if you were trapped in limbo. You are half-aware of your transformation, half-aware of the cool air that you feel for the very first time, half-aware of the breeze that will carry you to the nearest flower, if only you could get your wings lose. It feels like forever. But just like all the butterflies in the world that came before, this one will break free.

And when you are finally free, you experience a form of liberation that would change your entire life. No longer do the people around you wonder why you behave the way you do. The time you spent locked up in your cabin up the hill did after all produce that best-seller that everyone’s nephew is reading. All the cans of tuna you ate, while everyone else was splurging on fantastic restaurant meals, did help you make it through your company’s successful start-up. Every rave party you turned down did after all give you the time to build up the network you needed to take your sales project to the next level.

Even if all that didn’t happen, even if all your best efforts turned a failure, don’t forget that at the end of it you did break out of the cocoon. And that can only mean one thing. You have come out of it better, stronger, and more resilient. Not by the standards of the world, but by your standards. And fellow butterfly to fellow butterfly, I’d say, that’s not too shabby eh? 😉

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Confidence is a Snowball…. Rolling Down a Hill! (or the Metaphoric Journey of Growing a Healthy Confidence)

220px-Giant_snowball_OxfordIf you’re human like me, I’m sure you’ve had days when you’re doubting yourself and everything you stand for. I don’t know, it could be because someone got on your sore point and rubbed a gallon of salt on it, or you put everything on the line and it failed to catch a fish. Whatever it is, it hurts bad and there’s an empty hole where your confidence should be. Fret not, there are ways to get back your mojo (without getting drunk, losing a ton of money, or begging for compliments)!

The Power of Starting Small

Confidence is like the snowball that you decided to pound up into a respectable size, and then some more. But even then it wasn’t enough, so you grabbed more snow and cupped it on the sides, smoothing out the lumpy parts to make sure that it stays round with the added bits. It grows slowly but surely. Finally, it reaches a more-than-respectable size, and you step back, eying it with pride. You decide that it’s time to set it off on a Journey that it was destined for. You roll it up to a ledge of sorts, where the descent is steep and the path is quite clear, devoid of trees. It’s time for goodbyes and last words. You tip your Creation off the edge with the toe of your shoe, gently enough to set it rolling down, but strong enough for it to really go.There are days when the sky is gray outside, and I feel too sluggish to even get out of bed and make breakfast. My alarm rings, I drag myself out and start with the daily routine: 2 soft-boiled eggs, a mug of ice water, and a hot-turned-cold bath. Usually, by the time the cold water splashes against my sleep-fatigued body, I’m already revving up and excited to get the day started. It’s a new day! Time to slay dragons and save the kingdom! Confidence works in the same way. First we slay the rats in our cellar, then we graduate to ogres in caves, and working our way up, we finally get to decapitate dragons that horde our share of gold and princesses. Perhaps someone’s been unfairly mean to you the past few days, or lady luck hasn’t been shining on your risk-taking ventures. We all need to start small. Reach for the cookies that don’t need too much climbing. Pick off the lowest hanging fruit. Everyone, including the greatest of the great, started somewhere small. So when we’ve fallen down, don’t be afraid of starting somewhere small again. The snowball needs to start rolling.

Roll Steadily

Your little Snow Child rolls gently down the slope, folding more size into its weeny structure as it goes. Oh no, there is a bump up ahead! You hold your breath as your tiny Champion slows down, and just barely overcoming gravity, tumbles awkwardly over the bump, and continues its pilgrimage to the Bottom. You heave a sigh for now, although its perils have only just begun. There is a tree root sticking out up ahead, and if Snowball doesn’t swerve around it quickly, its journey may end prematurely…

The temptation that comes with seeing success so early on is that you may want to amp up the challenge quickly just to test your potential. Those easy goals and simple tasks were struck off your list like flies. No challenge here, nothing to see. But then a nagging thought creeps up your spine and tugs at the sleeve of your brain, “Hear me out! If you do this you’ll be super cool! No one has done it before! Not this early!”  Now, don’t give in to that voice so soon. It is not yet your time yet, trust me. The snowball is unable to get across the tree root now, but if it swerves away, rolls steadily and gathers mass, it will be able to steamroll across more than just tree roots. At this stage, patience is the name of the game. Stick to the basics, and make sure that you are concentrating on the simple tasks that are set before you. Confidence takes time to build, so don’t go chasing every single risky inspiration when they reveal themselves to you. But at the same time, do open up a notebook and jot (or type) down those ideas you’re getting. That little nagging voice is an imp at this stage, but later on, you’ll see it for what it really is: your Special Muse. Treasure these ideas like gems. Right now, they’re a dime a dozen, but later on when you are looking for one, they stay well-hidden. Even so, never forget the basic precept: you can chase those ideas only after the basics are laid down in stone, because the basics are what keeps you rolling later on. They empower you to keep going on even if you make a mistake. Right now, since you just got out of a low-confidence pit, you don’t want to put yourself in a perilous position where you may fall back in again. It is at this stage where you develop the habit of finishing. Finish the little things that you’ve started and you’re on your way to building an unstoppable Snowball of Success.

Grow, Grow, Grow

You’re now rolling like a medium-sized snowball, and your ability to finish stuff is leveling up like a boss. Congratulations, but don’t you even think about kicking back and retiring at this stage of growth! Now that you’re finally growing steadily in your level of confidence, it’s time for you to stretch yourself like how you’ve always wanted to. The tendency for most people is to to keep riding on the simple stuff all the way to destination Mediocrity. It’s too easy for anyone who is doing well to just turn-off the creative engine and coast lazily along. Don’t stop at well, reach for excellent. Go back to your little notebook and pry through that handwriting (or font, you lazy technologist) to uncover the shiny gems of ages past. Those magical ideas should produce a primal thirst in you to keep pushing the limits. You’re where you’ve always wanted to be, and your Confidence Snowball should be huge enough to steamroll some logs even! Go test the limits. At this stage, the only way to grow is to keep rolling.

Don’t Let Setbacks Stop You

As Churchhill advises, “Never, never, never give up.” Don’t stop until you are able to translate your dreams into reality. Confidence is the substance of that very moment when you believe that the special inspiration which was breathed into you by your Special Muse, an essential idea that for now only exists in your head but burns fervently in your heart, can be ultimately extracted through that stubborn, unyielding, soul-wrenching dedication to the sacred craft of your calling, and then poured out into this real, touch-and-feel world to be shared, nay, experienced, nay, consumed by other very real, touch-and-feel dreamers like yourself. The belief that a dream, no matter how complex, how impossible, how crazy, can be forged, brick by brick into reality, and the conviction that it is worth it, simply because it is beautiful – that is confidence. At this stage, you may have tried something big and failed, but somehow you know deep inside of you that you need to press on. You can brush away the failure, the humiliation, and the naysayers’ criticisms like drops off water off a duck’s feather. You’re literally unstoppable. Your Snowball is now a giant, and it’s eating logs, rocks, trees, and every other obstacle in the way…

Give Away!

… and it reaches the end of its Pilgrimage at the bottom of the hill. You are at a place where confidence is no longer something that you need to “grow”. There are other things you may be preoccupied with now, like how to help others achieve the same level of confidence that you have had the privilege to enjoy. You’re looking for other Seekers, people who may have fallen too far (like how you did at the start), or are just looking to start something new, people who wish to begin again. You see it in their eyes as they pound up the snow into a respectable size, and then some more. You direct them to your very own successful Champion Pilgrim who has made it all the way, and offer them a head start, an inspiration, a spirit of hope, a ball of snow. With the joy of a little child, you pound your own little ball of snow from the retired Giant of yours, follow the group of Seekers up the hill, and start again.