If you had to ask yourself today, what’s one virtue you want more of? Right now, my answer and my focus, is transformation.
When thinking about how to look at self-isolation and social distancing in a positive light, the butterfly came to mind. The butterfly is a powerful symbol of change but more importantly, for self-transformation. They begin as a caterpillar and embark on an incredible journey, where through the process of metamorphosis, they transform into a butterfly. It’s a powerful metaphor, speaking to our own ability to move through our own life cycles.
There’s a story about a boy who finds a caterpillar in his backyard. He asks his mother if he can keep it, and she tells him yes, as long as he takes care of it. She gives him a jar, which he fills with a branch and lots of leaves, making it a livable habitat for the caterpillar. One day, the caterpillar climbs the branch and starts spinning a cocoon. The boy is fascinated and watches as the caterpillar disappears into its silky creation.
The boy checks on the cocoon every day, watching it carefully for any sign of change and one day, he sees a tiny crack. Through this small opening, he can see the caterpillar struggling to get out. He watches, anxious to see the butterfly emerge. But the boy gets impatient and grabs a set of scissors. He cuts the hole bigger, allowing the butterfly to come out easier. Except, the butterfly doesn’t look exactly like a butterfly. Its body is swollen and its wings are shriveled. The boy waits, thinking it will transform, but it stays the same.
Crying, the boy takes the jar to his mother, not understanding why it isn’t transforming into the butterfly he expected. His mother explains that the butterfly needed to push through the cocoon on its own. Physiologically, the struggle forces the fluid out of the body and into the wings, nourishing them to make them strong. By cutting the hole in the cocoon, the boy took away this important struggle.
Right now, we’re all in a metaphorical cocoon, safe and secure in our four walls. And within our cocoon, we face our own struggles. We know that through struggle comes strength and with challenge comes change. So while we’re in this cocoon of our home, instead of feeding our fear, our doubts, our regrets, our loneliness, we have the opportunity to identify the thoughts that no longer serve us. Because the same level of thinking that got us where we are isn’t going to get us where we need to go.
To help with this transformation, I wanted to give you tools and resources. In keeping with the theme of transformation, as well as the metaphor of the butterfly and the cocoon, I came up with five C’s to focus on while cocooning.
There is power in clarity and this is an amazing opportunity to be able to build self-awareness. It can be tempting to focus on our worries. We’re worried about our security, how we’re going to be able to take care of our kids, how our jobs are going to continue to be relevant. Asking questions is important, and in fact, questions are part of how our brain knows what to focus on. Questions trigger the reticular activating system, which filters and deletes information, honing in on what’s important. So in order to seek clarity, we need to ask ourselves focused questions.
What is most important to me in my life right now? In my relationship? In my career?
Are my actions aligned with those values?
How do I want to be remembered?
Often it takes dramatic events to force these questions to the forefront of our mind. Anyone who’s had a near-death experience can attest — it forces us to have a different perspective on life. But most of us suffer daily from a near-life experience. We do too little of the things that make us feel alive. And this pandemic is forcing us to change our lives like never before.
In “The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People”, Dr. Covey states that we need to begin with the end in mind. Spend this time of solitude in focused self-reflection to help discover clarity in your life.
We’ve all heard that self-care is not selfish. And that’s 100% true. But while we’re focused a lot on physical hygiene right now, it’s important to focus on our mental hygiene as well. Psycho-immunology tells us that thoughts become things. We see this with chronic stress and anxiety, in that they actually shrink our brain and weaken our immune system. Which makes self-care vitally important.
The biggest reason self-care is not selfish comes down to self-love. When we take care of ourselves, we replenish the well so that we can take care of others. It means knowing our boundaries. That when we say yes to someone or something, we aren’t saying no to ourselves.
Another aspect of self-care can be turning off the news. It’s important to know what’s happening in the world, but we also need to establish boundaries for ourselves. And that means knowing what we can’t control. We can’t control the economics of our country, but we can control our personal economics. We can’t control the health care system, but we can control the health of ourselves and your family and loved ones. When we focus on what we can control, we shine the spotlight on the positives in our life, allowing us to harness the opportunities we have.
I believe the antidote to fear is service. Focusing on others unlocks gratitude and it’s impossible to feel fear and gratitude at the same time. So how can we creatively contribute right now?
We can check in on our neighbors, especially the elderly in our communities who may need more help during this time. We can donate to worthy causes, or help get supplies to those who need them most. We can also contribute by being cognizant of the language we choose to use when talking to others. By using positive language instead of negative or stigmatizing language, we can help create a network of positivity. Words and language affect the brain. Negative words, negative attitudes, negative language fuels stigmatizing attitudes which further propel negative behaviors and mindsets.
Another way to contribute is by donating our time. We all have talents and right now we live in an environment where classrooms aren’t limited to four walls. The most important skill to master in the 21st century is the skill of meta-learning — learning how to learn. There is no limit to human potential, to imagination, creativity, determination, persistence. These are things we want to enhance. Contributing connects us, reminding us that we’re in this together, even if we are apart.
We all have a list of things we plan on doing when we have more time. And I’m willing to bet we all have some time now. So what can we do with this time? Create.
There have been times in human history when we’ve had to self-isolate. During the plague, people like Shakespeare isolated themselves as one of the only protections from contracting the diseases. He used his time to focus on his work, creating plays like King Lear and Macbeth. Sir Isaac Newton had to put his education on hold, leaving Cambridge University when the plague forced him home. That’s where the famous story of getting hit in the head with an apple helped him come up with his deeper understanding and theories of gravity and motion. He looked back on his isolation as years of wonder.
The future belongs to the creatives. As jobs move to robots and machines, as things become automated, the one thing that will never be automated will be the creative process. The question is, when this ends, when we emerge from this cocoon, are we going to be better for it? Are we going to make a choice where we used this time to incubate, to create, to produce in whatever capacity we can? No matter what other resources we may have or not have, we all have 86,400 seconds in a day. That’s our time, and we can invest it in whatever we want. Let’s make sure to invest it in ourselves and our creativity.
I believe we should not downgrade our dreams. We should not downgrade our goals or use what’s going on as a limitation for you. Instead, we should upgrade our capabilities. And we shouldn’t stop there. Upgrade our persistence, our discipline, our skills. We all have a to-do list. But now is the time to upgrade our to-learn list.
The one skill we should all strive to master in the 21st century is the ability to learn how to learn. If I were a wish genie, I would grant one wish. Learning how to learn unlocks all of our wishes, making anything we want, anything we dream, possible. Once we learn how to learn, we can apply that skill to whatever we want. New marketing techniques, new languages, music, martial arts. In today’s world, the only thing that’s consistent is change and knowing how to learn allows us to harness that change.
Upgrading our capability isn’t limited to classrooms and webinars. What are we reading? Leaders are readers. We can take decades of someone’s experience downloaded into a book, transforming years into days. And that saves the most precious thing — time. Allowing us to continue upgrading our skills, our bodies, our brains.
It’s true that there is a physical pandemic in the world, but there’s also a virus of fear spreading right now, and it’s just as damaging. Many of us have been asked to stay home, where we’re witnessing empty streets and closed businesses. We aren’t sure what tomorrow holds, and that uncertainty makes it easy to fall into a fearful mindset. While it’s important to know what’s happening in the world around us, we also have to have self-control and not indulge or get lost in that fear. Because the truth is, if we’re always looking at the dark, we’re going to miss the blessings in life. We miss the gratitude and opportunities to grow.
Remember, while the beauty is with the butterfly, the growth happens in the cocoon. Sometimes we have to fight through some of the worst days to earn the best days. And when we emerge from our cocoon, we will flap our wings. The butterfly effect tells us we can flap our wings today and create change in our family, create change in our community. We’re either going to be stronger or smarter or we’re not. It all comes down to a choice. One step in another direction completely changes our destination. Or our destiny.
This time in our cocoon is about the choices we’re making right now. It’s not about what we did but who we became. That doesn’t mean a to-do list isn’t important, but make sure we never lose sight of our to-be list. Because life is like a cocoon. If our cocoon is broken by an outside force, we don’t grow, we don’t flourish. But when it’s broken by an inside force, we emerge stronger. Great things begin on the inside. We all have greatness inside of us.
Use the five C’s as a starting point. Where can we focus, what areas of our life do we need to focus our attention on. Difficult times can diminish us. They can define us. Or they can develop us. Ultimately we decide.