Caterpillars and other insects cannot grow in their existing skin. As they grow bigger, they undergo a process called molting, in which they grow a new layer of skin under their existing skin and then shed their old skin. The new skin is a little too big. Eventually they grow into it, and soon enough, as they begin to outgrow it, they repeat the process.
In its journey to becoming a butterfly, the caterpillar goes through this molting process five times. In the final stage, the new skin becomes the outer shell of the chrysalis.
A lot happens in the chrysalis: wings form, antenae grow, and the chewing mouthparts of the caterpillar become the sucking mouthparts of the butterfly.
The caterpillar doesn’t just shed its skin; it changes how it operates. It leaves behind old patterns and old identities before it emerges as the butterfly. The entire process is called metamorphosis.
This is perhaps more than you ever wanted to know about how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.
Here’s why it’s relevant, especially today:
The Parts You Leave Behind
Every transition point in life invites us to consider which parts of ourselves we wish to leave behind as we step forward into new possibility.
Our culture avoids talk of loss. Death is a taboo topic; we view it as “bad” or something to be feared.
We speak of growth as an additive process only: becoming more, increasing capacity, expanding.
But growth also requires shedding and subtracting. All creation entails destruction. One without the other is not possible; destruction is a byproduct of creation.
At this time of year, magazine covers and click bait hold out the glittery promise of stepping into a “new and improved” self.
New year! New you!
Rarely do we pause to consider the parts of ourselves that we need to shed as we engage in our metamorphoses. And even if we are eager to step into this next version of ourselves — to leave behind our old ways and step into our “new and improved” selves, this “new you” requires releasing “old you.”
This is your metamorphosis.
Honor What You Leave Behind
As we stand at the transition point to a new year, you get to choose which parts of yourself to take with you and which parts to leave behind.
Whatever your choice, recognize that these parts that you are shedding are not “bad” or “wrong.” You are not broken.
These are simply parts of your identity that no longer serve your next phase of being, just like the chewing mouthparts of the caterpillar don’t serve the butterfly.
Acknowledge how these parts served you in the past. Offer gratitude for these parts of your identity. And celebrate how they brought you to this place and this time.
Then you will be ready to spread your wings and fly.