Scientific American describes the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into a butterfly like this: “One day, the caterpillar stops eating, hangs upside down from a twig or leaf and spins itself a silky cocoon or molts into a shiny chrysalis. Within its protective casing, the caterpillar radically transforms its body, eventually emerging as a butterfly or moth.”
Recently, I listened to an incredibly fascinating Radiolab segment on caterpillars. Researcher, Martha Weiss, explained how caterpillars go through a biological meltdown that reduces them to soup.
“Not only does the caterpillar turn into a soupy matrix but it also stores away helpful structures inside its body early in life. Jan Swammerdam, a Dutch microscopist from the 1600s, was the first to demonstrate that there are some of the structures of the future butterfly inside the caterpillar. The wings, antennae, and even the legs are actually already formed even before pupation takes place. Crazy, right?
The segment reports, “the caterpillar will actually start to grow little tiny adult parts that are super thin and transparent, and it just keeps them tightly rolled up and hidden up against the edges of the chrysalis, but they don’t actually ever go through the goo.”
In the 1600’s many people saw the butterfly as a metaphor. It represented a mystical death and resurrection, but Swammerdam was the first to show it was actually a transformation.
Before Swammerdam’s dissections, people saw the progression from caterpillar to butterfly as some sort of quasi-mystical, quasi-religious reminder that people can become a more perfect version of themselves. After his demonstrations, people started asking, “What of my future self is in me right now?”
NPR Interview and Radiolab segment
I’ve been teaching this concept for many years. Until recently, I didn’t know caterpillars were a supporting example of the principle. Usually, I cite companies, business leaders or athletes to make my point, but I’m perfectly happy using a hungry little caterpillar to illustrate the lesson.
Just like the caterpillar carries what it needs for its future self, you already have everything you need inside you to succeed right now.
Some clients are a little baffled, maybe even a little defensive when I tell them if I had never been born, they would still find a way to succeed without me. There would be some other teacher or expert they would find because their success has much more to do about them than it ever has to do about me. Harsh but true words for all coaches and consultants to accept.
You might not have the exact step-by-step knowledge on how to split-test an online ad campaign or which list selects to use in direct mail, but you have the mindset and determination inside you that says you won’t rest on yesterday’s laurels; that you will not be satisfied and complacent with old results.
You’ve decided you will be the best at getting better. So, today that might mean paying attention to what I have to teach you, but in ten years if I get hit by the proverbial bus, you’ll continue to succeed because of what’s already inside you.
This is a secret confession the most successful people on the planet make quietly to themselves, lest they seem egotistical or overly-confident in shouting it to others, but they make it nonetheless, however quietly: that they’ve always known they would succeed.
A huge part of this truth comes when you realize, like the caterpillar, that you’ve already packed away inside you everything you need to be your best future self. It’s simply a matter of discovering this truth and then taking action.
Warren Buffett doesn’t have any extra hours in his day. Neither did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or the NASA team that put a man on the moon. What they had was an ironclad determination to succeed and to take the first step without waiting for something or someone else to tell them it was their time.
Like them, you can choose this path for your life.