Reinvention After 60: My Experience with the Butterfly Theory of Personal Development
Not long ago I got an email from a reader of my blog, RealDelia. She shared a poem that she’d seen posted elsewhere on the Internet which used the metaphor of the butterfly’s chrysalis to describe those periods when we need to go inside ourselves to grow.
The word chrysalis has two meanings in British English: “the hard-shelled pupa of a moth or butterfly” – the one it adopts just before morphing into the adult phase of its life cycle – and “anything in the process of developing.”
I knew precisely why the lady had sent it to me. I’ve been in a chrysalis-like state since late July when I was laid off from my previous job.
What do I mean by this?
Checking Out with Others to Check In with Yourself
I’ve been avoiding people, for the most part. That’s the pupa part of what I’m doing. I’ve formed a hardened shell around my exterior in order to protect myself from outside forces until I’m ready to re-emerge, fully formed.
That’s because I’ve been trying to decide what my next professional move is, and that requires a great deal of reflection.
I realize it is both helpful and essential to talk to other people when you’re trying to make a major career shift. However, one thing I’ve learned over the years is not to talk to them too early on, before your own vision has taken shape.
Otherwise, you’ll find that they get you thinking about how and where, rather than why. And the why is terribly important.
In short, you may find that in order to properly check in with yourself – whether that means taking an inventory of your interests, figuring out how your assorted, transferrable skills can serve your ambitions, and/or what your “elevator pitch” is going to be – you need to check out with others.
Constructing a New Narrative
I am also in a stage of growth, which is the second definition of chrysalis. I’ve been keeping a journal and writing a book. I’ve been experimenting with my own creativity. I’ve (very quietly) taken up a post as a visiting research fellow at a local university. I’m even taking an improvisation class!
I’ve also been spending a lot more time at home doing things I like. Those include cooking, watching the 1981 television mini-series of Brideshead Revisited – for the 3rd time! – and reading assorted books by John Le Carré, all while nursing the occasional low-alcohol pale ale.
These disparate activities are about helping me to construct a new narrative for myself, one that feels more authentic and true to who I am for whatever comes next.
Busy: Back Soon
Someday soon, I am hoping that – like the butterfly – I will shed my protective layer and fly. But that process is never overnight.
It reminds me of the time in one of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories when Christopher Robin hangs a note on his door that reads, “Gone Out. Backson. Bizy.”
Yes, I have been busy, but I will be back soon.
Have you ever had to totally reinvent yourself after a job loss or other life change? Do you agree that to find yourself you sometimes have to cut yourself off from other people? Do we have to go inside ourselves in order to grow? Please join the conversation.
Delia Lloyd is an American writer based in London. Her writing has appeared in outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times and The Guardian. She blogs about adulthood at realdelia.com and is currently at work on a book about swimming and adulthood. Follow her on Twitter at @realdelia.