If you remember your high school English class or perhaps took English Lit 101 in college, it’s likely that Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka was on your reading list.
It’s a book not easily forgotten, but just in case, I’ll recap the storyline. Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to find he’s transformed into a huge, hideous insect. (No, it was not written by Stephen King.) Kafka was one of many existentialist, absurdist writer-philosophers of the time who held a pretty bleak view of the human condition, as you might surmise.
Or, perhaps you remember a more pleasant word-association for metamorphosis from science class: The transformation process that turns a lowly caterpillar limited to crawl on its belly into a beautiful butterfly with wings to soar in the wind. (Although I favored English class over science in school, I’ll go with science on this one as far as point of view.)
Because in high school I mostly skipped the classes I didn’t like (science, math, gym), I only learned while researching this article that future butterflies do not make cocoons; only moths do. Caterpillars destined to be butterflies become pupa, also called chrysalis, and attach themselves to leaves without a cocoon-like covering. They are naked to the environment while changing but protected by their coloration to blend into the surroundings.
Unlike butterflies, we humans must do something — probably a bunch of things — for the desired transformation to take place.
Right now, I’m in the chrysalis stage, and although I haven’t yet noticed any change in coloration, I do sometimes feel exposed to my environment :)
You might ask why, at my age, I would bother with the effort and possible discomfort that transformation requires instead of simply enjoying the promised Golden Years. I ask myself that question frequently.
Like the butterfly, something programmed deep within me, perhaps in my DNA or soul’s purpose, is pushing me toward something better — a better version of me? Of the world?
A lofty goal or inspiration can be daunting. Sometimes I wish, like Greta Thunberg, I had started in my teens. Or even as a young woman. I could have chosen other roads than the ones I’ve traveled. But I didn’t. I am where I am; I did what I did. And maybe it was supposed to take this long.
Certainly I’m not the only one who feels this way.
There are many versions of the tale about Thomas Edison replying to a reporter who asked him about his lack of results: “I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work.”
Various versions of the statement list anywhere from 1000 to 10,000 as the number of tries. Motivational posters lean toward the drama and make it 10,000. I get that.
I felt his pain/joy while trying to write this article. I can confidently say I have written at least 10,000 words that didn’t work or represent what I wanted to say.
But like Edison, I saved much of my failed attempts and kept tweaking. Knowing that eventually an article will show up on Medium is evidence of the success of sustained effort.
“Failure” and wrong steps are part of the process. The beauty of aging is that you have a lifetime to benefit from learning what doesn’t work.
Another approach to take in tandem with making mistakes is to do the things that feel good or light you up (no pun intended, Mr. Edison).
I have to admit, however, that being cheerful and enjoying the little things is not my go-to approach to writer’s block. At first, I stew, I complain, I whine. Sometimes I even stomp from room to room to show my muse I’m pissed. Funny thing, none of that ever works to get words down.
So I move on to stage 2. I take a walk. Have a cup of tea. Maybe read. I return to the page. Sometimes that’s enough to get me out of the funk. Sometimes, not. Grrrr. Back to stage 1.
Stage 3 emerges when I realize I must take the higher road and get over myself. It’s not about me; it’s the connection I’m making to the source that lets the words and ideas flow through me. It happens when I lose the arrogance of trying to force what I want and allow what’s supposed to come out to do its thing.
Step 3 is the act of doing things that feel good.
I don’t like me when I’m whining. I don’t feel good when I’m complaining. And you know how that goes… Once you start in that direction, it’s all downhill from there.
Step 3 is the act of putting on the brakes. I can allow myself to slide down that slippery slope to misery. Or I can recognize my destructive behavior for what it is and put a stop to it. Apply the brakes.
Like most good advice, that’s easier said than done. In the past, I allowed myself 24 hours to recover from a negative outcome. 24 hours! A whole flippin’ day! I actually marinated in negativity for an entire day and savored my misery.
As I got older and had more respect for myself and time, I shortened my “down” time. It was a gradual withdrawal, for sure, but now I can almost (but not always) change directions within an instant of recognizing what I’m doing. The key is recognizing what I’m doing. Aha.
Once I catch myself in the act of having negative thoughts about myself, others, or the world in general, I use other people as my motivation to change directions.
Once again, this involves getting over myself and the belief that I’m so important that when things aren’t going well for me I have the right to put negativity out into the world. That somehow my dismay, disappointment, or bad mood outranks the sunshine here for the whole world to enjoy.
You may think that it’s arrogant to suggest that my mood affects the whole world. But it does, and so does yours. If you’ve ever walked into a room where two people have stopped talking but are glaring or purposely not looking at one another, you can feel the tension. Words and feelings carry energy. So, it’s not stretching belief at all to say that everything we say, do, and feel matters.
Taking that premise one step further, it becomes our responsibility to ourselves and others to pay attention to what we’re projecting into the world.
And the big payoff? It feels good to be kind and say uplifting things (and mean it). So, by improving the energy in the world, we’re making ourselves happier. It works both ways. How simple and convenient — but still, not necessarily easy.
Being happy, doing good things, and being the light in the world you came here to be is work. But I can’t think of a better job to undertake.
Text ©Shelley Lieber
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