The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come… We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.– Joseph Campbell
A lawyer in New Orleans took his family to a small town in North Carolina as temporary housing after Hurricane Katrina forced them from their home and work in New Orleans. Ten years later, though, they found they were happier staying in the small town than going back home. This lawyer made more changes than just the move “worrying less about billable hours and more about impacting lives,” not huge changes to some, but meaningful changes for the lives he was impacting. A hurricane might cause a lot of folks to shed old skin, but making a way for the life that is waiting is all on the person.
Walking in from taking a friend to the airport, I noticed an unusual occurrence on the steps to our house. A cicada was exiting its shell. I had missed the emergence, but as he was still attached, I found myself mesmerized and taking lots of photos of his fresh appearance. He was hanging on, perhaps resting after all of the work to extrude himself from that shell. Was it difficult to give in to the move, I wondered, or was he so uncomfortable that moving out was his only real option?
I have read many stories of people who have shed their old careers to reinvent themselves, and every time I find that I am inspired by their ability to go in a new direction: Colonel Sanders, Jack Dorsey, Mark Pinkus to name a few — look them up and read how they were able to change course after other career paths. I’ve been very fortunate to be married to someone who has allowed for my moving in different directions over the past thirty years without ever making me feel that I was strange or silly; proof that shedding our skin doesn’t mean shedding the people we love. Like the cicada, though, when we decide to push out of the shell that has contained us, we have to do the work on our own, hopefully with great cheerleaders beside us.
If this all sounds foreign to you, if you’re saying, “I’m happy just where I am.” Great! I’ve lived in the same house for the past 25 years and have no plans of moving, but considering the lesson in my writing, I know it is ok if my husband or I were to say, “Maybe this space isn’t right for us anymore.” Since we are a team, we’ll break out of that shell together when the time comes, and find the space that is right for us.
Whatever is ‘right’ for any of us can change. Snakes shed their skin two to four times every year (a little tidbit for the Monday morning coffee chatter). It seems we like to hang on to the old skin so long that life sheds it for us. You and I don’t have to measure ourselves against the lives others are living. Maybe you missed the painful time they shed their skin and are just seeing the shiny new exterior that remains.
Campbell’s words make so much sense to me. Like cicadas, we can’t move to a new body unless we shed the old shell (skin). We can’t move to a new attitude if we don’t shed the old, can’t move to a new career unless we leave the one presently held, and we can’t embrace the life that is waiting for us if we are clinging to what we hoped might have been.
Whatever is holding you back, I wish you enough discomfort to move yourself into the fresh air where you, and those you love, can experience the life that might just be waiting for you.