How to become a butterfly - thriving in a VUCA world

Image Source: Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash

Have you seen the movie Selma?

It’s about the American Civil Rights Movement’s defining march from Selma, Alabama to the state’s capital, Montgomery in 1965. I found it hard to watch in places – the barbarity of humankind is a confronting thing to see – but at the same time, I also learned a thing or two. I was particularly inspired by Lyndon Baines Johnson‘s involvement in getting the Civil Rights Act of 1968 through Congress.

Did you know that he did this – this thing that made a difference to so many people and changed the fabric of society - during his time as President of the United States (1963 to 1969)? No? Me neither.

What does this have to do with butterflies?

A few years ago, I learned that I had been selected to participate in a High Potential Leadership Programme and had been given the book Go MAD thinking (MAD stands for Making A Difference) to read as part of the preparation. I was reading the section called Principle One: Have a strong reason why you want to go MAD, and on page 38 I came across this:

How does one become a butterfly?

You must want to fly so much,

that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.

I felt my heart leap. It took me back to Selma and Dr King and all of those people who were willing to give up their anonymity, emerging from their figurative cocoons to be seen and to challenge what society deemed was ‘right’ or ‘safe’,

It called to mind another quote I read years ago - a favourite of mine and one that over the years, I have scrawled on the inside covers of notebooks and scraps of paper at events and conferences.

“Come to the edge," he said.

"We can't, we're afraid!" they responded.

"Come to the edge," he said.

"We can't, We will fall!" they responded.

"Come to the edge," he said.

And so they came.

And he pushed them.

And they flew.”

- Guillaume Apollinaire -

Taking flight

There’s something about ‘flying’ that elicits a feeling of freedom for me. I jumped out of a perfectly good plane once - albeit attached to the front of someone more expert at it than myself – and during the free fall, I experienced such an overwhelming sense of exhilaration and peace that I never wanted it to end.

You could argue that I took flight again when I left Melbourne (Australia) for a life in London, one that I love deeply and am enormously proud to have built. Whilst some might not see so many changes, deep down I know myself very differently from the 34-year-old who left Melbourne back in January 2004.

At 46, I spread my wings and landed in the education sector as a trustee of an amazing girls' school in North London and two years later, took flight again into another new world – that of being an entrepreneur, business coach and speaker.

So how does one become a butterfly?

I’m not advocating the need for anyone to jump out of a plane, emigrate to a new country or throw the towel in on their career.

This year, an overt and all-encompassing change has disrupted us, in many places to such an extent that will be difficult to predict what is likely to happen over the coming months. Our VUCA world – one that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous – has flexed its muscles and pressed hard against our comfortable notions about how we should live and the communities we are part of.

Just like the butterfly, we don’t know exactly how the world beyond this change will be. The butterfly just knows it needs to spread its wings to survive and thrive in whatever circumstances lie ahead of it. It prepares to take flight despite an unknown future.

In these uncertain times my thoughts are fluttering around imagining, assessing and questioning - I wonder what sort of path will I carve out of this? Will it be a continuation of the current one? Will I be dealing with some unforeseen change that lies just around the corner? Or will there be a fork in the road?

Who knows what’s going to be next?

I don’t know where all of this will lead but my head, heart and gut are telling me to be ready. And by ready I really mean being open to new ideas, ambitions and possibilities.

So while we are wrapped in our cocoons – whether by choice or not – it’s a perfect time to build our resilience by:

  • Having the faith to take one step forward every day, no matter how small;

  • Supporting each other and keeping our community spirit alive; and

  • Looking at the things that we CAN do, to be resourceful and to work hard to put the right building blocks in place... that when we are released we can spread our wings and take flight, bolder and brighter than before.

Just like a butterfly.

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