“Human beings are a work in progress that mistakenly think they are finished.” —Daniel Gilbert
One of the most regular comments I hear from readers of my book “Undisruptable” concerns chapter eight, a chapter entitled “Crab Curves”. It concerns that feeling we experience when we have outgrown our current station in life, whether it be in a career, a relationship or even a life stage, we have outgrown our shell. While we don’t have shells like crustaceans, we have energetic shells that weigh us down emotionally and psychologically. This is an adapted version of “Crab Curves”, an ideal accompaniment for New Year’s new beginnings.
Have you ever seen an empty crab shell lying on the beach?
Perhaps you mistook it for the remnants of a dead crab. It turns out the discarded shell does not signify the end of a life but marks the beginning of a new cycle.
Crabs are Invertebrates, animals that don’t have a backbone or spine. An arthropod is an invertebrate with an external skeleton called an exoskeleton. Arthropods include spiders, caterpillars and crustaceans like lobsters and crabs. The exoskeleton of these animals is inelastic, so they eventually outgrow their shells.
In a process known as ecdysis, the shell is shed and a new larger shell is formed. At specific times of the year, or at specific points in its life cycle the animal routinely casts off a part of its body in order to evolve.
This Thursday Thought centres on how we can learn from the wisdom of nature and let go of previous versions of ourselves as individuals and as organisations. When we routinely shed parts of ourselves that no longer serve us and develop new versions of ourselves we keep pace with the natural rate of change of all things.
“Only that which can change can continue.” – James Carse
That empty shell we see on the beach is a crab moult. A crab moult is an exact copy of the crab at the moment in time that the crab regenerates. In order to grow, the crab discards the old shell and reveals a new softer shell. It takes about a week for the new shell to harden. As you can imagine this is a very vulnerable time for the crab, the crab must hide away to avoid predators. Like the crab, when we discard our old shells, we are also vulnerable. Our emergent self is susceptible to discouragement and doubt. There will be people who will dampen your spirit. The very people you expect to support you, will often do the opposite, “Are you sure this is the right thing to do?” or “Are you sure you want to give up that secure job with a global brand to work with a start-up no one has ever heard of?”
When we are in this emergent phase, it is helpful to surround ourselves with people who support us. These are the people who see our bulging potential just waiting to emerge. These are the people who want to see us evolve, they will want us to remove the shell.
Life’s animating force compels us to evolve, but unlike the crab and the caterpillar, many of us ignore that inner calling to change. We often hear the whispers in moments of silence: a walk in the wilderness, a moment in the shower, a vacant stare in the distance. We silence the internal voice with busyness, to-do lists, important-but-not-urgent tasks, entertainment, the contents of the fridge, anything but unearthing our destiny. Instead of changing, we cling to the familiar, even though we are compelled to evolve.
Just as the crab outgrows her shell, we outgrow various stages of our lives. Somewhere along the way, we forget that. Perhaps we choose to forget because we enjoy the comfort that comes with the familiar. Perhaps we enjoy the status of a position or the steady compensation that comes with excellent repetition. When we cling to a familiar shell it grates and irritates us. If we don’t shed that shell, it imprisons our lifeforce and our potential. For humans, an outgrown shell manifests in various ways, unique to each of us. Perhaps it is anger? Perhaps it is defensiveness? Perhaps you numb yourself to work but find meaning elsewhere?
Some of us reach the top of a career ladder and then spend our energy defending our status rather than continuing to evolve. Others find their roles boring and repetitive, but they choose to remain because it is secure and familiar or perhaps because it is what others expect of them. What can you expect when you decide to go for it and discard the old shell?
We live in a dynamic, constantly changing experience. Plants, animals, friends, family develop, disappear and evolve just as moons wax and wane. Every plant, every animal, every human is a living testimony to the law of growth, where denial or growth means death. Imagine for a moment you were to imprison the crab in its shell even though it is too small for the crab. It would die. In fact, you would be responsible for its death. Do not be responsible for your emotional death, do not remain a prisoner an ill-fitting shell.
I leave the final word of this Thursday Thought with our guest on this week’s Innovation Show, Whitney Johnson. Whitney shares concepts and frameworks for growth with her new book, “Smart Growth: How to Grow Your People to Grow Your Company.” She says,
“Once the skill we’ve mastered has become effortless, we have excess mental and emotional processing power. The new neurons are now the old neurons. We no longer enjoy the feel-good effects of learning. Exhilaration can wane, and our brains can become bored. Slow. We all reach plateaus, and it’s a praiseworthy accomplishment. It was hard work to scale the slope, hard enough that we may be reluctant to move on. But stagnation is a waste of life. In time, the familiar lethargy that goaded us to climb an S Curve returns. We need a new mountain to climb, a fresh S Curve of Learning.”Whitney Johnson
Sounds like a new shell to me.
Happy New Year