The Ecdysis of Growth
Did you know that unlike human skin, the snake’s skin does not grow as the animal grows?
If you are wondering if I am about to take a Zoology class, let me tell you the answer is a direct NO. But there is indeed something that we can learn from the anatomy and physiology of snakes. Too many science words right. I know! Anyway, back to the snake and the context of this post.
In the book “Awaken Your Genius”, Author Ozan Varol wrote, “The snake is the ancient symbol of transition. During its lifetime, the snake’s insides outgrow its outsides, and the animal reaches a point where it must discard the older skin in favor of the new.
This process is uncomfortable. The snake rubs and scratches until it’s able to literally crawl out of its old skin. When the snake succeeds in completing the process, a new vibrant skin emerges in place of the old. But when the snake fails to shed its skin, it can grow blind and die.”
Each such transformation is uncomfortable for the snake. And the same is true for you and me personally. The same is also true for our businesses. Each transformation comes with a feeling that something is not right. To let go (of something) feels like losing something. But by not letting go, we often lose ourselves and our firms.
Ask yourself these questions…
a. Does the 40, 50 or 60+ years old (you) have anything in common with the 25 years old you?
b. Does your environment in which you are doing business today have anything in common with the environment in which you had started this business? Think in terms of competition, regulation, business models, compensation structures and so on.
Ozan added further, “We often mistake ourselves for our skin, but our skin is not us. Our skin is just what we happen to be wearing right now. It’s what suited us yesterday. Yet we often find ourselves unable to leave what we have outgrown. We continue to work with a client refusing to recognize that it is not working out. We sacrifice the possibility of what could be for the self -constructed prison of what is.
When you are not changing who you are, you are choosing who you are. The decision to remain the same is a choice- and it’s not the natural one. Our physical skin changes every month or two. But the skins made up of our beliefs, relationships and careers are far stickier.
Even positive things can eventually become a burden. In a Buddhist parable, a man builds a raft to cross a raging river and safely reaches the other side. He picks up the raft and starts walking in the forest. The raft begins to get stuck in the trees, slowing down the man’s progress. Yet he refuses to let go of the raft. This is my raft! He objects. I built it! It saved my life! But to survive the forest he must let go of the raft that saved his life on the river.”
What’s your raft?
What are you holding on to that saved your life or your business?
‘This is how I started! I built it alone; you might object too.’ But like the man, you probably had to cross a river too when you started your business. And so, a raft was good enough. Fast forward a few decades (or even 7 years), it’s a different jungle. And to survive and thrive, you will need a different set of tools, systems and people.
Peeling your old skin is difficult and painful. You have worn it for years. There is certainty in it. You feel safe and comfortable. And over a period of time, it has become your identity. Favouring a new skin then means changing who you are. And we all know how hard this is. Adding is easy but subtracting or removing something first to add something new is super hard. The sunk cost fallacy (I have invested so much time with this client, so I can’t let him go or I can’t resign) rears its head prompting us to stay the course. We then behave like a snake that refuses to let go of its old dead skin even as the new skin urgently tries to come out.
Ozan wrote, “We crave what we don’t have but we fear losing what we do have. If you have been successful on a path that you have outgrown (and most people are), you are up against another formidable foe: your ego. The part of you -that gets a kick with titles, attention, industry praises and accolades – will not go down without a serious fight. It will do everything in its power to convince you that you are making the biggest mistake of your life. Your ego will ask, if I stop doing this thing that I have been doing for years – if I abandon this title, what will I lose? Most importantly, who will I be?”
Don’t you feel like this sometimes?
No one is judging us here. But we need to reflect and be honest with ourselves. Many of us in our industry/profession go through these motions. We get a lot of attention and accolades from asset managers…from our industry associations…from our peers…and from the media. Our story is showcased to everyone…We are the heroes…We are showered with awards, titles and headlines. Unknowingly or otherwise our ego is solidified, and it gets in our way.
But in all this, there is one critical question that you need to ask yourself – What will I gain if I let this go?
When you don’t act- when you cling to the skin you have outgrown- you risk leaving a canvas unpainted, a book unwritten and most importantly a life unlived.
There is a quote attributed to Pablo Picasso – Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.
It’s time to shed our skin.
And if you are still wondering what Ecdysis is – it’s nothing but the process of shedding your skin.
Are you ready to shed yours?