Here is a story someone once told me:
When butterflies emerge, they must wage a battle to be born. They struggle to emerge from their chrysalis, the small sack that holds them. They push and pull inside until the sack finally breaks; when they are finally free, their wings are folded and damp; once they dry, they can fly away: their miraculous transformation from a caterpillar is complete.
One day someone chanced upon a butterfly struggling to be born. Watching it endure this painful birth aroused pity for the poor creature. So the observer carefully slit the sack imprisoning it and the butterfly emerged without a struggle. But sadly, the little butterfly tried to flap its wings, but couldn’t, because it hadn’t struggled enough to release the substance that would coat its wings and allow it to fly. It is in the struggle to free itself, the person telling me this story said, that the butterfly gains the strength it to live.
It can be helpful to remind ourselves of this little parable on tough days when working on a writing project is a struggle — or when ideas don’t come easily and we have to fight to find them. And more often than not, the ideas we struggle to come up with and the thoughts we have to fight to capture prove to be the most meaningful.
And sometimes we feel misunderstood or unheard. We struggle to be heard and to share how we feel with a world that isn’t always listening and doesn’t seem to care. But more often than not, it is in the struggle to make our views known and to share what we’ve learned that we find out what we really believe.
Why this is, I don’t really know. Maybe it has something to do with what Randy Pausch, the wonderful Carnegie Mellon professor, said in The Last Lecture: “The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”
I do know that whenever I manage to break through and fly free, it’s a great feeling and worth every ounce of energy I’ve invested in the struggle. As my friend and mentor Rob Gilbert says, there’s nothing more satisfying than grappling with something very challenging that you really care about.
Sometime today, you’re going to face something tough — something you have to struggle with. And when you do, just remember the butterfly and its wings — and write on!
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