Propel Careers

Lessons from a Butterfly, the steps from nature to find our passion by Yuly Fuentes-Medel 

July 24, 2011 
by Yuly Fuentes-Medel 

This blog is part of a series of blogs that will be written by members of the Propel Careers team. These blogs share insights for career development. To learn more about the Propel Careers team, see link:

I am a Neuroscience graduate student, who works with invertebrates as a model system. And yes, insects have brains! As researchers we constantly spy from nature to advance in science, but do we observe nature enough to extract its secrets? How often have you had the opportunity to appreciate the magnificence of a butterfly, they are precisely programed to grow, transform, navigate, and reproduce to complete their life cycle. The cycle is divided into four sequential distinct stages: embryonic, larval (caterpillar), pupal, and adult. The whole development of this organism is an elaborated symphony; no less complex is the convoluted human assignment of finding our passion. The following analyzes each step in an attempt to appreciate what it can teach us.

A mother butterfly lays her eggs on a tree so that the embryos will have access to nutrients, which the ensuing caterpillar stage will require. A critical step at embryogenesis is timing, the cells need to send and receive the right signals at the right time. This process allows the differentiation of the necessary tissues. In our everyday life one might ask, can we recognize these signals? In doing so does this increase our chances of being in the right place at the right time (luck created as opposed to luck found)? Reality is that we don't have control over the environment, but as we start molding our persona, for example with technical expertise and personal experience, we can actively choose where to devote our time and interest. Most of us initiate this differentiation process through formal education and it is a critical step to becoming a successful professional.

After a period of time eggs hatch and start their larval stage. The biological function of a caterpillar is to grow in size and to accumulate the necessary nutrients for survival during the subsequent pupal stage. Finding food becomes essential and the larva needs to develop a sense of self and a sense of the environment in order to successfully compete during this period. In the wild, the caterpillar can become the meal of a higher organism, if either of these two processes falls short. As humans, we are not going to be eaten by a higher organism per se if we don't develop self-awareness, but in order to find our passion the ability to sense our emotions and accept who we are is mission critical. On other hand, are we recognizing our surroundings? Do we open our minds to new things? Human passion is an intrinsic energy, one which caterpillars know only as becoming a greater you.

When the caterpillar senses the time is right, a great transformation takes place. The pupa initiates the process of metamorphosis. The word "initiates" is an important distinction, as the pupa will not be around to see the final product of its labor. There is a transformation of tissues, for example, the caterpillar's chewing organ is transformed into a tongue like organ that will be used by the emerging butterfly to sip nectar from flowers. Additionally, the pupa stage is where a butterfly imprints color. Some are already imprinted in the genetic code but others make them a unique organism among their species. There are so many lessons to learn from this spectacle of nature. First, how do we sense when we are ready? I guess as humans we can take the risk of not being ready to encounter our own transformations, however if we previously developed self-awareness this realization can be much easier. Second, can we transform all that we learned thus far into a functional skill set and apply it effectively to a new and novel endeavor? Third, what colors are we using to paint our brand and to find our passion? In other words, what do we want to be when we grow up? Finally, is this transformation needed to find our passion? The answer is yes, absolutely, one cannot guess what it is like to find their passion until they get to be this "amorphous pupa in transformation". All those positive and negative emotions are needed to mold the edges of our passion. Further, like the colors of the emerging butterfly developing our brand is what makes us unique.

When all the organs and tissues are ready; it is time for the butterfly to learn how to fly, eclosion from the pupal case marks the starting point for the life of an adult butterfly. These insects have an amazing navigation system that allows them to travel enormous distances in order to complete their life cycle. When we start asking ourselves for example, where do we want to fly? or What job do I want to take? Hopefully, we have found our passion. This might lead one to ask, why so many steps? The simple answer is that understanding each step has a goal and synchronization of our time and the world around us, it is critical to find our passion. I am looking forward to fly and navigate as a butterfly, what type of butterfly are you?


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