I often use the following story to help youth come to the realization that the difficult times in their lives are the foundation for what will eventually support the person they will become.
A student found a cocoon just outside his homeroom. He brought it to his lab class to his biology teacher. The teacher decided to use this as an instructional moment by placing it in an unused aquarium and turning on the light to keep the cocoon warm, where it could continue the transformation process.
Each morning, the students would inspect the cocoon to see if there was any change. Finally, one of the students noticed a small opening on the underside of the cocoon.
All the students gathered around the aquarium and watched as it began to shake. Suddenly, tiny antennae emerged, followed by the head and tiny front feet. For the remaining 30 minutes of the class, nothing happened. Throughout the day, the students would run back to the lab between their other classes to check on the cocoon. By lunchtime it had only managed to partially free itself. It seemed to the students it was stuck and would never break free.
At this point, the student who found the cocoon decide to step in and help the seemly helpless little butterfly. He took scissors from a desk drawer and snipped the cocoon to make the hole bigger. With the hole now larger than before, the butterfly quickly plopped out and fell onto the floor of the aquarium.
The butterfly had a swollen body and small shriveled wings. The students sat and watched the butterfly expecting that at any moment, the wings would dry out, get bigger and expand to support the swollen body, but it never happened.
The next morning, the teacher explained the butterfly was supposed to struggle. In fact, the butterfly’s struggle to push its way through the tiny opening of the cocoon forces the fluid out of its body and into its wings. Without the struggle, the butterfly would never fully develop into a flying insect.
The boy’s good intentions actually hurt the butterfly. It spent the rest of its life crawling around the aquarium with a swollen body and shriveled wings that never got strong enough to fly.
Struggling is an important part of any growth experience. In fact, it is the struggle that gives you the ability to become the best version of yourself. Some of the most common used synonyms for struggle are ... strive, try hard, endeavor, make every effort, do your best, toil, bend over backward.
I don’t know about you, but to some degree, every day I bring one of these synonyms to life. Not everything I do takes place on easy street. Sometimes things are going right, then it takes a hard-left turn in the wrong direction. C’est la vie.
In my early years of fatherhood, I noticed my son was going to be very independent. Around the age of 3, I began to notice he loved to take things apart to see what makes them work. As he got a little older, he became proficient at putting things together. He could look at the picture on the box and assemble the item without following the instruction manual.
One of the things I most remember was him always saying, “Let me do it daddy.” As much as I wanted to teach him, I found it was best to let him do it on his own. He always seemed to figure it out when I let him struggle with a task. I’m proud to say, his struggle early on as a child has developed him into the man who others call when they can’t figure things out. His co-workers affectionately nicknamed him “Go Straight” for his ability to make malfunctioning equipment go straight again. He is his own man because he did it on his own.
If the butterfly could have talked, I’m sure he would have said, “Let me do it boy!”
Much like the children who watched the butterfly as it tried to break free from its cocoon, I’ve found great value in watching people struggle through a situation. Unlike the student who decided it was best to help, experience has taught me that working your way out of a tight spot without the help of any outside interference will force you to develop into the best version of yourself. By doing it yourself, you will learn where your strength and weakness lies. You will learn that you have unlimited potential as well.
I’ve learned there’s a definite distinction between a handout and a hand up. A handout is usually an attempt to intervene without being solicited. You don’t know all the details, yet you assume that help is needed because it doesn’t look right to you.
Although we have the best of intentions, it’s better to let things develop. A hand up is a response to a request for help. The person in need has done all they feel is in their power but are still struggling to break free from whatever it is that has them constrained.
Handouts create dependency where a hand up empowers individuals. A handout often leads to an entitlement mindset while a hand up is an investment that leads individuals to full ownership of their life.
No matter what it was that life threw at me, I’m more resilient today for having figured it out on my own.