I was fortunate to be able to travel with my family on vacation to Florida and visit Key West. While there we went to a butterfly exhibit. Initially we thought it would be rather boring, but it ended up being fascinating. They had thousands of different butterflies along with caterpillars. The metamorphosis of the butterfly is so complete that butterflies are often used as a metaphor for late blooming beauty. With their often colorful wings and seemingly happy-go-lucky approach to life, it is hard to imagine that most adult butterflies only have two to three weeks to live. Butterflies go through several stages before they reach this final stage in life, and each stage is very different from the last. From the quiet egg, to the larva with its urgent eating, and the pupa to its waiting, and then the climax – the adult butterfly with its majestic colorful wings.
Often, a butterfly’s wings are patterned to mimic other creatures in nature, giving them large menacing eyes with which they can scare away unsuspecting birds, but most of the time, butterflies prefer to avoid conflict. Their keen senses are fine tuned to their surroundings, allowing them to feel vibrations from oncoming threats long before they arrive. Anyone who has ever chased a butterfly knows that almost as soon as they think they have a butterfly cornered, it flies away without so much as an acknowledgement that the butterfly’s stalker has been noticed. Most butterflies fly away as soon as they sense danger, and they sense danger soon enough beforehand that they are still able to float from flower to flower without seeming rushed or panicked. There is no sense of urgency with a butterfly, yet somehow it still continues to thrive in nature, continuing the lifecycle with each passing season.
I realized in watching all these butterflies, that they can teach us a few business lessons:
1. To every time there is a season
Each stage of a butterfly’s life has its own purpose. An egg with its shell and tiny air holes is glued to the leaf on which it is laid. Its sole purpose is to protect the developing larva inside. Then the larva stage, when the caterpillar emerges as a large stomach with legs and powerful jaws. A caterpillar is an eating machine, designed to eat as much as possible in the time before it moves on to the next stage of life, packing away nutrients that will allow the metamorphosis to complete. Then the pupa, a shell like casing designed to protect the sleeping larva as it changes into its final stage – emerging in its beauty – its magnum opus. Business can be a lot like this. In the beginning, small and relatively quiet, making a relatively small mark on the world, and then growing little by little, its focus changing as it expands, trying one thing or another. Years later, our business endeavor may not look like anything that we imagined that it would years earlier. Each stage in the life may have a different focus, and business should serve that focus. As a person’s needs and circumstances change, so will the focus of their business activities.
2. Your time will come
That glorious moment in life when everything comes together to create that final success – it’s what everyone hopes for, but it doesn’t usually happen as suddenly as it seems to when you are watching from the outside. There is preparation and hard work that goes into it, and then there is timing and chance. Working hard and being in the right place at the right time is one way to ensure that your time will eventually come. Butterflies don’t become butterflies without preparation and hard work. A butterfly larva needs to eat a lot of plant material on the right kind of plant before it has what it needs to become a butterfly. Then one day, seemingly all of the sudden, it attaches itself to a branch and its skin hardens into a chrysalis. Several days later it emerges as something entirely different. Like a butterfly, those who continue to work hard in the right direction will eventually reach their goals. Sometimes things seem to happen purely by chance, but if the hard work isn’t put in then when that chance does come, chances are that you won’t be ready. Small seemingly insignificant things like planning and setting goals, and putting in the time and effort to make those happen are a lot like a caterpillar munching, but if you keep putting in the work, your time will come.
3. Keep your senses tuned
A butterfly has sensors behind its knees that vibrate when trouble is coming. Each little hair on the butterfly’s body is fine tuned in to that vibration so that it can fly away if the slightest sense of danger is detected. This is why it is so difficult to catch a butterfly. Butterflies don’t even seem to notice their pursuers; they just sense trouble and move on and they don’t stick around to see if they were right or wrong. Butterflies avoid confrontation. They do not have any defense mechanisms other than their bright markings that may scare off predators, and their finely tuned sense of touch. In business, there is a certain amount of risk that needs to be taken, but there is also a great advantage to having keen senses that are tuned in to the career trends for your field. Being tuned into your business and what is going on in the world around you that may affect how your business may change for better or worse is a good trait to develop. That way you will be able to stay on top of market trends and be able to change with them or adapt to new technologies, allowing your business to even avoid making bad decisions that may permanently damage your business or career.
4. Stop to smell the flowers
You would think that with only two to three weeks to live, that butterflies would have more of a sense of urgency about them, but everything about a butterfly’s characteristics are slow; almost even lazy. They flap their wings slowly, as slow as one or two beats per second, gliding from flower to flower and then periodically stopping to bask in the sun or cool off in the shade. The business world doesn’t typically value this kind of behavior, but instead we tend to get caught up in the rat race, constantly working and never slowing down. If a butterfly can accomplish everything that it needs to in order to complete its lifecycle in the short amount of time that it has in such a relaxed state, there is no reason that people can’t stop and smell the flowers every once in a while. Those who take some time to relax regularly are able to think more clearly than those who are too busy to notice important details. Time spent re-doing work that didn’t get done right the first time is the last way that we want to spend our time. The busier we are, the more mistakes we tend to make, and the more time we waste. A lot of this can be avoided simply by slowing down every once in a while.
5. Fake it till you make it
Many butterflies mimic other animals or insects in nature as a defense mechanism. Brightly colored wings that imitate another type of butterfly that is poisonous, or having false antennae on the end of their abdomen to trick predators into thinking that they are facing their prey, allowing it to get away. Sometimes the best thing a person can do to reach a goal is to pretend, or imagine. I don’t mean that you should deceive people into thinking that you have skills that you don’t or anything like that, but there is a lot of value in acting the part of the person who you want to become. If you live your life as if you are already successful, you will be more likely to become successful. In a writing career for example, those who spend time writing every day, even if they don’t ever turn those particular pages into a book, they will build a habit of writing. A published author must write every day, and therefore, the writer is one step closer to his goal. If you imagine that you are already who you want to become, and then behave as if you are that person – in your dress, in your attitudes, and in your daily activities, you will be that much closer to becoming successful in the career of your choice.
6. Life is short, so don’t waste it
There is a big difference between relaxing every once in a while and wasting precious time. As previously mentioned, butterflies only live for a short amount of time, and even though they seem to float about without a care in the world, they are still always focused on one goal, and that is to continue the butterfly life cycle. This doesn’t mean that they can’t relax, but they are very efficient in what they do because they are focused on their goal. Caterpillars are constantly eating; their flexible skin and tube-like body encase a huge stomach that can expand to hold their own body weight in food. They begin each day focused on their goal of eating, just as a butterfly begins its day focused on either finding a mate, or finding a suitable plant to lay its eggs. Proactive behavior helps us to stay focused on our short and long term goals, whether or not they are in the forefront of our minds. If we review our goals daily, and then make sure we are heading in the right direction each day, it makes it much easier to avoid things that will take us away from our goals, while allowing us to be continually working in the right direction and be relaxed at the same time.