Have you ever wondered how a lobster grows given the fact that it has such a hard shell? We all know that a lobster, like most living things, begins life in a smaller state than what it eventually becomes as an adult. But how does a lobster grow and mature within the confines of that tight, hard outer coat? Well, when the lobster begins to feel stuck, or crowded, it knows instinctually that it must discard its hard shell in order to form a new and bigger shell.
During this time of de-shelling the lobster is naked and extremely vulnerable. It can be eaten by other fish, or it might be tossed up against a coral reef and be badly injured. There is, however, no alternative; for if the hard, protective shell is not relinquished, the lobster cannot grow. The risk is utterly essential to the life of the lobster.
Risk is a necessary ingredient in the life of human beings as well as in the life of a sea creature such as the lobster. But unlike the instinctual lobster, we humans don’t always know when it is time to “de-shell” in order to grow and mature. Even when we feel restricted, unchallenged or stuck, we opt for keeping things the same. We endure the symptoms of inner cramping such as headaches, colitis, ulcers, depression, marital stress or job failure rather than find the courage to “de-shell” and grow. All too often we clutch our familiar, unfulfilled lives—miserable they may—because we fear facing the unknown.
Family counselor Eda Leshan, states that the key to growing is to “go on exploring life, go on learning. The most bitter people are those who are not fulfilled, who never lived out their dreams. They spent their lives doing for others and denying themselves…” She cautions young people not to let this happen to them, but rather to be committed to living lives that are vital and growing. “Don’t get caught in the quiet despair of a well-paying job you hate,” she warns. “Don’t devote your whole life to caring for others. If you do, you’ll hate your life and other people… You can be helpful to somebody else only if your own life is worth living.”
Leshan told this story. “The woman in the hospital knew that she was dying. She was weeping, and the physician was trying to comfort her. She said, “Doctor, you don’t understand. I’m crying not because I’m dying, but because I never lived.” The secret is to live. We have a choice. We can grow old, or we can be old and growing.” Of course, that will probably involve risk. But, remember the lobster!
Adapted from Darrel Sifford’s column in The Philadelphis Inquirer, Dec. 29, 1986