The Match Box


In the 1960s, in Haiti, young boys would place caterpillars in matchboxes, one per box, and check regularly on their patient’s progress. The cocoon formed and took up more and more space, until one day a butterfly opened her wings and flew into the tropical air. After a few experiments, they would tire of the game, but the miracle never faded from their minds. When asked for his definition of transformation, one of those boys, now in his fifties, conjured up this story to illustrate the difference between evolution and transformation.

What I take away from this story in my line of work as a coach and facilitator is a reminder of the importance of the matchbox phase before any transformation can take place. Without a time out, a period of nothingness, evolution remains possible but not transformation. Evolution suggests incremental change. It occurs in broad daylight, is noticable, explainable, often predictable. Transformation is messy, uncomfortable and happens far from prying eyes. At times, no end seems to be in sight. There are no milestones to celebrate with transformations, while other milestones are often documented in the pictures we take, gifts we give, congratulatory words we convey.

Once transformation has taken place, evolution can be a stabilizing force that welcomes partners, family and friends who are ready to help us shape the new. But, transformation is a lonely process that requires deconstruction and leaves little room for words of reassurance. Lethargy can take over while we slow down to experience our own thoughts and feelings. In the darkened box, we enter a sacred space where we can be reborn.

Our western societies have little patience for a full transformation, and more than a little fear. Family systems, circle of friends, co-workers are not always helpful despite their best intentions, as they try hard to ‘protect’ us from ourselves.

For one month, I couldn’t speak about much, didn’t blog, stayed virtually silent on e-mail and other networks. No new idea surfaced for long or led to the usual measurable outputs! I am grateful for the folks who peered into the box and decided it was all right, and I must be percolating again.

As the year begins, I am pushing open the matchbox and breathing in the tropical air as I prepare to take flight once more. I will look for all you fellow transformers on the horizon…