Staying Still & Taking Flight in the New Year

This past week I had dinner in Chicago’s Greek Town with a new colleague who is vibrant, curious, and smart as a whip!  She coaches executives in Fortune 100 and 500 firms. She mentors women leaders across industry, education and finance. She has also served as a “change guru” to Harpo Studios, McDonald’s and international nonprofits. Our conversation lasted over three hours and in that time we talked about our goals, the mentors who have guided us on our professional paths, family and friends, and the challenges we have faced, and have yet to face, in the coming year and beyond.  

As we waited for the valet, I felt stirred up—a million thoughts were racing through my head, tied to a thousand more questions, “Do I stay on this path or diverge?” “What have I gained?” “What have I lost?” “What might I give up?” “ Why haven’t I…?”  “What should I?”  “Are my goals too small, my dreams too big?”  I was a bit dizzy, yet at the same time energized and motivated to sort it all out.

She shared with me that over the years instead of creating goals for the New Year, she asks her clients to find one word to describe their aspirations and hopes. I took the bait and tried to come up with one.

“Unencumbered,” I said, “No, that’s not it. It feels like detachment."

"Freedom?” she replied, “Or, are you in the cocoon?”

“Breakthrough?” I said.

What I like most about my colleague is that she pushes my thinking. Throughout our discussion I am frantically taking mental notes to follow up on an author she references, a method she uses, or a name she drops. I am also bookmarking my thoughts, feelings and responses---scratching an “x” on my inner map so that I can return there at a later time.

Over the past few days I have challenged myself to come up with that word for 2015. I think I have found it: Chrysalis.

The word originates from the Greek khrūsos, which means gold. Khrūsallis or khrūsallid is the gold-colored pupa of a butterfly. Chrysalis is both the hardened case of a pupa and a protected stage of development (American Heritage Dictionary). According to, in order to become a butterfly “you have to be very brave.”  True, because the first step for a caterpillar to become a butterfly is to eat a whole lot, find a safe spot, and to become very still-- nearly immobile. This is where the bravery comes in. Hopefully that caterpillar has found a safe spot otherwise she’s about to become food for birds or bats, right? 

Then, the caterpillar oozes a new pupal skin that is “thicker and stronger” inside it’s old larval skin ( In essence it has two skins—the larval skin it was born with and the new pupal skin it is secretes. This pupal case becomes the container for a process called histolysis. The bottom line here is that through the process of histolysis some tissue is destroyed, yet other tissue is passed through and, along with formative cells and digestive juices, reform into an entirely new body structure—or butterfly, whose wings are covered in patterned rigid scales. Classified as Lepidoptera, coming from the combination of the Greek lepis (scale) and pteron (wing).

Wonderful, huh? A light, graceful, beautiful new creature emerges with the power of flight, and a coat of resilience provided by an arrangement of colorful and magical scales. An insect that once was earthbound and lumbering is now aerodynamic and soaring.

Each new question, especially those that stir up the soul, begs an answer. And I don’t mean a right answer­. Perhaps I mean commitment to be brave in the process of discovery and learning.

It may be that to grow is to stand still and to endure the stirring & tossing---the reordering that change demands of us---to withstand the chrysalis so that on the other side we can go about our daily chores, and too, explore the future from a new and profound vantage point?

Mary McGuinness, M.Ed., PCC is a career transition and shift-it coach based in Chicago, IL USA.
Mary uses visual coaching and design-thinking techniques and practices to accompany her clients on a journey of self-discovery that results in creative solutions, faster results, and happier, more fulfilling careers.  

Mary McGuinness