Lessons from the Wild: How to Shed Old Skin

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant

About a week ago, I had a dream that I was being chased through a garden by a snake. It wasn't a large snake, and it didn't have fangs, but I was still terrified and was running like hell to get away from it. Finally, a kind person (I don't know who) caught the snake and, at my request, promptly cut its head off. In the dream, I was relieved that it was dead, but when I woke up, I felt horrible. Why would I kill this sweet little thing that didn't seem to want to hurt me? Maybe it was chasing after me because I needed to stop and actually pay attention to it.

If you read my last blog post, Spring Transitions and Hitting Pause, then you know that I - and perhaps you, too - have been in a kind of weird, cloudy period of change. Like most personal growth, it was happening at a level below my conscious mind, and I couldn't figure out what was going on, why it was happening, or what to do with it. With the guidance of some wonderful mentors, I was reminded to just sit with it until I was able to see, feel, and hear clearly again.

After almost a month of feeling lethargic, lost, and nearly blind in terms of what the heck I'm doing in the world, a tiny little lightbulb came on.

After I had that dream, I began thinking about snakes. Then I began wondering if this process was about old patterns and thoughts. Then I felt like an outer layer of myself was falling away. Then I realized that snakes shed their skin every 4-8 weeks!

We have so much to learn from the animal kingdom. Our animal friends change and transform with such grace and ease while we humans kick and scream and would rather be crippled by old skins than go through the molting process.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant

All animals shed regularly, some at certain times of the year, and others, like snakes, as they outgrow their old skin. Before snakes shed their skin, a couple of things happen, which you might recognize in your own life:

  • Their color becomes dull and kind of depressing
  • They become lethargic as they store energy prior to shedding
  • Their eyes get milky, decreasing their ability to see for a few days
  • They demonstrate nervous behavior because of the fact that they can't see well

Sound familiar?

Many of us get tripped up because when we start this process, our vision (for our lives, relationships, careers, etc.) becomes blurry and, like our snake cousins, we freak out a little bit because not being able to see feels scary. As a result, many of us make rash decisions, we push ourselves to just keep going, or we self-comfort through destructive means.

As people, we're aware of ourselves, which means that we can stop the natural change processes that animals just roll with. We can hold on to our nasty, parasite-infested, smelly old skin instead of submitting to the change that wants to take place.

If you're feeling like you don't want to do anything, like your vision is blurred, and like you want to make life changes just to feel better, then this post is for you.

Shedding old skin is a natural, cyclical process that we all go through regularly. Sometimes it's quiet but powerful changes, and sometimes - if we need a real wake-up call - it's through major life events that get our attention. No matter who you are, you'll need to shed old beliefs and thought patterns throughout your life in order to continue growing.

Here are four things I've learned about how to shed old skin in a healthy way:

First, stay still. As bizarre as it seemed, I didn't really feel like talking to anyone for the past four weeks as I was going through this process. I was tired, doing my work felt extra hard, and I felt like I had zero thoughts to contribute to anyone, in any form. This was an uncomfortable period, especially because a large part of my work is sharing ideas with people like you. But I had to stay still. I had to stay in this quiet, foggy place as long as I needed to in order for the transition to occur. Did I consider signing up for a $10,000 life coach training program? Sure. Did I watch TV voraciously to distract me from what felt like despair? You bet. But I tried not to make any changes - I knew something was happening, and I had to just let it run its course.

Second, do less. Transformation is energetically exhausting, and I don't think we give ourselves enough credit for that fact. Snakes know it, and caterpillars hibernate for a long time before they come out of their cocoons transformed, but we humans kind of forget that we need to do less when we're shedding old skin. These periods of transition can be confusing, and our knee-jerk reaction is often to take more action, be more disciplined, or sign up for another thing. I would encourage you to do less in this period. Cancel a meeting, skip a class, or take a nap. Your energy system needs extra resources in order to support the transformation that's happening beneath your awareness, so let yourself rest a little more than usual right now.

Third, whatever you do do, make it something your heart wants. You'll need to exercise different muscles in this process than you may be used to using. As smart as you are, you can't think your way out of this one - it has to be a heart-centered process. Amp up the things in your life that just.feel.good. Do whatever feels good to you, whether it's ordering a special meal, going to bed a little earlier, or lighting a candle that you love. The blindness in this process can feel scary, so take actions that truly anchor and comfort you at a deep level.

Finally, pay attention to signs and dreams. Like I said earlier, this is not an intellectual exercise. You're shedding old beliefs about yourself and the world around you, and that can't be done consciously. You can, however, use your thinking brain to pay attention to your dreams or to "synchronicities" - seemingly non-coincidental coincidences. Your subconscious will be trying to communicate with you during this process, so pay attention to what your intuition is showing you.

After shedding their old skins, snakes see clearly, have vibrant, colorful new skins, and are re-energized for the next stage of their life cycle.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant

This doesn't have to be a grand, mind-bending process in order for it to be really important. When we're aware of the natural transitions that our deeper selves want us to go through, we can allow the process to happen gracefully and completely instead of fighting it or cutting it off prematurely.

I hope you trust that you will be more vibrant, energized, and clear-sighted after flowing with this natural process.