Insights: Caterpillars and Butterflies

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Life can be so beautiful and so tragic. It’s often difficult to make sense of these extremes. No matter what happens in life, ultimately our attitude and our ability to pick up the pieces is key.

We can see the beauty daily around us, but only if we are truly open to seeing it. We can so easily miss the wonders of life if we are not focused on them.

I planted some milkweed in my garden a while back, and for the past few weeks I have been watching monarch caterpillars turn into butterflies. It truly is an incredible transformation. Not an easy one for the caterpillar, yet the other option is not surviving.

Our life is like that. Our challenges allow us to grow, but only if we embrace the change.

Last week I went to see the documentary “LA92” presented by National Geographic. The producers of this documentary (Simon Chinn, Jonathan Chinn and Sarah Gibson) did an incredible job putting together the events that played out with the Rodney King case, the death of the 15-year-old girl who was shot by a store keeper, along with the trials of these two cases.  This film also showed the violence and unity that came from these tragic riots. While some people harmed others, there were also people who were risking their own lives to help.

While watching the film, I was overwhelmed with emotion of shock and anger of how people can treat each other, how unfair life can be, and the sadness people can feel. I was also touched and hopeful as I watched people fight to help those wounded and try to create peace.

Life can be very painful, unfair, sad and tragic, yet we still have a choice of how to respond.

Anger can be a very powerful emotion, especially when we feel powerless in life. What I know for sure is revenge only keeps us stuck and in more pain.  When we are hurt deeply it is natural to want revenge. However, that part of our brain that wants revenge is the reptilian part that is only looking at survival and not looking at making life better for the future.

When the tough stuff happens, of course grieve, feel the sadness, but do not stay there.

It is not just the caterpillar that stretches to become more, but think about Ghandi, Martin Luther Kind, Jr, Mother Theresa, Oprah Winfrey just to name a few that chose to turn their challenges into more than surviving.  They grew even though it was painful and then made a difference in the world.

As someone with learning disabilities, I went through my education often in tears. There were times of wanting to give up in defeat. At times, I did not believe in myself. I did not always get the support I needed as people around me often were also doubting what I was doing.

What do you hold on to when you struggle with internal beliefs and the world around you is also doubting you?

I have a quote to share from one of my favorite movies, but don’t laugh: it’s “Shrek.”

“Maybe its hard to believe what’s with my obvious charm and good looks but people used to think that I was a monster. And for a long time I believed them. But after a while, you learn to ignore the names people call you. You just trust who you are.”

Trusting who we are can be difficult when we are told something different by others or society. However, inside we have a deeper knowing of who we are. Trust that.

I look back at my life, and realize that my proudest moments are those when I got back up after life had thrown me on the ground and tried to hold me down.

Somewhere inside myself I was able to find a way to get up and create a new chapter. Most importantly, I learned from what life threw at me.

Martin Luther King. Jr. once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in the moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

We cannot change what has happened to us, but we can decide how we want to manage going forward.

That is our decision.

Contact Dr. Shelly Zavala at or [email protected].


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