Purpose in the Struggle

Have you ever heard the story of the boy and the butterfly? There have been a few different versions to exist, but most seem to focus on a main lesson – the purpose of struggle.

The story begins with a little boy harbouring a love for caterpillars and butterflies. One day, he finds a caterpillar, which he decides to take home and keep safe, ensuring it has plenty of food and water. Eventually, the caterpillar begins creating a cocoon, and the boy is excited to know that his caterpillar friend would soon become a butterfly.

Though he knows this is a long process the boy waits patiently, and watches the cocoon change. One day he notices a small hole, and the caterpillar struggles to break free from the cocoon.

His caterpillar friend has worked so hard to get to this point, and the boy is concerned that the struggle is too much for the caterpillar. He decides to help his friend emerge from the cocoon, and snips at the small hole the caterpillar made with scissors. He watches as the hole begins to grow and in no time at all, the caterpillar emerges as a butterfly!

But the butterfly’s body is swollen, with small shrivelled wings unable to fly. The butterfly, destined to spend the rest of its short life in this state, never enjoys the freedom of flight. In saving the butterfly from the struggle, the boy had taken away a vital step in its transformation; it no longer had the opportunity to move the fluid out of its body and into developing wings. Despite good intentions, he had stunted the strength his friend had needed to survive.

I first heard this story from a counsellor I was working with, while discussing a significant period of struggle and how it was impacting the people closest to me. They could see my distress and were concerned, and in an attempt to ease my struggle, they offered advice and actions. Though well-intentioned, it was clear what was on offer would not be best for me long term. I had to live through the struggle. The struggle served a purpose and played a significant role in shaping the journey I was on, and the woman I was becoming.

It is difficult to see someone we love struggle, and we are often well-meaning when we offer our support, advice or actions. As an ally, walking beside the people you love, I encourage you to remember that their struggle will lead to growth. It is also an opportunity to test their own capacity, allowing them to ask for help when and if they need it. Their struggle can build on their problem-solving skills, fostering a growth mindset and a way to identify strengths and weaknesses when facing challenges. As a good ally, you have the opportunity to witness greatness in the transformation during and post struggle. The story of the boy and the butterfly should act as a reminder to us all, of the purpose and value struggle holds, and the true lesson behind these moments in our journey.


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