In the first stage, you do what you have to do. Hands over your ears, you march. Elementary school, high school, college, job and maybe grad school. Maybe the military, maybe marriage, maybe kids.
There go your boots on the pavement. Do you hear the rain? That's about all you hear, in the protection of your uniform, as you methodically put one foot in front of the other, over and over again.
In the first phase of your life, success means that you've made a commitment to avoid "distractions." You have to work, work work at whatever you are doing, and do the best you can not to look up.
Inside the bubble you train your thinking mind to stop itself from thinking so very much. Like a pair of noise-canceling headphones, busy-ness drowns out the sound.
Is it limiting? Sure. But it's also soothing: You don't have to deal with anything -or anyone.
But what you may not realize, at that stage, is that your first phase of life is where you most resemble a caterpillar. Yes, you hatched out of your egg - but it's only the first birth out of two.
In the second hatching of life the caterpillar actually consumes itself. It eats itself up into a little ball - yes, it literally digests its own body.
And then it emerges a beautiful butterfly. A delicate, beautiful, ethereal being totally different from the fuzzy worm it used to be.
A creation that flies high above the Earth.
The life of a butterfly has a profound lesson in human terms.
You start out by living in a routine. It's the office, it's Starbucks, it's yoga class and Saturday Night Live and hanging out with friends or family on Sundays. It's kids, and playgroups, and putting them on the bus for the first time.
It is familiar, that's for sure. You get a coffee with one shot of espresso in it. You know exactly which seat is near the "good plugs," so that you don't go a minute un-charged. You know your food, your clothes, your neighborhood and it seems like that's the way it will always be.
But one day something starts gnawing at your stomach. You don't know quite what the feeling is, because it isn't something you have experienced before.
It's like you want to scratch an itch, but on the inside.
Soon, like the caterpillar, you find that you are very much eating yourself alive. You're asking the difficult questions, because they've found you. And boy do they give you heartburn.
Are you happy with the way you've lived your life?
What happened to your relationships while you were getting things done?
Homeless people, you saw them - did you feel anything at all?
Where did your faith go? Or what do you believe in? Who are you?
So many questions. You are eating yourself alive.
Not because something is wrong. But because it's almost time for you to fly.
None of us really understand what another person goes through. But I do feel fairly confident, at midlife, observing this: The second phase of life, what we know as a "mid-life crisis," is fairly inescapable.
I know because I've been there. I'm still there. (I'll let you know how it goes.)
Seriously, let's be honest, we all know this - personal growth isn't pretty. And we can't really do it in private. More likely we're in the glare of a lot of fluorescent lights.
So if you're going through your second hatching right now, or you know anybody who is, don't think of it as an unpleasant bad thing.
Instead, please give yourself a hearty round of applause.
For if you've made it this far, the next part of your journey will surely be amazing.
All opinions my own. Cover photo by CasparGirl via Flickr. Marching, caterpillar and butterfly photos via Wikipedia. Photo of family by Randen Peterson via Flickr. Photo of homeless man by Pedro Ribeiro Simões via Flickr. Tangled cord photo by Prawnchop via Flickr. Jumping out of plane photo by Royal Navy Media Archive via Flickr. (All Flickr photos are Creative Commons.)