The 3 Stages in the Midlife Search for Meaning

Stages Midlife Search Meaning

As the cocoon stage is about change, it is a challenging time, as we surrender the life we were living in order to forge a closer connection to who we really are at our core. We may feel like we are losing our way, risking our social connections and our sense of belonging, fearing that, if we let go of certain aspects of our lives, we might end up making the wrong choices, as success during this transition is not guaranteed.

But something is stirring within us. We realize we need to put the events of our past in proper context so that we can move into our new life, getting ourselves ready for new experiences. During this time, we are challenged to confront ourselves, to discover the hidden aspects of ourselves and to stretch ourselves in new ways. We realize that we are living in two worlds – the old one (which is no longer working for us) and the new one which is yet to reveal itself fully to us.

Some people enter the cocoon stage but soon want to retreat back to the caterpillar stage, to the perceived security and perhaps excitement of their youth. Others remain stuck in their cocoons for the rest of their lives, afraid of change, afraid of what lies ahead, ignoring the call to transform, unwilling to move forward.

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The Butterfly Stage

Moving from the cocoon to the butterfly stage represents the shedding of the outer, protective shell, shedding what is no longer needed, in order to release what is inside. Trusting and surrendering to the process of transformation allows the butterfly to emerge into a new life. Although it takes time for its wings to strengthen, the butterfly can now fly, gaining a larger perspective of its surrounding world. This is analogous to us freeing ourselves to live our true life, no longer weighed down by our social conditioning and the expectations of others.

The Meaning of life
The 3 Stages in the Midlife Search for Meaning

It is interesting to note that the potential to be a butterfly was always within the DNA of the caterpillar. And the caterpillar is still within the butterfly but with a new form, new skills, and a higher awareness of itself and its surroundings.  In a similar fashion, our destiny is already implanted within us – we just might not be aware of it and may still be blocking the expression of our true selves.

The more we let go of the previous stages of the caterpillar and the cocoon, the closer we will be to connecting with our true nature, our core essence, our authentic self. The more authentic we can be, the easier it is to accept ourselves for who we are, not focusing on what we do, what we have accomplished, how much money we have in the bank, or who others want us to be.

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By living a less constrained life, it becomes easier to see and understand the deeper meaning of our everyday encounters and the larger meaning of our lives. We all have unique life journeys with unique obstacles placed on our paths to challenge us in our process of transformation. We all find meaning in different ways as we deepen our experience with life. Trust that your life is unfolding as it should to teach you how to understand and then express your true nature. Accept and surrender to the process of transformation, for it is your unique journey …from caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly!


Written by: Elaine Dundon
Originally appeared on Psychology Today
Republished with permission.
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The 3 Stages in the Midlife Search for Meaning
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Elaine Dundon

Elaine Dundon is leading the Meaning Movement, having founded the Global Meaning Institute and the unique study and practice called MEANINGology®. As a Philosopher of Meaning and author of 3 bestselling books on Meaning and Innovation, Elaine is dedicated to helping people discover new meaning in their lives and work, and at the systems, level to connect to the deeper meaning in organizations, communities, and societies. Elaine Dundon’s research and experience are focused on Meaning (blending psychology, applied metaphysics, and existential philosophy). Her research and work have provided insights into how people, organizations, and communities can reach their full potential through meaning. She is the author of 3 best-selling books on Meaning and Innovation, available in 20+ languages: Prisoners of Our Thoughts: Viktor Frankl’s Principles for Discovering Meaning in Life & Work (Self Help Book of the Year), The OPA! Way: Finding Joy & Meaning in Everyday Life & Work (8 Literary Awards), and The Seeds of Innovation (named a Top Ten Business Book of the Year by The Globe & Mail).View Author posts