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Imaginal Disc

We all learned the cycle of metamorphosis in school as kid:

  1. The butterfly lays its eggs on a leaf.

  2. In time the larva (caterpillar) hatches out and starts eating and growing. It molts several times as it gets bigger until it is fully grown.

  3. The caterpillar attaches itself to the stem of a plant, and goes into chrysalis (pupa).

  4. After some time, out pops a butterfly.

The cycle then repeats.

Here’s the question: how does the caterpillar magically turn into a butterfly?

How is this magic transformation performed?

It's tempting to think the caterpillar just dissolves into “goo” during chrysalis and then that goo gets used to magically form the final butterfly. That's partially right – indeed it does turn to “goo” of sorts but it turns out there are dormant structures within in the caterpillar which, when triggered during chrysalis, form the lattice from which the butterfly is formed: they’re called “imaginal discs.” 

The term stems from “imago” which is from Latin meaning “image” and the structures are disc-like in shape. Those structures transform into the final structures of the butterfly.

Here’s the point:

When any of us are going through some sort of transformation, it’s tempting to think the old self and the new self have no connection whatsoever. Not true! 

Indeed, the newly formed self may look and behave in a totally different ways from the old. But the transition isn’t without connection or implicit structure. We don’t just turn to amorphous “goo” and magically become something or someone else.

There are elements within us – our own sort of imaginal discs – that lay dormant within us perhaps during one phase of our lives, that then act as the substructures which will help create our next incarnation.

I share this metaphor for three reasons:

  1. Nature is just amazing and we can learn so much about ourselves by just being a student of it.

  2. People resist transforming because they fear they will lose a part of themselves in the process – you won’t!

  3. For transformation to occur, the right catalysts and environment need to be in place. That doesn't naturally happen because of human resistance to fear, unknowns, etc.

If you want to make a change in your life – particularly a transformative change – then having the proper support and guidance is critical. You can do it on your own - I have many times - but it can be messy, take a lot longer and be more painful than is necessary. Worse, people often abandon their own transformation too early because they don't see progress.

See the article on Going through a Phase for a great metaphor on that!

If you’re ready to transform from your old caterpillar self to your stunning butterfly, then let’s talk!

This 3 minute video explains it further:

Please share your insights and thoughts in the comments at the bottom!


As an executive coach, I work with leaders to transform their influence and impact on their organizations and the world. You can reach me at


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