What Have You Outgrown?


The unmistakable blue of a cracked robin’s egg jumped out at me from the weathered gray sidewalk, but my appreciation of the delicate, broken shell was overshadowed by thoughts of fragility, tragedy, and death.

As I walked by again the next day, instead of having only a jagged hole broken out of it, the shell was crushed into tiny pieces. Even as I regretted the loss of the smooth, blue beauty, a new thought gladdened me.

Perhaps the broken shell on the ground didn’t signify death.

Instead, the fracture was a sign of birth. The baby bird had outgrown its tiny world and pecked its way free. The shell, which had once been essential to its survival and growth, was now an impediment. Trying to hold onto the egg shell would only hinder the chick as it learned to eat, stretch its wings, and fly.

The egg felt safe and was all the growing bird had ever known, but there’s a great wide world outside the shell. What bird after pecking its way free and seeing the what lays beyond has ever tried to crawl back inside? The egg served its purpose, but there comes a time to let it fall away.

A broken egg shell can be a symbol of something lost or of a life growing and free. When we stay where we feel safe for too long, the very thing that once provided the perfect environment to develop begins to stunt our growth.

Like the baby bird, we all have places and experiences where we feel comfortable and safe. Maybe at one time these things were exactly what we needed. But just because something was right for us once doesn’t mean it always will be. Unlike the chick, we often resist shedding the things we’ve outgrown.

As humans, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to find our thing—the thing we’ll do for the rest of our lives and finally show us who we are.

But that’s so much pressure. What if we never find it? What if we choose wrong? This approach doesn’t account for change and growth. It doesn’t leave room for experimentation or curiosity. Sometimes the thing we think we’re meant to do is really preparing us for what’s next.

My first job out of college initially seemed like a good fit for me. Compiling seminar manuals used my attention to detail and felt like something I could master. The first few days were a whir of learning new software and processes and how to work in an office environment.

But it wasn’t long before the challenge was gone and each new manual felt just like the last. I pushed myself to higher levels of speed and precision, but I was still bored. I suggested innovations the company wasn’t ready to embrace, learned about what other departments were doing, and switched from compiling manuals to laying out brochures to keep my brain occupied.

I clung to a job that didn’t really fit because I was afraid of the uncertainty of trying something new. My work wasn’t satisfying or challenging, but at least I knew I could do it well. The pay wasn’t great, but it covered my bills. As long as I didn’t put it to the test, I didn’t have to risk wondering whether anyone else would hire me, whether I could do more satisfying work successfully, whether I could handle more responsibility. It was easier and safer to stay where I was.

Eventually a major downsizing in the company pushed me out of the nest. Clinging to what felt known and safe didn’t keep me from ending up out in the cold.

For a while the job hadn’t been a good fit for me, but that doesn’t mean my time there wasn’t valuable. When I started the job I thought I wanted something repetitive I could perfect. I learned I need my work to continue to offer new and meaningful challenges and I grow frustrated when only helping others indirectly. I observed the leadership styles of my different supervisors and started to recognize which aspects of each came most naturally to me. I gained experience with a variety of software and honed my proofing skills.

Was I wrong to take that job? Couldn’t I have learned those things elsewhere? I’m not sure those answers are what really matters. I did take the job. I did stay when it felt stifling. Even though I didn’t feel ready I was finally pushed free.

Maybe a more helpful question to ask myself is how has that experience prepared me for where I am today?

Subsequent work experiences have added to my understanding what meaningful work looks like for me. I know I feel most fulfilled when I’m directly helping others feel cared for and seen. I know even though I shy away from uncertainty, experimenting with new challenges energizes me. The practical skills I’ve developed will serve me in many different areas.

How about you? Are you curling up small to stay somewhere known? Are you stretching your wings to fly? If you’re feeling dissatisfied, I’m not saying to punch through your eggshell and dive straight out of the nest. It takes time and practice to develop our wings.

Take an honest look at where you are—your job, hobbies, relationships, home, beliefs. Where are you feeling bored, dissatisfied, or cramped? What are you still learning from your situation? What keeps you holding on? What would happen if you let go? How could you reinvest more fully in you current situation? What is this experience preparing you for?