The Cure for Caterpillar Syndrome

You have been at work all day. It’s time to go home. You are exhausted. You have neither the desire nor the energy to do anything else. But you can’t show what you accomplished. Yes, for eight hours you were involved in some activities–yet there was no productivity. Soon you find yourself in a pattern of activities followed by exhaustion and burnouts.

Within a short time the youthful energetic professional who had the potential to impact his or her world joins the over 75 percent of employees in industrial nations who dislike their jobs and end up just doing the minimum to get by. No new ideas or new challenges or new adventures. Life is just work, boredom, self-pity, and involvement with trivialities that don’t necessarily require clear purpose.

That is what Zig Ziglar’s explanation of a processionary caterpillar, in his book See You at the Top, means to me. The lead caterpillar places its tail on the head of the second caterpillar, which places its tail on the head of the third caterpillar. This pattern goes on and allows the caterpillars to eat as they move forward. Zig Ziglar says if the caterpillars are arranged in a circle, with the last caterpillar placing its tail on the head of the first one, they go in a circle until they die of hunger even when there is food at the center of the circle.

The creatures are involved in activity, but not in productivity! So how can you avoid suffering from caterpillar syndrome?

Face reality. A Kamba proverbs says, “He who doesn’t leave his home thinks that only his mother knows how to cook.” You limit your ability to succeed when you don’t learn new ways of living. If you have kept the same non-visionary associates, never read new books or attended professional/personal development workshops, and you don’t try new things, you have developed a “syndrome” only you can break from. New friends, new knowledge and adventure open opportunities you never knew existed.

Analyze your situation. Why are you unfulfilled? What happened to your dreams? Are you using your creativity to   the fullest? Are you doing the best you can? You can start the process to better your habits and/or way of life by honestly analyzing why you are not experiencing fulfillment.

Take time to think.
The advice I give new college students is to do everything possible to graduate from school with the ability to think. It is one thing to have a certificate hanging on the wall, but totally another thing to think. The ability to think allows you to adjust the application of your skills, knowledge, and career as circumstances change. It provides you the background for questioning status quo—a crucial element for growth.  It is alarming to have a degree, skills, and knowledge, but be stuck in thinking those tools can only be used in one way.

Take time to plan.
A few minutes of planning can save you hours, even days of frustration. Lack of planning results in non-productive activities, hence wasted time and resources. Go to the store without a clear idea or a list of what you need, and you are likely to waste time, purchase things you do not need, and feel bad about both. Yet two minutes   taken to list what you want will save you time and resources and eliminate frustration.

Ask for help.
Here is another piece of Kamba wisdom: “One finger cannot kill lice.” Always know that there is someone with the knowledge, skills and/or resources that you need to overcome your challenges and grow. Most people fail to succeed because they try to kill their lice alone.

Small steps are fine. In 1998, a newspaper offered to pay me $10 a week for my articles. Other newspapers started printing and paying for the same articles (I give first rights only—meaning my articles can be printed by whomever I permit). Small steps are better than standing still.

Be in the present. Yesterday is gone. And tomorrow may never be yours. You have to learn to be in the present. Develop life purpose that starts with the tools (skills, knowledge, influence, and material resources) that you have now.  It is easy to fall into the trap of looking back to good old times and/or looking forward to a better tomorrow. (However, even in the good old times, you were probably looking to a better tomorrow!) Waiting for tomorrow is a gamble. If you only have 70 percent productivity today, you can never do 130 percent  tomorrow to cover  today’s missing 30 percent.

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