The Wisdom Of Lobsters: If You Want To Grow, You Have To Break Out Of Your Shell

29 Aug ‘22
5 min
Editorial Board OpenUp
Reviewed by psychologist Madelief Falkmann
The Wisdom of Lobsters: If You Want to Grow, You Have to Break Out of Your Shell
You know, there’s a lot we can learn from lobsters when it comes to personal growth. “From lobsters?” you say. Yes, from lobsters. When a lobster grows, it breaks out of its shell. That involves risk and making itself vulnerable. It takes time. And when the lobster has gone through its growth spurt, it’s bigger and stronger than before.   


The lobster’s hard shell doesn’t grow, but the lobster itself does. When the lobster gets so big that its shell becomes uncomfortable, it breaks out and a new, soft shell appears. It waits under a rock until its new shell is hard and safe enough for it to step out into the big wide world. 


Discomfort leads to growth


In this video, Rabbi Dr Abraham Twerski explains what we can learn here: The stimulus for the lobster to grow is a sense of discomfort. Times of stress are times that allow us to grow. If we navigate adversity the right way, we’re able to grow through adversity. 


What the lobster also teaches us is that risk is essential for growth, that every phase in our lives requires a new structure, and that periods of change are vulnerable times. We’re going to cover all three of these points in this article.


Growth comes with risks


Just as for lobsters, it’s also true for humans that discomfort leads to growth. A lobster needs to climb out of its shell in order to grow, while humans need to step out of their comfort zones. Being outside our comfort zones isn’t the most pleasant feeling, but it’s here that we develop as people, while gaining new skills and knowledge. 


People who step out of their comfort zones are known as people with a growth mindset. In a previous article, psychologist Madelief Falkmann states: “People with a growth mindset feel that it’s fun and valuable to develop as people, which means that they experience growth at a more rapid rate. People with a fixed mindset would rather focus on what they can already do – they stay in their comfort zone – and as a result, their development is more likely to stall. They choose the safe path.” 


Fortunately, you can learn – just like a lobster – to leave your familiar environment and take steps towards the exciting unknown and, therefore, growth. You’ll find six tips here

VanMoof CEO Taco Carlier on discomfort

Thanks to a series of investment rounds, VanMoof, the Dutch producer of popular minimalist e-bikes, has been growing like a weed since 2017. But it can’t really maintain this level of growth, claims the Financieel Dagblad.


Manufacturing defects meant that 30,000 complaints found their way into its customer service inbox last year and customers had to wait months to get their bikes repaired.


CEO Taco Carlier sees these obstacles as just further opportunities for growth. Speaking to MT/Sprout he says: “Keep trying and accept that trial and error is part of the process. You learn a lot this way, by just doing things. New opportunities also arise out of failures. That means you need to stop doubting yourself and keep moving. If you’re not moving, you’ll get bogged down in it all.”

Each phase requires a new structure


When the lobster changes internally, it has to change its shell. That’s often true for people. Not literally of course, but figuratively: When you’re home situation, your health, your skills or your goals change, then you often have to change the way you structure your life. 


If your family situation changes, then you may need to adjust your working hours. If you develop leadership skills, then you might want to work higher up in your organization. In the case your goal is to contribute to fighting the climate crisis, then you might want to change jobs.


A lobster adapts quite easily: throwing off its shell when it gets too small takes half an hour of wiggling and cracking at the most. For humans, it’s a little different. Coping with change requires time and attention. But you can improve here as well. Psychologist Shannon explains how in this article.


Periods of change are vulnerable


After the lobster lets go of its shell, it takes two days for it to grow a new one. And two days without any protection is a long time! During this time, the lobster could easily become a meal for one of the predatory fish in the ocean. But the lobster knows that it has no alternative. It has to take the risk. Otherwise, it will never grow. 


It’s also true for humans that vulnerability and growth go hand in hand. In her TED talk, researcher Brené Brown explains: “People who embrace vulnerability are those who dare to say ‘I love you’, to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out, to ask for help when they’re sick.” 


Vulnerability means choosing uncertainty


You’re not sure what the outcome will be. Say you’re sitting in a meeting and you discover that a project needs to go in a different direction. If you choose to express your opinion, you’ll be making yourself vulnerable: Maybe you’re colleagues disagree with you. But if you choose to say nothing then there’s no chance that anything will change. 


This isn’t just true for small events in your life, such as voicing your opinion in meetings, it’s also true for major developments. Whether you’re looking to change jobs, quit your studies to start a business, or decide to try and have a baby. You have no guarantee that things will work out, but if you don’t take that first step, nothing will happen. 


So, you need to be like a lobster. Harness discomfort as an opportunity for growth and embrace the vulnerability you feel in this period. At the end of it all, you’ll come out stronger.