I’m always amazed at how well nature mimics our everyday lives. We live in a world where everything is so automated that we forget we’re innately organic. Our very being is rooted in our ability to influence the environment and create a positive impact. Showing up authentically as trusted medical affairs professionals and scientific partners is critical. The way we show up impacts patients and the healthcare providers entrusted with their care. Ultimately, the choice is up to us to determine the breadth and depth of our influence. In the face of uncertainty “showing up” has become more challenging than ever. The world changed so fast, that many of us are still deciphering how we will evolve to maneuver through our careers and personal lives.
Everything new we have yet to experience requires us to make a choice. We can choose to embrace change and utilize it as a springboard for innovation, or we can collapse under the weight of the unexpected. Certainly, at this moment we are facing insurmountable changes and the unexpected with the current COVID19 pandemic. Our world has changed right before our eyes. Some of us were prepared for it, but many of us (like me) reacted using whatever knowledge we could to sustain our physical and mental health.
Over the last year and a half, I too have utilized a combination of old habits and thought patterns to make sense of my world. Relying on past experiences to cope and establish clarity brought me great comfort in a lot of ways. The same is true in how I approached my career in medical affairs. However, what I’ve realized is that it is this very comfort that’s paralyzing my ability to react creatively. Don’t get me wrong, we all need moments of familiarity but embracing what we don’t know expands our horizons.
The present pandemic has given me a great deal of time to reflect on who I am and what impact I would like to make. As I thought about multiple ways to achieve this, I am constantly reminded of a process that occurs frequently in nature. The process I’m referring to is called, “molting”. Molting happens periodically across a number of different animal species including crabs, insects, and snakes. During the molting process, the surface layer of skin known as the epidermis separates from the body to allow the formation of a larger and stronger exoskeleton.
It requires sacrifice, patience and one major drawback to this process is that it leaves the animal incapacitated and vulnerable to predators. Doesn’t this process sound familiar to you? Every period in my life where I had to evolve and prepare for the next step required a “molt”. No, I didn’t physically shed my skin, but I shed my mental, professional, and emotional shells. Those psychological coverings we adopt when facing hard and confusing times or when admiring positive past moments.
Whether or not experiences we face are positive or negative, we assign mental patterns to leverage when facing new challenges. But what happens when these tools no longer work or serve to elevate you to the next level you’re striving for? That’s where embracing the molt becomes ever so important. Below I briefly describe a series of steps that detail the mental molt we all must endure to reach higher levels (whatever that means for you) [Figure 1].
- Awareness of change
- Allow room for growth
Awareness of change
It’s important to take a mental note of the changes that are occurring around you. This is the beginning of the molting process. We can’t react effectively if we fail to acknowledge with awareness the need to adapt.
Just like in nature, animals initiating the molting process become still, literally ceasing to move about normally. We too must allow the time for stillness and introspection. Being still allows for reflection on where we’ve been and where we have yet to go. More importantly, it gives us a head start on our mission to seize the next moment or venture with bravery.
During the molting phase in nature, insects are totally vulnerable to predators due to the softness of their developing new outer shells. This mimics the vulnerability we all must sometimes face when we’re developing and preparing ourselves for new phases. We may even find ourselves open to the opinions and feedback of others. However, what we stand to gain is far greater than any form of criticism. After all, no one can fully understand the potential that lies in your molting process.
Allow room for growth
When the molting process is complete, insects still must continue to expand their new covering, so it is big enough to create space for continued growth. As we develop new mental shells and approaches to our changing world, we too must continue to expand our perspective and scope. Doing so allows for sustained agility and adaptability as we leverage new viewpoints and opportunities.
Molting takes hard work, sometimes occurring over the span of a few hours to even days. For some, it may take weeks, months, or years. We all undergo some form of it at various points in our personal and professional lives. The beauty lies in the ability for us to seize and capitalize on the awareness molting brings. As you continue adopting new ways of functioning in our ever-evolving world, acknowledge the changes and embrace the molt.
Figure 1 Legend: Schematic description of the “embracing the molt” process and the mental cues that initiate and sustain growth.
Bryan A. Wilson, PhD., MBA
Bryan is from the great city of New Orleans, Louisiana, and has been fascinated with science since childhood. Bryan earned a Bachelors’s degree in Biological/Nutritional Science from Louisiana State University in 2008 and graduated from Wake Forest School of Medicine with a dual Ph.D./M.B.A degree in 2016. He is passionate about understanding cardiovascular health problems and works in the pharma industry to better understand the context of heart disease and metabolic diseases. He is currently a Regional Medical Scientific Director for the Cardiovascular and Metabolism therapeutic area unit of U.S. Medical Affairs within Merck Research Labs. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with family (wife Britni and puppy Bailey) and mentoring the next generation of science leaders through professional and leadership development. He also has a non-profit venture Sayansi that assists scientific stakeholders in communicating the importance of science and clinical research to lay audiences.