Telodelic comes from telos and -delic. According to Aristoteles, the telos of a plant or animal is “that which it is made to become”. The telos of a flower seed is to become a flower. The telos of a caterpillar is to become a butterfly. The suffix -delic means something like ‘to manifest’ or ‘to reveal’. The word telodelic thus expresses “become who you essentially are”.
Yet that is not so easy. The phrase “become who you are” can be attributed to philosopher and writer Friedrich Nietzsche. But he didn’t mean anything frivolous by that. He meant that it is essential to reflect on our lives, think critically and become self-aware. Becoming who you are is not an easy process. In fact, it is sometimes very painful, because you cannot develop into a new person if you do not allow old parts of yourself to change or disappear. Becoming who you are is mourning who you didn’t become. Letting go of what you could have been. Making peace with everything you thought you should have wanted, but actually discovered you didn’t want.
The caterpillar does not change by thinking about what it is like to be a butterfly. The caterpillar does. Sometimes he has no idea what he is doing, but he does what, deep down, he ‘knows’ is right. The caterpillar first joins the world, then withdraws to change, and then joins the world again, this time as a butterfly. The process is similar for humans. We participate in a way that is still appropriate for a long time, as a caterpillar. Or it actually doesn’t fit, but we don’t know yet. Then there comes a point when we realize that we are becoming – or need to become – someone different than we thought. We withdraw, we turn inward, to find something within ourselves and discover what it is that is calling within ourselves to be heard. It is a skill that we have in us, but that we as a society cannot really handle. “What do you want to be when you’ve grown up?” we are asked. The idea is that, just like the caterpillar, we have a fixed process. Caterpillars become butterflies. Period. Since it looks the same on the outside, we assume that each caterpillar does exactly the same. We present that idea to each other. We make ‘self-development’ appear as a clear process, a matter of choosing the right major. You just have to follow the beaten path to get ‘there’. If you fail, you have not yet found the right major or, if it takes too long, it is believed that you lack willpower or discipline.
(Being able to) develop yourself is not a given, it is a skill that can be developed or unintentionally stopped. People are also more versatile than a caterpillar. The process that takes place in us to become a butterfly is an invisible process. Others may see change in you when there has not really been any change inside yourself. And what looks like stagnation on the outside doesn’t have to be on the inside. We can be seen as ‘successful’ on the outside and yet know that it is not right. That this path is not the right one for me. If you then try to change something, it can generate resistance in your environment. Digging deeply into ourselves is not something to be encouraged. Even though our society is saturated with therapists and coaches, few support a journey inward. Often this is even discouraged, because the journey inward can trigger a lot of uncomfortable emotions (especially for the coach or therapist himself, by the way). In a society where everything must be measurable, there is no room to distinguish between an emotional breakdown and the first step to a real awakening. Turning inward is a step into the unknown, into chaos and chaos must be stopped. We are afraid of it.
But the caterpillar knows what we actually also know: Turning inwards and becoming a cocoon is not the end. The caterpillar determines when it is time to dream and the butterfly determines when it is time to wake up again and flutter into the world.