Stern: Lobsters can teach us about change


s spring begins, the earth changes from the dreary, white winter to the fresh, green spring. The birds sing, the flowers bloom and color is added back into our lives. This is your opportunity to turn over a new leaf (pun may or may not be intended).

I’m not sure about you, but I have heard this trope one too many times. Change in our lives is hard, requires effort and commitment, and does not always have “flowery” consequences.

When equating nature with the human experience, my preferred metaphor for change is that of the lobster losing its old shell. The lobster’s molting process is beautifully described by Trevor Corson, in his book “The Secret Life of Lobsters.”

A lobster that is ready to shed its shell will pump seawater into its body. The resulting hydrostatic pressure forces the old shell off of the new one. “The lobster remains mobile and active until the last minute, when the membrane that lines its old shell bursts and the animal falls over on its side, helpless and immobilized,” Corson says.

Change knocks both lobsters and humans off their feet, resetting their course. Lobsters, however, catalyze their change by pumping water through their body. With some very complicated exceptions, I believe that we catalyze our own change as well. Even when it feels like life is beyond our control, our prospective and actions shape the course of our life.

“Before molting the animal must diet away half the mass in its claws or risk getting stuck in its old clothes,” Corson says.

Just as lobsters lose the weight in their claws, humans must release the idea that the change is negative in order to fully embrace it.

Corson continues, “Flexing the muscles of its abdomen, the lobster shakes off the old shell around its tail and is free.”

Releasing the past is important for both lobsters and humans; it may just take a little muscle or hard work to finally let it go.

Once the lobster can stand and move around, “Its first priority is to use its newly rigid mouthparts to devour the husk of its former self, a convenient and nutritious source of additional calcium.”

Although after change, we may not literally eat our past, I think internalizing your past is a vital final step in the process of change. Lobsters live and eat while we live and learn, but there is a common lesson between the two that becomes easy to forget in day-to-day life.

Maybe you prefer to liken yourself to a blooming flower. I, however, am in awe of the lobster and strive to emulate their beautiful routine in handling change.


Jenny Stern is a sophomore majoring in biology from Lawrence. Read more from .

  • Updated Mar. 31, 2014 at 8:47 pm