What Does a Lobster Shell Have to Teach Us? The Delicate Art of Growing Bigger

We have all had experiences and moments of feeling small, trapped in a metaphorical shell or cage.

I sometimes ask people, “Have you had a memorable lobster moment in your life?” They often do, and it’s usually, “Yeah. We ate it. It was delicious.” I can relate. I lean vegetarian, but I still love a lobster. The question does have a deeper purpose, though. I have a lot of memorable lobster moments. So, before I get to what the lobster has to do with you, please indulge in a little trip down memory lane.

My first significant lobster memory is from my childhood. It ties to how I relate with money. My younger sister and I loved lobster. However, as I got older, I learned that it costs more than other things on the menu. I came from an entrepreneurial family, which might sound exciting. But for me as a child, it felt unsettling. There were ups and downs with money, love, and loss. I remember being mad and, honestly, a bit jealous when my younger sister would order lobster off the menu without a care in the world. I thought it was too expensive, and that she was being inappropriate by ordering it. (Side note: being worried about being inappropriate or not being seen as a good girl is one of the many themes in my life that I am pushing myself to move past. This voice saying, “Be a good girl,” “Don’t embarrass me,” and “Be appropriate” holds many cisgender females back from their full potential.)

My next and very memorable lobster moment — well, encounter — happened when I was a teenager. I was getting my open-water diving certification and was out in the ocean with my instructor. He indicated that he wanted to show me something. Next thing I knew, I was face to face with a lobster that was practically the size of me! I was not a particularly big child but, still, this was a HUGE lobster. I will never forget that encounter, and decades later, I see the deeper significance of it. More on that in a moment.

My last lobster memory, for now, is about love. One of the first times I hung out with my husband and his friends before we were dating was at a lobster bake. As uncomfortable as I was watching the lobsters race to the boiling water, my husband was maybe more uncomfortable cracking them open once they were cooked. As we began to date, he learned that my family knew how to eat lobster: crack it open and watch the guts fly onto the wall of the restaurant. Crack it open and soak an entire table with juices until the table needs to be lifted and tipped to drain. Crack it open and douse it in melted butter. Wear a bib, roll up your sleeves, and get in there. It is worth the work (…well, maybe not for my husband. I am still cracking his lobsters!).

Funny enough, lobsters also crack open their shells. It sounds strange to say it like that, but it’s true. To grow huge like the lobster queen I met under the ocean, lobsters crack out of their smaller shells and grow a new one. They spend most of their lives evolving to fill bigger and bigger shells. How big they grow, as you know, varies. But they all do it.

Can we see ourselves in this process? We have all been through things in our lives that made us feel like we were stuck in a small shell and needed to escape. Maybe our too-small shell was a relationship with a boss, a parent, a friend, or a romantic partner. Maybe it was a thankless job that held us back or made us doubt our abilities. We have all had experiences and moments of feeling small, trapped in a metaphorical shell or cage. And sometimes we put ourselves into that small, hard shell to protect ourselves. We might even come to believe that there is no larger shell possible for us.

But that doesn’t have to be true. We can start the process of molting. We can decide we are ready to shed our current shell for a bigger one. We will have some moments along the way of feeling a bit raw and naked, but that is only temporary, and we don’t have to do it alone.

We get to choose the size of our shell. We choose, no one else, how big and expansive we want to be. And maybe, just maybe, like that big lobster queen I met as a teenager, we will be wowed by what we become.

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Emily Frieze-Kemeny

Emily Frieze-Kemeny

Founder, AROSE GROUP | Leadership & Organizational Development Expert | Talent Strategist | Human Potential Guide | Healer