Ride the Butterflies

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The ability not only to endure but to invite, amplify, and exalt uncertainty, then reframe it as fuel is paramount to your ability to succeed as a creator. Visionary innovation and creativity cannot happen when every variable, every outcome, every permutation is known and has been tested and validated in advance.

You cannot see the world differently if it’s already been seen in every possible way. You cannot solve a problem better if every solution has already been defined. You cannot create great art if every way to stroke a canvas, connect a note, or grace a stage has already been inventoried, categorized, and laid bare for all to see.

If everything is known and certain, that means it’s all been done before. And creation isn’t about repetition.

Genius always starts with a question, not an answer.

Eliminate the question and you eliminate the possibility of genius. However, that’s where things get really sticky.

For all but a rare few, “living in the question” hurts. It causes anxiety, fear, suffering, and pain. And people don’t like pain. Rather than lean into it, we do everything possible to snuff it out. Not because we have to, but because we can’t handle the discomfort that we assume “has to” go along with the quest.

Snuffing out uncertainty leads to a sea of prematurely terminated mediocre output, when “sweet mother of God” was just over the hump if only we’d had the will to embrace uncertainty, risk, and judgment and hang on a bit longer. If only we’d learned how to harness and ride rather than hunt and kill the butterflies that live in the gut of every person who strives to create something extraordinary from nothing.


The above was excerpted from Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel for Brilliance.

Curious, how do you deal with the butterflies?

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30 responses

30 responses to “Ride the Butterflies”

  1. Alex Shalman says:

    This is a really touching story Jonathan. It shows what’s possible when you’re willing to look into your heart, muster up some courage, and say yes to difficult opportunities.

  2. Hiro Boga says:

    Those butterflies ride the winds of freedom. There is such joy in that kind of spaciousness — of meeting the unknown and navigating its current, without knowing where it will lead.

    Trusting the journey. Trusting the improvisational nature of life. Trusting myself and the dance with the unfolding mystery.

    It’s the delight of discovery, of adventure. Road trips bring some of those same qualities of lightness and freedom.

    Thanks for writing this book, Jonathan. Thanks for sharing this excerpt today.

  3. Noni says:

    The butterflies are the opening to quantum possibilities…the quivering feelings can shut us down or open us up. It sometimes takes conscious courage to ride the current and be in the flow of awareness of all that’s there in the moment, regardless of how it feels. Living in a question can be a great attunement to guidance! Thanks, Jonathan!

  4. tobias says:

    I like butterflies. I think their appearance when considering a course of action is generally a positive sign. However, acknowledging this doesn’t free us from the underlying stuff that causes us to balk, or seize up, or give up, and end up back at square one. The only way to do that, I think, is to change the conversation that we have with ourselves – often without even knowing it – that leads us back to ‘safety’ instead of on towards adventure…

    I look forward to reading more of what you’ve come up with this time around!

  5. Being “kissed” by butterflies is a blessing 🙂 It means we’ve dipped our toes in the spring of possibilities. I have grown to like their flutter on my cheeks. So I try to plant the flowers that they like in my daily practice. 🙂
    Thanks for sharing this Jonathan. I look forward to reading the whole of your words.

  6. WOW. That’s deep. I’m speechless. This is just what I needed today. Thanks Jonathan!

  7. Great thought material.
    As I read it I realized I don’t get many butterflies.
    One would say my life must be risk free.
    SO not the case. I love Change and actually thrive on it as I do embracing new opportunities.
    So, I had to think why not butterflies in the tummy?
    Crazy but had not thought about it until I read this.
    I came to realize that having moved about 30 times while growing up –I had already chased all the butterflies and I now have a “Calm” as I recognize that all those experiences just prepared me for today!
    Thanks for the gentle coax to reflect!

  8. For me, butterflies have a positive connotation; about transformation and rebirth. They also remind me of my mother who told me before she died last year, that she would come back as a butterfly. There have been numerous citings of those winged wonders in unexpected places since she passed. The art work on the cover of my book is of a buterfly. Thank you for the questions and yes, it can be challenging living in the ‘just don’t know’.

  9. Riding a butterfly is rich metaphor. Perhaps what holds us back, what prevents us from jumping on and taking the reins, is the fear that our own weight will crush the butterfly, transforming it into a creature that is broken and unable to fly (akin to our fear of failure). But if we realize that the butterfly, having shed its cocoon and spread its wings, has already undergone the transformation of metamorphosis, if we realize that trying is flying, we can shed the weight of our fear, become as light as the butterfly, and allow the insistent fluttering of its wings to transport us to places we have never been.

  10. Mary Jane says:


    I loved your talk at #WDS. I am so looking forward to reading, savoring, becoming inspired by your new book. I need to learn more skillful ways to embrace uncertainty. I know your book will be filled with shared wisdom for learning to better trust myself.

  11. Cassandra James says:

    I have always known that I am most unhappy when I am stagnant. I have been an adventurer my entire life the only difference is now that I am a practitioner of Nichiren Buddhism I am rooted in a philosophy of transformation.

    The butterflies are a guide. They let me know when I am tapping into new resources, when I am transforming karma by overwriting self-defeating beliefs.

  12. @cdstern says:

    Usually I run away from them quickly. I imagine they will turn into big dragons and roast me in one breath. Once in while I invite them to sit on my arm and continue on the path that was set for me.

  13. […] For all but a rare few, “living in the question” hurts. It causes anxiety, fear, suffering, and pain. And people don’t like pain. Rather than lean into it, we do everything possible to snuff it out. Not because we have to, but because we can’t handle the discomfort that we assume “has to” go along with the quest. — Excerpted from Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel for Brilliance | Blog Post: Ride the Butterflies […]

  14. As I was ready my heart started pounding. I could feel anxiety building up I me. I related to your post and in many cases wished that I would have just waited the fear out. Stuck with the butterflies fluttering in my stomach.

  15. Lovely piece of writing, man. I am absolutely salivating for your book…er…more than I was.

    Like Tobias said above, I consider the butterflies a sort of barometer. If I get them, there’s probably something behind them that is essential, meaningful or potent for my life.

    Those tend to scare me, but I do my best to embrace them. And yeah, sometimes, I bail out before the butterflies turn into 747’s in my belly. And every time I do that, I regret it.

    So curious what your book has to say about all this.

  16. Marie Davis says:

    Just what I needed today. Thanks Jonathan! My secret for living with butterflies is to focus on something I’m going to do after I’ve done such and such. In other words I plan for success and plan a celebration. Celebrating can be as simple as a long swim, a chocolate sundae, dinner out, or as in my newest project a month long trip through Europe, when I forget to look at the prize, I get scared. That’s what I was doing today before I read your article! Thanks again.

  17. Jay says:

    This is one of the most challenging aspects of motivating myself and associates. When I was a high school and college athlete the fear of pain (anxiety or failure)was sometimes debilitating. Even now the butterflies sometimes triggers the “fight or flight” aspect of a particular project and I understand the butterflies are part of life and keeps my energy up for the important things.

  18. Rex Williams says:

    I harness my curiosity and ride.

  19. Victoria Gagliano says:

    Simply beautiful and it’s what I’m going through right now, these last few days, creating from almost nothing, and choosing to act differently in work situations in a way more appropriate for the benefit of all, i love the way your phrase it, “ride the butterflies”, which i get in my gut and then lose my appetite, stop eating well, which causes an entire unhealthy downward spiral. Thanks Marie, I’ll try focusing on a celebration for after I complete the difficult task.

  20. Thanks for the inspirational words Jonathan. So many of us don’t attempt to do what, on a deep level, we really know we came here to do. Fear is such a disabling, impotizing (made up word) emotion, which robs us of being all we are capable of being.
    Overcoming fear of uncertainty, rejection and failure is essential if we are going to liberate ourselves and make a difference. A few basic but fundamental self beliefs are required to reach those goals and they are; that in spite of all that you may have been told when growing up:
    You are an equal, valuable and worthwhile human being
    You deserve to be happy, healthy and fulfilled and
    You have your own unique gifts and talents that you are meant to share with the world.
    Overcoming fear and insecurity is not an overnight job but having a few really empowering self beliefs will help you to find that unstoppable confidence necessary to take action and live your dream.

  21. Hi Jonathan,

    Sensational insight here!

    I remind myself experiencing butterflies means I’m growing. I intend to embrace these feelings, rather than shy away. Sometimes, I flee from the questions, the uncertainty. More and more, I embrace them, and use the energies as fuel. Fuel to sit patiently and be supplied with answers.

    Become comfortable with being uncomfortable, and the butterflies will take you places you couldn’t even dream…that what I’ve seen from my experience.

    Thanks for sharing your insight Jonathan!


  22. Ana says:

    Jonathan – Can I post this excerpt on my blog? I will of course give you full credit: your name, web address and the book the excerpt came from. I just want everyone to read it and get this book. If not, I totally respect that and won’t. Thanks.

  23. […] Ride the Butterflies The ability not only to endure but to invite, amplify, and exalt uncertainty, then reframe it as fuel is paramount to your ability to succeed as a creator. Source: http://www.jonathanfields.com […]

  24. Helena says:

    I take a deep breath, make a cup of tea, tell the butterflies to go out and play, and plow on through.

    It ain’t easy, but it works.

    “hunt and kill” is MUCH easier – which is probably why it seems to be the human default mode – and not just for butterflies.

  25. Sue says:

    Just had the same “existential crisis” here, right at the cusp of greatness! Or mediocrity. Or failure. And I asked my friends to kick me.


  26. Jon says:

    Lean into it, so powerfully nails the essence of living with uncertainty. Thank you.

  27. When the butterflies visit me, I know I am pushing myself beyond…whatever beyond means at the moment. If I am uncomfortable, even afraid, I may wish I hadn’t committed. I’ve often asked myself, “why did I say I would do this?” But I always know the answer: it furthers me.

    I don’t relish the fluttery, uncomfortable, uncertain feeling when it comes, but I am compelled…beyond. I’m compelled right now!

  28. You have summed it up eloquently, “Ride the Butterflies.” This is exactly what my coffee group was talking about yesterday – sitting in the uncertainty and not using our default fear reactions…this is where the breakthrough and insight lives. I am going to meditate on this today. Thank you.

  29. Janice-your thoughts were a pleasure to read.

    When I get butterflies, I don’t like the feeling-oh no, I am like most adults-want to feel competent, want to repeat the things I am comfortable doing. But, I decided one time that the butterflies mean I’m alive! I’m not stagnant or stuck. Sometimes the butterflies tell me I am doing something a little risky or difficult or challenging, so then I’m glad. So, mostly, now, I just notice them and continue on. Butterflies usually stop briefly and then they do flutter away…

  30. I live in Zimbabwe – a society characterized by fear and anxiety. I m trying to launch a new project and my fears about financial and creative capacities have indeed paralyzed me in the last few months. Go to the stage where I wondered if I was the main impediment to progress on it and should get out of the way! This article has lifted my spirits enormously and given me some understanding of why indeed I think certainty is the enemy of progress and creativity!