“Just like the snake, in order to grow, you must learn to discard.”

The snake is the ancient symbol of transformation.

Unlike human skin, the skin on a snake doesn’t grow as the animal grows. During its lifetime, the snake’s insides outgrow its outsides, and the animal reaches a point where the older layer of the skin must be discarded in favor of the new.

This process is uncomfortable. The snake rubs and scratches until it’s able to literally crawl out of its old skin. When the process is completed successfully, a new vibrant skin emerges in place of the old. But when the process fails, and the snake can’t shed its skin, it can grow blind and die.

Over the course of my life, I’ve worn many skins: Rocket scientist. Lawyer. Law professor. Author. Speaker.

Each transformation was preceded by an uncomfortable feeling that something wasn’t quite right. I’d make some adjustments here and there, but there came a point where my old skin couldn’t sustain my inner growth.

For example, when I was a lawyer, I grew tired of thinking of my life in six-minute billable increments and missed the intellectual stimulation of academia. I shed my lawyer skin and became a professor. With academia, I grew tired of writing only academic articles that professors in my specialized field read. I shed my old skin and began writing articles for general audiences (to accompany this transformation, I shed the business suits I’d wear when I taught classes, opting for the far more comfortable skin of jeans and a t-shirt).

“To discard was to temporarily lose my balance. But not to discard would have meant to lose myself.”

In each case, to discard was to temporarily lose my balance. But not to discard would have meant to lose myself.

Make no mistake: Discarding old skin is painful. There’s a certainty to your old skin. You’ve worn it for years, if not decades. Your old skin makes you feel safe and comfortable. Over time, your skin becomes your identity, so putting on a new skin means changing who you are.

Just like the snake, in order to grow, you must learn to discard.

If you cling to your old skin—if you stick with a job just because it’s easy or if you keep dating someone just because it’s familiar—you’ll sacrifice the possibility of what could be for the self-constructed prison of what is.

If you’re feeling uncomfortable—if you have that nagging feeling that something’s off in your life or work—it might be time for you to do some shedding.

When you discard your old skin, you won’t lose yourself.

You’ll discover it.

Ozan Varol is a rocket scientist turned law professor and bestselling author. Click here to download a free copy of his e-book, The Contrarian Handbook: 8 Principles for Innovating Your Thinking. Along with your free e-book, you’ll get weekly strategies to innovate your thinking.