5 Lessons Learned About Reinvention

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.

Winston Churchill
On the set of MOZART & SALIERI, 1985, a low-budget art film, back when I had hair ;))

I came to New York as an actor. Since then I’ve passed through nearly a half-dozen other careers, including film production, computer consulting, human resources, and for many years now, copywriting and digital marketing. I didn’t dabble in any of them. They’ve all been deep dives that I thought would be the last. And, of course, there’ve been the inevitable life changes, such as marriage, corporate trailing spouse, foreign expat, special needs parent and divorce. At this writing, Ray v9.0 is in beta.

Oddly enough, the only career I have any formal training in is the first one – acting. I have a degree in theater arts from a highly regarded conservatory program. All my other careers developed through experience. Perhaps the most striking change was from acting to computer consulting. My “day job” as an office temporary supported my auditioning habit. It exposed me to a plethora of computer software systems. I “temped” for a number of years for a variety of heavy hitters in the legal and financial sectors. I soaked it up. Before I knew it, I was consulting. I founded a small niche firm in Midtown Manhattan. I never intended to give up acting. It just happened.

I remember one day when I asked my niece, “How old are you now?” She replied, “Five.” A jolt went through my grey flannel suit. “You were born the week of my last paid acting gig,” I muttered to myself. Life. Wow.

As I scan the headlines about layoffs, permanent job losses and business failures, I can’t help but think of the painful and unexpected changes so many are experiencing right now. I embrace all those struggling through the current chaos. I’ve been inspired by many conversations with people who are in the process of reinvention. Hearing their stories of what triggered their reinventions has been humbling to say the least.

In examining my own story I realized that there’s a pattern in all the major changes I’ve made. I want to share with you what have been my guiding principles for reinvention.

1. Recognize that it’s time to reinvent

Life likes to force reinvention upon us. We wake up one day to a new situation through moments like job loss, market forces or personal adversity. The wind changes before we can set our sails.

But the need to reinvent can also develop as slowly as a baby in the womb. It might start as just a feeling that emerges, a wanderlust for a new horizon. How slow or fast it matures often depends on our willingness to let go. We’re often quite invested in the status quo. Perhaps it’s a longstanding career, or a business we’ve grown from the ground up, or our current living situation. Reinvention begins to gestate when we become willing to release our grip on the old.

However, the most powerful impetus I’ve had to reinvent myself? When changing feels easier than staying the same.

You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.

William Faulkner

2. Let life lead

My most successful reinventions happen when I march steadily towards the new, rather than run away from the old. I know I’m on the right path when I feel magnetically drawn to the next thing. Synchronicities start to unfold. Coincidences begin to occur. Life is laying down markers for me to follow.

Whenever I’ve tried to force outcomes it’s been met with near disastrous results. I’ve learned to follow the cues that life presents. When I’m standing at a fork in the road, I resist the compulsion to take action or make a decision. I examine the options until one path is illuminated and the right choice becomes clear. Even when the road splits in completely opposite directions there’s always a third way, to go back. There’s absolutely no shame in turning around if that’s the path that lights up.

3. Remain open to possibility

Sometimes an insurmountable hurdle is just life guiding us in the right direction. Often when we’re chasing our dreams, we can become so fixated on the goal that we fail to see new opportunities. When an obstacle impedes our way we forget that life is a maze anyway and never moves in a predictable direction. We’ve all heard analogies of going over, around or through brick walls to achieve our dreams. Sometimes that brick wall is actually the destination.

My life as an office temporary was supposed to support my dream of becoming an actor. When I loosened my grip on that dream, I realized that I was already well on my way to fulfilling a new one. The frustrating brick wall of rejection as an actor actually marked a new starting point as an entrepreneur, but only because I opened myself up to that possibility.

4. Be fearless

Our minds can spin out of control on “what-if” scenarios that are focused so far into the future as to be meaningless. On precious few occasions I suffered from stage fright as an actor. I would comfort myself right before walking on stage with the thought, “The worst that can happen out there is that I can die, and according to my religion, that’s not so bad.”

I’m not telling you to ignore potentially harmful risks, but don’t let the fear of risk stand in your way. Waking up in the morning entails some risk, but you can assess it in a clear, logical, non-fearful way. Observing risk objectively is the first step toward mitigating it. Do it with the knowledge that you’re going to be okay.

People who don’t take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.

Peter drucker

5. Accept decisions

Make sure to seek appropriate advice and counsel through the whole process, but if things don’t pan out as expected, don’t succumb to a “coulda, woulda, shoulda” mentality. Make course corrections as needed, but don’t suffer perceived mistakes. You likely made the best decision possible with the information you had at that moment. Mistakes are part of the journey. Glean whatever lessons you can from your own history as well as the history of others, but remember that it’s very hard to drive a car safely while staring in the rearview mirror.

Why is a marketing guy writing about reinvention?

Reinvention calls upon us to present ourselves in new ways to new audiences. That’s what marketers do.

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