I always enjoy a good reinvention story. Like Jessica Simpson, who is now better known for building a billion-dollar fashion company than her 1990’s pop star career, and Steve Harvey, who parlayed his career in comedy into an entertainment empire that includes television shows, books, speaking engagements and multiple businesses.
Kudos to them both for stepping up to bigger platforms when times were good. Because most people associate the act of reinvention as something that individuals do during difficult times, like millions face worldwide now because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Let’s take a moment to get clear about the term reinvention. I define it as the process of honestly assessing what works for you now and jettisoning what doesn’t while exploring new directions that can yield great fulfillment and happiness. The key is staying true to yourself.
Design Your Life
That’s what Ali Davies did. Growing up as a Gen-Xer in England, Davies thought the normal progression of life included education, a career and then obtaining the house, spouse, and kids. She climbed the ladder at two global beverage companies by her early 30’s and got married. But Davies felt unfulfilled.
“I started to wonder that if I was so successful, why I was feeling miserable?” said Davies. “Instead of the bottom-line, I was more focused on people. It made me realize that the definition of success I was chasing wasn’t what for me would constitute a successful life.”
A tipping point came on January 1, 2001. She and her husband Martin ditched a local New Year’s Eve party to continue a deep conversation at home about their mutual dissatisfaction with their corporate careers. They woke up early the next morning to hike up their favorite mountain, Jacob’s Ladder in Derbyshire, England.
“As we got to the top of this mountain, literally dawn was just breaking,” she noted. “It was one of the most spiritual moments I’ve ever had watching the sun come up on this new millennium. We made the decision to find a different way to live and work that reflects our values.”
They spent the next few years actively designing the life they wanted, saving money, and making changes. Martin went back to college to become a physiotherapist while Davies became a change consultant and coach. They moved to Ireland with their young son, attracted to a more outdoorsy, slower pace of life. After a few years, her husband was involved in a very serious car crash that nearly killed him. During a camping trip several months into his recuperation, they realized it was time to pursue their ultimate dream of living in Canada.
In 2013, they relocated to the Vancouver area. Now Canadian citizens, it is their forever place. Davies flexed her career to spend more time with her son and with his impending departure for college, is now upping her professional game. In addition to her Change in Action coaching business, she is the Founder of Outside of the Circle, a global community dedicated to helping successful high-level professionals redefine success to design their next chapter in life.
Reinvention at Any Age
You can reinvent yourself at any age. Just ask Ann Dowsett Johnston, an award-winning journalist and bestselling author who went back to college in her sixties to become a psychotherapist.
She spent 25 years working for Maclean’s magazine, Canada’s leading newsweekly, while raising a young son as a single mother. The Toronto resident became the Vice-Principal of McGill University in her mid-fifties. However, it was a difficult time, as she hit a huge depression tied to empty nest syndrome, menopause, and handling a demanding job that wasn’t a fit for her creative interests — all while juggling life as a highly-functioning alcoholic.
Dowsett Johnston left that role to take care of herself and got sober following rehab. She won a $100,000 fellowship to look at how the alcohol industry pitched women around the world. That work became the basis for her 2013 critically-acclaimed bestseller Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol. Dowsett Johnston’s personal story and efforts to destigmatize mental health and addiction resonated with millions of people through her writing and a highly popular TEDx talk.
Then she decided to fulfill a decades-old dream to become a psychotherapist, graduating with a master’s degree in Social Work at 65. The reinvention continues. Today at age 67, Dowsett Johnston leads a successful business called “Writing Your Recovery,” an online learning course for the healing power of writing about memoir.
“It takes gumption and for me, it also took the death of my parents to realize life is finite,” explained Dowsett Johnston. “I’m a big believer now in if you see something you need in life to seize it rather than postpone. Be prepared to be surprised by life. My experience is that God has a better imagination than I do. I’m constantly surprised at how remarkable life is, expanding like an accordion to offer us chances that are rich.”
A Fulfilling Process
Looking to reinvent yourself? Here are some tips to make this a fulfilling process:
1. Listen to your inner voice.
Like Dowsett Johnston, you may have craved a certain path and discarded it, only to revisit that dream later. Trust your gut as it chimes in about what excites you most. Make sure that you surround yourself with people who support those goals and tune any naysayers out.
2. Create a vision, but don’t be attached to it.
Think about how you would like to reinvent yourself. What is different, better, or more fulfilling? Then hold the resonance and intention of that vision without getting hung up on the specifics. Allow room for your expectations to be exceeded and to shift accordingly as your desires evolve as well.
3. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Change is hard. The process of reinvention often involves leaving one’s comfort zone. Give yourself grace and understanding as you navigate long-held emotions and beliefs that may need to be redefined.
4. Plan carefully.
Consider everything that needs to happen to propel your reinvention — financial, family, career, living and health considerations — and list it out. Be realistic in planning the necessary steps, knowing they will change as more becomes known.
“There were a million, trillion, small steps between leaving my corporate job, moving to Ireland and then going to Canada,” said Davies. “Having your safety nets in place for worst case scenarios ensures the change isn’t as big.”
5. Practice regular check-ins.
Davies recommends doing an internal assessment once a year to ensure you are living by your values. That helps you determine if further change is necessary.
“People believe logistics is the hardest part about making a shift, and what stops them. But the biggest obstacles are actually emotions, beliefs, their mindset and change agility,” she explained. “For most people, reinvention seems to happen when their reach an emotional tipping point, like a financial crisis, divorce, or an illness. Rather than being prompted by a setback, this should be a natural part of life.”
Have you ever reinvented yourself? What was that process like?