Reinventing ourselves is not easy. In fact, most people don’t stay the course and succeed. Have you ever heard the cynical viewpoint “A leopard can’t change its spots?”
There’s definitely a science and an art to taking yourself to the next level. And while each person and his or her circumstances are different, there are some common elements that everyone could benefit from. So, if you want to reinvent yourself you need to know what to expect and how to deal with it. You need to:
1. Tolerate things getting worse before they get better. I often tell people, “When you take a stand about reinventing yourself, the universe listens and then says: ‘Let’s see if you are serious about this.'” To check you out, it throws you some initial challenges. If you overcome the “small” stuff it sends you “medium-level” barriers. And if you stay the course and overcome these, you’ll get even bigger challenges. But, if you overcome all these, the universe concludes: “Yes, you are for real,” and it starts sending you spiritual and material support to fulfill your commitment. The problem is that most people give up too quickly. They don’t stick around long enough to gain the rewards.
2. Act and behave in counterintuitive ways. There is a phase in the caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly — when it emerges from the cocoon — that life seems upside down. It still thinks as a slow-crawling creature, and suddenly it has only two legs and two big heavy wings on its back. What a burden! For a high-strung, aggressive and driven person, staying calm and not immediately responding to a critical situation could feel quite counterintuitive. It’s like when you learn to ski; you start falling to one side and intuitively you want to swing away. But, you are supposed to lean into the fall rather than away from it. For a driven person, staying calm feels like “laziness, complacency, dropping the ball or slacking off.” But, to reinvent yourself, you have to stay the course and trust the process.
3. Stay courageous. It’s scary to reinvent yourself. You are in new territory. You go through a roller coaster of emotions including fear, hopelessness and resignation. And, your mind constantly tries to persuade you to draw back, saying things like: “It wasn’t a good idea!”; “You were in over your head!”; and “What were you thinking?” So, you need to stay present and “out of your head.” And, keep reminding yourself to focus on making progress, not achieving perfection. Winston Churchill said: “Success consists of moving from failure to failure without any loss of enthusiasm”. He meant that courageous leaders stay the course regardless of their emotions or circumstances. This is required in any reinvention process.
4. “Fake it till you make it.” When I was a junior consultant at the beginning of my career, I had to wear a suit and tie to all my client engagements. I came from a small village where the dress code was extremely casual. In the first year of my career, I kept having this nagging feeling that I was out of my league, out of place and a phony. But, over time, the image and role grew on me, or I grew on them. I started feeling at home with my new identity and role. I have experienced this cycle many times since. So, to succeed, you need to box yourself in, say what you’ll do and do it regardless of how you feel, even if it feels robotic or contrived. And if your mind plays tricks on you, like mine does, just say back: “Thank you for sharing,” and keep going.
Reinvention is difficult — just ask that caterpillar. But the benefits in personal and professional growth are worth the price of a few moments of discomfort.
Gershon Mader, founder and president of Quantum Performance, a management consulting firm specializing in generating total alignment and engagement in organizations. He is an expert on transformational leadership, strategic commitment, mergers, acquisitions, getting employees aligned for change, as well as the co-author of “The Power of Strategic Commitment,” a best-seller covering his work with over 60,000 people.
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