Sunday, February 7, 2016

How to reinvent yourself

An end is a new beginning.

In today's fast and volatile economy, you have to know how to reinvent yourself, and be comfortable doing it.

How did you end up here?

There can be many reasons why you came to feel like you hit a dead end.  It's life.

Maybe you got passed over for a promotion, and now you feel stuck.  Or worse, you got fired from your job.  Even a successful professional might be yearning for meaning, asking if she chose the right profession.

Maybe you are turning a new chapter in your personal life.  Are you going through a separation?  Or did you lose someone you love?  You can't help but think of those missed moments for a deeper connection.

You know that dwelling on the past won't change the present, but you can't help it.  It hurts.  It's life.  But, how can you move past the struggle in your life, stronger and better?

Coming to America

We have different expectations about what living well means today than generations before.  Only about a century ago, millions of immigrants were coming to America to start over.  Correction.  Millions are still coming to America to start a new job, new life, new culture, new family.

When my parents came to America (from Korea), they didn't really know how the future would turn out.  They settled in, learned the language, and continued their self-education to provide a better life for the family.

My mom didn't have a college degree when she came to America (she had dropped out to raise us in Korea).  But, she worked during the day, drove us to sports and music, and then attended evening classes.  She eventually got a master's degree in education.  Today, she teaches ESL kids who are near and dear to her heart.  I still don't know how she did it, but she did it.

So How?

Have No Regrets

When I moved to Silicon Valley and started hustling for startups, I was a fish out of water.  I'd trained as a corporate middle management, and had a freshly minted MBA.  It was little (i.e. no) help in freelancing.  I had to try new things, fail a lot, and learn how to sell something to make a buck.

More than once, I wondered: what the hell am I doing?  Why didn't I stay in my corporate gig complete with a six figure salary and plenty of upside?  I had plenty of reasons (boredom, stagnation, people, etc).

But, the point is, I left because I wanted to be something else.  How am I doing on that path?

I can choose to dwell on the past, or I can focus on thinking of what I am trying to become.  It's a simple choice.  So, no regrets.

Nothing Is Wasted: You're Just Training

No regrets.  Easier said than done, right?  One thing that might help you is to think of any setback as training in progress.  It's like the old saying, if it doesn't kill you, it only makes you stronger.  Why is that?  It's because you're learning, and you're experiencing something that will help you be more mature or more skilled next time you encounter a challenge.

You see this all the time with little children.  Today they fall.  Tomorrow they walk a little better.  Today they struggle with words.  Tomorrow they are pointing and talking non-stop.  (I have a cute niece who's now going through this phase.)

You're the same.  You're just being put through a trial so you can get better.  Practice makes perfect. (So many cliches.  Want one more?  No pain, no gain.)  Take things in stride, and think of how you can best take advantage to improve as much as possible this go around.

After he had invented the first phonograph and the lasting lightbulb, Thomas Edison became a national sensation.  But, Edison lost the electricity battle (AC/DC), and then Edison went into mining.  Mining turned out to be a disaster.  But, that didn't stop Edison.  He put the different experiences together - the light, the phonograph that recorded sound - and he put together what was the first motion picture camera in the world.  He was a master at reinventing himself, because he was always learning.  (Found a Kindle bio of Edison for free at the time of this post.)

Learn and Invest

I know I focus on this a lot, but it's true.  Learning and adapting is what makes us human.  If you don't learn from your failures, then that really is regrettable.

It's about building self-awareness to learn what works and what doesn't work for you.  How can you do it better next time?

You know how in stock market they say, buy low and sell high?

Well, if you are in a low, then perhaps it's a great time to invest for the future.  What new skills could you pick up?

Going back to my story, I'm now back in a corporate workplace.  The time I spent hustling taught me so much about how to build something new and create value.  In my work today, I have to know both finance and sales.  Thanks to the different experiences I've had, I know how to do both (otherwise, I'd only know accounting).

Treat Yourself

Reinventing yourself, becoming something better, is all about a mindset.  If you resist and moan about changing, you'll be miserable.  You'll become grumpy and stressed out.  Instead, if you take new challenges and competition as a way to learn and improve, you'll derive a new sense of purpose.

Staying healthy helps.  I take health for granted.  But, whenever I'm down with a migraine, I realize just how lucky I am to be physically healthy.  Physical and mental health go hand in hand.  Make sure you are taking care of yourself physically so you can stay mentally focused, and vice versa.

You know best how to get fit.  It might involve going out for a long run.  It might be eating less sugar and healthier fare.  Or it might be things you don't do, like eating ice cream and watching TV till 2 AM.

It Takes a Village

This can be hard, because whatever you are going through feels very personal.  It's your own cross to bear, and no one understands you.  Except, it's not true.  You'll be so much happier if you can share your troubles with a close friend.

In a professional setting, you don't even have to disclose your feelings.  Just be honest about challenges you are facing and your desire to overcome them.  Enlist your manager and your teammates help you get through the situation.  If you approach it in a mature fashion no one will shy away from helping you.  It's practically their job to help you.

Speak up and don't be shy to share that you want help.  People love working in teams and helping others.  Give them a chance to step up.


A lot of this is just a mind game.  That's the battle you have to win first.  If you can get comfortable with looking forward rather than back, and taking a learning attitude and invest in yourself, then you'll become a master at reinventing yourself.

Further Reading

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