“You want a revolution,
I want a revelation.
So listen to my declaration.” Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
These times of global turmoil demand personal and professional reinvention. With many others you will feel the urge of reinventing yourself.
This article is a mosaic of personal experiences, as well as valuable insights gathered from conversations with coaching clients. It is aimed to spark a reflective pathway to start a journey of reinvention.
Many of us (mostly those with careers in corporate America) usually reach a point (prompted by stage of life, stage of the business, or stage of circumstance), in which we ask ourselves why and how to move forward with our lives -personally and professionally. We have forged a reputation backed by solid and successful careers based on 3 or 4 tricks that we do very well and which have permitted us to score some serious successes. So why change? And why now?
The current COVID-19 new-normal is providing a state-of-the-art springboard for personal reinvention. It metamorphosed the world as we knew it in a few days, tearing down “the way things were” into a new norm. The nudge to reinvent ourselves is self-evident.
Many of us don’t have places to go back to, or careers to resume, or business opportunities to realize. As Eric McNulty (Harvard University) says, resilience is not the ability to bounce back, but to bounce forward.
So here we are, without a world to go back to, and unsure where to bounce forward.
Prof. Carol Dweck (Stanford University and author) has laid the invaluable concepts of fixed and growth mindset. In my appreciation a fixed mindset is “the world is as it is. I am as I am. And that is that.”. Growth mindset as I see it deals with the concept of “things transform. There are many possible futures, and I can change.”
This second framework constitutes a venue for exploration, a radical necessary activity to realize personal reinvention. As Satya Nadella (Microsoft CEO) states, moving from a place of experts to a mindset of learners permits breakthroughs in technology… personally and professionally. When we are in the learner mindset, we are curious and ask questions; we allow ourselves to laugh at the incongruencies; we seek the company of others (and listen to them!); and we crowdsource our way forward.
Learning is about expanding what is known (the cozy, comfortable, predictable, “and who I am”), to allow ourselves some discomfort by trying and testing what we have never done. It’s about allowing revolution, revelation, declaration… or the three of them at the same time! It is moving from “this is who I am” to “this is what I am becoming” and opening endless possibilities.
This is a state-of-mind that practitioners in design thinking and futures thinking leverage systematically. It can yield surprising, expanded and inclusive results.
In my personal experience, the practice of yoga constituted a “via regia”. It has taught me to explore flexibility, find inner space, stretch where it seems I couldn’t, and see things from different perspectives as I do upside-down poses.
Finding a nurturing conversation between body and mind relays in four pillars: balance, strength, flexibility and opening. And most importantly, transitioning in and out of poses, finding and letting go in the flow.
Let me share 5 suggested-to-do strategies, certainly not new, that I “bundled” around the journey of personal reinvention, to prompt action for those that are ready to try:
- Be aware of the company you keep: the motivational speaker Jim Rohn states that you are (at least in part) a result of the 5 people you more frequently and extensively interact with. Design who you will pick as partners for your journey, make sure your buddies embody curiosity, exploration, and a good sense of humor..
- Design your day-to-day for exploration: if you want to lose weight, don’t leave a cake on your kitchen counter! Give yourself space and time to try new things, such as brushing your teeth with “the other hand”. That will start to create “memories” of “things done differently”.
- Exercise!: whatever you do, use your full lung capacity, raise your metabolism, elevate your cellular vibration. It is easier to change when your body is prepared and willing to. Convert your body into your ally for reinvention.
- Use frequently the “what if” mind frame, as in “what if I can respond differently?”, “what if she didn’t mean what I thought?”, “what if there is another way to solve this?”.
Unstuck your brain from “there is only one possible way”,
and start entertaining other possibilities.
- Keep a diary: collect your thoughts, and see your new
self revealing in the pages. Articulating in handwriting your thoughts will reduce anxiety and create some distance with emotions, and will prompt reflection and subsequent action.
Last but not least, when in doubt, revert to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words: “Every wall is a door”.
Pleasure is temporary and fleeting.
So stop chasing fireworks
and start building a constellation.
“..And when the danger had passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they themselves had been healed.”
One possible next normal is that decisions made during and after the crisis lead to less prosperity, slower growth, widening inequality, bloated government bureaucracies, and rigid borders. Or it could be that the decisions made during this crisis lead to a burst of innovation and productivity, more resilient industries, smarter government at all levels, and the emergence of a reconnected world. Neither is inevitable; indeed, the outcome is probably more likely to be a mix. The point is that where the world lands is a matter of choice—of countless decisions to be made by individuals, companies, governments, and institutions
By Erin Magner.
Think back to your elementary school playground. If it was anything like mine, it was a case study in how to have fun in a pure and free way, completely devoid of any self-conscious thoughts. On the blacktop of my alma mater, a group of gym-class heroes played kickball with World Cup-level intensity. In front of the school, the popular girls jumped rope and practiced their older sisters’ cheerleading routines until their voices were raspy. Yet another adventurous clique would flip and leap from the monkey bars, while across the street, the less athletically inclined kids (AKA me) would lose themselves in some elaborate game of make believe. The through line here is that we were all having joyful, thrilling fun. As I’ve grown up though, the very concept of fun has fallen victim to adulteration, a word whose very definition implies the act of corrupting something to make it impure. Basically, I’m confused about fun: how to do it, what it should feel like, and whether or not it’s even possible for adults.
On the whole, it’s safe to say that when we talk about adult revelry, the mood is usually a bit more… well, serious than it is when watching kids at play. Society has conditioned us to believe that adulthood means “acting your age” and adopting a calmer, more contained demeanor in order to fit in—even when you’re enjoying yourself. It’s hard for many people to break free of that construct (without the aid of a happy hour drink, that is), which is partly why, for me, sitting on my balcony with a good book and a coffee is peak “fun,” even though it probably wouldn’t look that way to many others.
While my reading oasis is restorative and happiness-boosting for me, is it exhilaratingly joyful, the way recess was during playground days? Definitely not. And for many of my peers in their thirties, those moments of really letting loose are few and far between, and when they do come about, it’s tough to stay present in the moment. And, according to mental-health pros, this widespread fun confusion came to be for a number or reasons—none of which are our fault, per se.
All work, no play makes you a millennial adult
Many millennials were raised to value hard work and success over fun and frolic, says therapist Marly Steinman, MFT. “If your parents were Boomers, there was this concept of working hard, having goals, and achieving things,” she says. “There’s a feeling that you have to burn the candle at both ends and work in a way that’s never-ending.” That adds up, because how can you not skew serious when you’re working wild hours to pay off your student loan debt and afford your overpriced rental apartment?
That feeling of always having to strive for something more can prevent a person from letting their guard down fully, which is critical for having fun. “Let’s say you are out with a group of friends, having dinner and catching up,” says therapist Alison Stone, LCSW. “If a large part of your mind is distracted—by the upcoming meeting you have, unreturned emails, a stressful project you’re behind on—it is difficult to be fully present in your current experience.”
When taken to extremes, the physical symptoms of stress and burnout make it even harder to kick back and have fun, says Steinman. If someone is drowning in deadlines and social obligations, their endocrine system dials up the production of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, and it takes time for the body to come back into balance. This is why, even when a person goes on vacation, it sometimes takes a few days before they’re able to truly relax.
Instagram vs. reality, or the paradox of fun
Work obligations aside, there’s another reason the nature of fun changes with age: the fact that many people feel pressure not just to have fun, but to also curate and document it for the world to see. “Before social media came into the picture, the only people who witnessed our free time was ourselves,” Steinman says. “Now, the perception of fun has become more important—it’s about what’s going to look desirable in a post. [When you’re at a big concert,] how many times have you seen more people taking videos of the concert than enjoying the concert?”
“The perception of fun has become more important—it’s about what’s going to look desirable in a post.” —therapist Marly Steinman, MFT
This has led many of us to start equating fun with big-ticket experiences that require money and access—and there’s a subtle misperception that one needs to go big in order to counteract all the stress in their lives. “I think it has started to feel like ‘getting away’ and attending specific events are our rewards for working so hard,” says Stone. “It’s important to have things to look forward to, but it’s also important not to feel that spending money or traveling are the only ways we can unwind and let loose.”
It’s possible to relearn how to have fun
So how does an overworked, Instagram-loving gal get out of her head and just live, already? According to both Steinman and Stone, the first step is to ditch your phone when you’re trying to have fun. That means no checking texts while your date’s in the restroom, no snapping pics of your dinner, and no scrolling through Instagram to see who’s having a more photogenic Saturday night than you. “All of this takes away from what we are supposed to be doing in the moment, which is enjoying others’ company, making new memories, listening to our friends or partners, laughing, joking, observing, people watching, and experiencing small moments of authentic joy and happiness,” says Stone.
If you want to have fun, you should also prioritize the activities that truly bring you joy, and obviously not just what you think is going to look good to other people, says Steinman. She also recommends taking time to decompress with meditation, a workout, or a walk in the fresh air before you embark on any sort of play time. These things will help you release any lingering tension and clear your mind of the day’s stressors so you can be fully present for fun.
Finally, although it may sound counterintuitive, Steinman and Stone both say that deliberately scheduling out downtime can actually make it easier for some personality types to loosen up. “Many people find scheduling to be anxiety-reducing,” Stone says. “You can have fun, and be present and uninhibited as a planner—not everyone is spontaneous.”
Ultimately, having childhood-level fun really just requires you to tap into your childhood self—pre-career and pre-social media. “Think of kids—they’re silly, they have no inhibitions, and they’re not worried about what they look like,” says Steinman. If that’s the case, my upcoming weekend is going to involve lots of friendship-bracelet-making and choreographing dance routines to Paula Abdul songs—how about you?
While celebrations are intended to honor life’s more momentous occasions, much of real life tends to happen during the in-between times. While moving from one moment in time to the next is seldom considered a significant occurrence, it is during those in-between times that we are most in tune with life’s most profound, albeit simple joys. Between birth and death, triumph and sorrow, beginnings and endings, we enjoy innumerable experiences that often happen unnoticed. These times are just as worthy of celebration.
The in-between times are seldom about landmark moments. How you choose to celebrate them or which moments you choose to celebrate is up to you. You may want to celebrate the simple facts that you are alive and that every day is a chance to spend time with the people you care about or do the work that you love. Then again, when you look at the good that exists in your life, many reasons for celebrating the in-between times may become clear: a cup of your favorite tea, a beautiful sunrise, a good book, and the smell of fresh air can be reasons for celebration.
Celebrating the in-between times can be as easy as paying special attention to them when they do happen, rather than taking them for granted. It’s your focus of attention that can turn an in-between time into a celebration. You can also pay homage to the in-between times by slowing down and allowing yourself time to look around and allow your heart and mind to take in all of your life’s wonders. Far too often, we can let those simple moments of awe pass us by. The in-between times are when life happens to us between the pauses that we take to honor our milestones occasions. Without the in-between times, there would be no big moments to celebrate.