“The world keeps changing. It is one of the paradoxes of success that the things and the ways which got you where you are, are seldom those that keep you there.” ~ Charles Handy
This year, the company I founded will turn 25.
I still remember my excitement carrying samples of the new floor coverings we had just imported from Spain. I remember the joy of watching customers’ eyes light up.
That excitement and joy lasted many years. Lately, however, I have felt an internal pull to do something different.
My higher self is demanding change.
Consequently, I’ve spent much of the last few years seeking the “right” path. I’ve worked tirelessly on myself. I’ve sought to know myself, love myself, and reinvent my life.
I’ve often faced ridicule for not being the person society wants me to be. However, many of my loved ones have also encouraged my efforts. They keep me going.
I now recognise that we must all go through a period of reflection in which we sit down and look at what matters most to us. Call it half-time, mid-life crisis, or re-invention.
What gives us the most meaning?
The process of asking this question re-aligns us with our core self. It helps us become, in Maslow’s words, “who we must be.”
In Jeff Olson’s book The Slight Edge, he explains how the Apollo rocket flying to the moon was off course 97 percent of the time. It was only on course three percent of the time. Continually re-adjusting itself, it reached the moon—safely—and returned to tell the tale.
Likewise, we must continually re-invent our lives. We must nurture this reinvention as a way of life. This process of alignment isn’t easy; it demands we get out of our comfort-zone, hit the ground running and overcome many trials before we discover our path.
I believe there are six tough steps we need to take before we can re-invent our lives.
1) Find the courage to question who we are.
Most of us think we know ourselves. The truth is, we have built our personality on how we want the world to perceive us. We lose our essence when we become civilised and domesticated. We cut parts of ourselves down to fit into boxes.
We arrive at certain points of our lives not knowing who we truly are. We have lived other people’s values, and our lives becomes empty and stagnant. Some of us are brave enough to dig deep into our psyche to find out more about our authentic self. Others manage to numb their feelings and stop asking any questions.
At the end of my life, I think it will be this period that I remember fondly—the constant questions and reflections. The examinations that led to tears rolling down my cheeks as I ran in the rain. The awe of reading Hesse’s Siddhartha. The great “aha” moment of listening to Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on Vulnerability and realising that not being vulnerable was my biggest obstacle.
Through this digging, I began to know myself and my values.
2) Listen to our internal voice.
Unfortunately, our inner voice doesn’t scream; it whispers. However, as we remove all the noise surrounding us, a gentle voice emerges. It becomes our guide and our GPS as we travel along this new path of our choosing.
Tom Clancy, one of the most successful authors in the last few decades, started off as an insurance salesman. He spent 15 years in the insurance industry before he felt an internal pull to write a novel. Over the following years, he would write after work and on the weekends. In 1984, he published his first book, The Hunt for Red October. He had hoped to sell 5,000 copies, but ended up selling almost two million by the end of the decade. Clancy went on to write 17 New York Times bestsellers, and his books have sold 100 million copies in total. All because he listened to his inner voice.
3) Face the fears that will undoubtedly stand in our way.
Three fears will always follow us when we attempt to change our lives:
Fear of failure: We are afraid to fail, because we care how people will look at us if we do.
Fear of not being enough: What if we’re not up to it? Aren’t we better off hiding that novel in the drawer? Isn’t it safer to not risk leaving our cubicle job to backpack around the world?
Fear of uncertainty: We as human beings hate change and love certainty. We loathe rocking our comfort zones. And yet it is outside our comfort zone that we find the juice, the learning, the meaning.
We face our fears by allowing them to rise without pushing them aside. We sit with them, feel them and let them pass. We find that, most of the time,our fears don’t equate to reality. The anticipated hurricane Katrina fizzles out into a small storm.
4) Develop thick skin by attaching meaning to our path.
Often the path is long and arduous. It’s filled with many cul de sacs and distractions, which could easily become pitfalls. However, we persevere by keeping the endgame in mind—the reason we get up every morning.
I could (and hope to) spend years reading, writing and learning, because I derive my meaning from these pursuits. More importantly, I feel I can serve humanity through my writing. That faith helps me to persevere through the rejection, social exile and loneliness it can cause.
5) Find a guide to help us on our path.
We all need teachers, guides and mentors to help us along the way. Many of us find mentors in family, friends, virtual groups and books. These guides not only teach us, but hold us accountable to change as well.
Rumi changed from an ordinary scholar to one of the greatest poets seeking truth and love, only through the mentorship of Shams Tabrizi. Ralph Waldo Emerson mentored and worked closely with poet and transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau.
Every year, a few writers,bloggers and other innovators blow my mind.Their lessons come to me through books, blogs and podcasts. I feel that I’m on the same wavelength; I take their teachings to heart and use them to affect change in my life.
6) Build a support system.
How can we re-invent ourselves when we are sick, desperate for money, or spiritually defunct? We must maintain our physical and emotional well-being and recognise that we can both pay the bills and reinvent our lives. Tom Clancy wrote in the evenings and on the weekends, maintaining his business for five years before getting into full-time writing.
In addition, we need the support of loved ones around us to pick us up when we fall and cheer us on when we need it most. We are on a long trek, and we need as much help as we can get.
When our lives become listless, the question is not if we should re-invent ourselves, but rather how quickly we can do so. Because if we don’t, we might just find ourselves becoming bitter and cynical. Or worse, finding ways to dull our lives into worthlessness.
However, reinvention is possible. As long as we are committed, we can achieve it. I have followed the above six steps, and I’m slowly but surely realigning my life to my core.
Credit: Elephant Journal