After a successful professional career in fashion, arts, and blogging, I went into my fifties feeling empty, lonely, and desperate. I think many people find themselves in times of crisis where they don’t recognize their lives. As I starred down a dark hole, I came to realize that the only way I was going to see the light at the bottom of the tunnel was to be my own person, to be who I had been waiting to be forever. I felt I had wasted years not believing in who I was. So it was time for me to find my life. But getting from there to here is hard, largely because some powerful psychological forces align against reinvention. I struggle with those doubts, those mental scars daily. I focus on finding harmony between what really matters to me and the goals I want to chase. To reinvent my life, I needed to see me as me and stop imagining ‘that person as a stranger.’
When you know who you are, you can then recognize what you need to overcome. Once I reached that point, I discovered that it helped me manage my emotions and prevent them from sabotaging my future hopes and goals. Of course, there are dark days and days in which I struggle to keep my footing, but I no longer beat myself up about that. I just go with the flow. I walk my dogs, chat with my friends and family, and revert to my writing to edge me back into my new life.
So how does one reinvent?
“We have to modify our identities as we go through life,” says Ravenna Helson, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. She directed the Mills Study, which followed some 120 women over 50 years, examining personality traits, social influence, and personal development and proving in the process that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself. “Even at 60,” Helson says, “people can resolve to make themselves more the people they would like to become. In the Mills Study, about a dozen women showed substantial positive personality change from ages 60 to 70.”
But of course it’s wise to get an earlier start. “You can’t accomplish the difficult things in a day or even a week or, in my case, even in 12 and a half years,” says Art Markman, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of Smart Change . More than a decade ago, Markman set out to learn to play the saxophone well enough to join a band. “You have to give yourself enough time to actually accomplish your goal,” he says.
If you don’t have long-term goals, Markman warns, you run the risk of doing lots of little things every day—cleaning the house, sending emails, catching up on TV—without ever making a contribution to your future. That can leave you feeling restless and unfulfilled. “It’s the big picture things that give life meaning,” he says, “like parenting or becoming an expert at something.”
How do you know what you should be striving for? “Project yourself deep into the future and ask: What will I regret not having done?” Markman suggests, and then work backward to avoid that end. “Use that as a way of planning your life.”
In my case, I tapped into my creativity, my love of dogs, and my business experience to lay a path on which I want to walk. It’s easy to give in to our typical everyday self, struggling to shift our normal traits—fear, passiveness, procrastination—that consistently hold us back. I can’t urge you enough to face the fear, dig deep for the energy, and punch through your doubts. For a long time, not only did I overestimate my ability to achieve change, I underestimated the effort it would require and the toll it took. I would daydream about my book being adapted to a film and being acclaimed at Sundance without considering the work of producing it. We all dream of victory celebrations. Few of us fantasize about practicing. I am working hard towards achieving the dream. It’s an emotional roller coaster but at least this time I am controlling the switch.
Are you waiting to be who you are?
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