Are you thinking of reinventing yourself? Then you must read this carefully before you begin.
Nowadays, you can barely flick through a magazine or browse the internet without being confronted with stories of people who have reinvented themselves, finding happiness and peace in the process.
For some people, the change may be subtle, such as a makeover in which they get a new hairstyle or a different wardrobe, so they look somewhat different to the person they were before.
Others might take a more extreme approach, changing career paths and physical location, like ditching a job as a lawyer or investment banker to grow kale and raise chickens on a rural farm half way across the country.
Making huge changes in our lives can be incredibly cathartic, but before taking any steps to do so, there’s one question that needs to be addressed honestly:
In making this change, are you moving towards or away from your authentic self?
Authenticity Vs. Acting
“To thine own self be true” is an adage that we should all adhere to. Yet countless people pretend to be something other than what they truly are inside – what they really want to be – in order to fit in to the social circles they believe they should be a part of.
There’s a huge difference between shedding an old skin that no longer fits you in order to become your most authentic self, and donning a costume that you think other people will like more.
Have you ever tried to pretend to be something you’re not for any length of time? It is utterly exhausting to maintain a façade for long, and even though it might be fun to immerse yourself in that role for a little while, you can soon end up quite miserable and resentful.
Things get even more complicated if other people’s lives end up wholly entwined with the façade you’ve been wearing.
For example, let’s say there’s a guy who really wants to live a nomadic lifestyle, traveling around the world and working part-time on organic farms while he writes the book he’s always dreamt of creating.
Maybe he’s from a well-to-do family that would balk at such a thing, so although he tried to rebel against their wishes when he was younger by joining a punk band and doing a couple of rounds in rehab, he eventually donned the mantle of someone they’d be proud of in an attempt to fit in.
A few years’ worth of golf tournaments and supper clubs later, he finds himself married to a beautiful partner he doesn’t love, with a child (or three) he resents for trapping him in a life he doesn’t want.
Although it would have been more difficult to claw through at first, wouldn’t being true to his authentic leanings have been a better choice in the long run?
There may be any number of reasons why people reinvent themselves in a direction that takes them away from authenticity rather than towards it, but a primary reason is simple acceptance.
Have you noticed how many people have a work wardrobe that is totally different from how they dress on their own time? For many, the job they do is a role they play, rather than an extension of their own authentic selves.
A fulfilling job that embodies a person’s true nature is a rare luxury. Many choose professions that they think will be stable and lucrative rather than because they fuel the soul.
When a person accepts a job that’s sensible rather than a passion, it often takes them much further from their authentic self than they might have originally intended.
It’s easy to push boundaries and incorporate aspects of one’s true leanings into things like wardrobe and desk accoutrements when one is a lower-level employee, but once promotions start taking place, things have to change.
A person might be told that they’d be up for a promotion if they dyed their hair back to a natural hue, or stopped wearing converse with their suits, so they change. Then they have to learn how to behave a certain way when interacting with the board of directors, so that’s another mask layer to slap on.
…and so it continues, layer upon layer. Considering how much time we spend working over the course of our lives, it can be easy to lose sight of who we really are when we spend 40+ hours a week pretending to be someone we’re not. (Or more than that, if the people we get into relationships with believe that we’re the mask that they see, rather than the being who is wearing it.)
Positive Ways To Reinvent Yourself
Rather than approaching reinvention by asking what you can change in order for other people to like and accept you more, a better approach is to ask yourself what aspects of your life you think you could (or should) change in order to live more authentically, and more in tune with who you really are.
This can be an intense approach because a lot of people really don’t know who they truly are inside; we all mask and mimic so much that the average person couldn’t write a clear profile about themselves if they had to.
If you feel like reinvention is in order, you can start by being really honest about yourself, acknowledging patterns of behavior that you’d like to change. This can be anything from chronic procrastination or avoidance, to ways that you may sabotage relationships over and over again.
Working on changing these habits can have positive, long-reaching effects on your entire life, but can be difficult to work through on your own. Getting help from a therapist or life coach may be a wise move in order to make real, lasting change happen.
Remember that you can start small! Reinventing yourself doesn’t mean turning your life completely upside-down; tiny life adjustments can lead to long-lasting change in a more meaningful way than selling all your belongings so you can live in a yurt in Nepal ever could.
If you’re trying to live more mindfully and in the present moment to alleviate anxiety, for instance, you can set aside a couple of 15-minute blocks of time a day (first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening, let’s say) for mindful meditation. If that works for you, you can increase it to 30-minute blocks.
If you feel like changing careers, try going part-time at your current job and taking another part-time gig in your newly chosen field to test the waters before diving in completely.
Authentic change isn’t easy, especially since it involves asking yourself some pretty difficult questions and acknowledging some truths that may be hard to accept. Really being sincere with your answers may reveal aspects that you’ve been avoiding coming to terms with, whether out of fear for yourself or for the possibility of disappointing and hurting others.
You may find that you’ve reached the limit of your capacity to be something you’re not, and never will be, and changing that will throw your life (and the lives of people close to you) into chaos for a while, but ultimately, you’ll probably be happier in the long run.
It’s easy to move into a new neighborhood or change your wardrobe, but changing careers or ending partnerships that no longer work is a different story altogether.
Ultimately, though, the situation comes down to you being honest with yourself about who you are now, who you want to be, and finding a path from one to the other.
Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.