Every few months I get a call, or a note, or a Facebook message. “I need to re-invent myself, and I’d like to pick your brain…can we meet for coffee/cocktails to talk?” I’m puzzled why I might be the re-invention counselor, as my friends are brilliant, brave and accomplished. But I never say no to coffee or a cocktail, so we meet and chat and re-invention commences (or it doesn’t).
Most of my friends are at least 50. This isn’t just about women, it’s men, too. They are talented and have passions and purpose. They have productive, professional careers…but something happens. An illness, or death of a loved one, a workplace reorg, a divorce, or kids finally out of the nest (really out, not just kind of out). There’s a moment where the opportunity for change shows up and stays, interrupting sleep and making a mess of itself.
What intrigues me though, is the language of re-invention. Why do we speak of it as becoming someone, or something new, rather than just claiming who we are? What if we shifted that language, and framed this moment as part of the path to change, rather than the need to create something different?
How does claiming vs. changing tee up what comes next, and how we feel about our past? Time doing x wasn’t wasted, it was purposeful for the place. It just was. And now it’s time for something else. But claiming who you are requires the work of introspection. And sometimes a reality check. Because, well, money. It requires committing to yourself, and finally walking down the path that you have glimpsed on the weekends, after work, or while on vacation. But it doesn’t require becoming a new person…it just requires showing up, right now (and yes, I am speaking to myself). And it’s not always an all or nothing proposition. Compromises are required to get from Point A to Point B, but eventually we carve out a way to be who we really are.
I have been a project manager, a copywriter, and a marketing consultant for years. I am pulled to be a writer…maybe a poet, or just a purveyor of always short and almost true stories. My daughters introduced me as their mother, the writer, years before I could do it myself. I don’t make a living as a creative writer, and I am still a learner in that world. But I think I diminish my talent if I say, “I want to re-invent myself as a writer and an artist” rather than “I am learning to be a writer” (or bolder yet, “I am a writer”).
I still need to work for my clients at the studio, and will require a paycheck for several more years. But I can start the path of claiming who I am, right now. I don’t need to reinvent myself, I just need to be myself.
I’ve watched some of my friends transition gracefully. Linda was a graphic designer, then a single mom, then a elementary school teacher, then a retiree and a caregiver for her own mother. She is an artist now, teaching classes, hanging shows, delighting all of us with her work. She didn’t reinvent herself, she just showed up as Linda, with all of these incredible, inspiring components to her life. She claimed herself, for who she is, right now. I met Jamie when she owned a software company (that specialized in change management!) and she became a client and friend. She’s traversed many careers, and has always found and made beauty. She landed as our town’s most talented real estate agent. And now she’s a painter. Someday she will paint more, sell less (or sell her paintings, and I will be first in line). I have other friends who seem to have grown into who they are, rather than changing who they are.
And that’s what I want. For all of us. The language is nuanced, yes, but the difference is distinct, at least for me.