“Reinvent yourself” is a modern mantra for countless Americans.
In the years since digital disruption and the economic recession, we still see proof all around us. So many Americans are having to reinvent themselves to keep their careers going, to find a new one, or just to make a living.
We say we’re reinventing ourselves, or developing a new personal brand.
If we all write the story of our lives, then sometimes we have to turn a page, right?
Russ Kendall, a photojournalist, left newspapers five years ago to run a pizza restaurant in Washington State. Russ and I worked together in Alaska in the early ‘90s. I left the business a decade ago. Since then, tens of thousands of jobs disappeared in the industry.
Russ started a Facebook group for ex-newspaper people. He calls it What’s Your Plan B and it has more than 10,000 members. Many have shared their stories of despair and inspiration.
“This group is designed not so much to share the horror stories we all have but more to help each other to move forward with a successful Plan B,” Russ says.
Newspaper guru Jim Romenesko wrote a nice little piece about it here. He shared this: “Most of the posts are serious, but I laughed at this one: ‘Um.. Photojournalism WAS my plan B. Plan A was to own a video rental store.’”
Not for just journalists
It’s not just the news business that got the rug pulled out from under it. And some people choose to change their lives, or at least create a new personal brand, for other reasons.
- I know a doctor who left his practice and went back to school in his 50s to get another advanced degree. He then changed cities and career focus. He’s still a doctor, but in an entirely different field. He wanted to make a big change for the remaining chapters of his career and took empowering, successful steps to do it.
- He and I were having dinner recently. The waiter, clearly 40-ish, joked that he was a college sophomore, so we asked him about that. He said he’s going to nursing school so he can help people and have a new, more rewarding career.
- Another friend used to be a high-flying chef in New York City, back when he was wild and single. Now a happily married dad of three in an Atlanta suburb, he runs a family travel business with his wife. Side jobs cooking and teaching give him an outlet for his passion and skill in the kitchen.
- And Friday night, I went to a wedding reception. The couple had asked a friend, an IT professional of 30 years, to prepare his gourmet cupcakes. He’s testing the waters for a new chapter of his own. (I told him he had to do it – the cupcakes were that good.)
Jackie Onassis and me
Here’s a little story that helped change my life a few years ago, when I realized I needed a Plan B.
One day when Jackie Onassis was a book editor at Doubleday in the 1970s, her assistant came into her office and said, “Mrs. Onassis, your next appointment is here.”
Jackie slowly looked up and breathily asked, “And what does this one want to write a book about?”
“She wants to educate people about how to host dinner parties, make nice invitations, entertain properly in the home – that kind of thing,” the assistant said.
Jackie didn’t blink. “But doesn’t everyone already know how to do that?” she said, as the assistant brought in … Martha Stewart.
Reinvent how you see yourself
Cute story, right?
A friend shared it when I had decided to leave the newspaper industry. I had begun networking with people in other businesses, and I was overwhelmed by the alien tones of bizspeak. I struggled to see how I could fit in with “just” my reporting, writing and newsroom leadership experience.
“You think just because you can write well that everybody can write well,” my friend said. “Is that what all you newspaper people think – that you don’t know how to do anything special? Every day, you lead meetings and send out reporters to cover the news, and then you make a hundred business decisions about the product your company sells.”
That’s when my friend smiled and shook his head and told me about Jackie and Martha.
Then I understood. Maybe my skills and experience were, indeed, special. Maybe I could be of use to a different kind of organization. Maybe “newsman” didn’t have to be my only personal brand.
Armed with this fresh perspective, I continued networking and eventually found a place to work in corporate communications, where I felt appreciated in my transition into the business world.
I tell that story a lot when I hear people with career troubles in any industry.
- Look around.
- Do your homework.
- Forget the nonsense you’ve been told.
Not everybody knows how to do what you do.
Plenty of articles, resources
Many good articles and resources are online for anyone wanting to write their own Act 2. Here are a few:
- “Major life changes are never easy, because your instincts and the urgent matters of the day work against you. But when you learn to focus on your future self, you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve,” says a Psychology Today article.
- From The Harvard Business Review: How to Reinvent Yourself After 50.
- From techcrunch.com: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Reinventing Yourself.
- “Are you serious about transformation? I’m not talking about polishing yourself, improving yourself, making things a bit better. I’m talking about the reset button—a reinvention that changes the game. That means an overhaul in what you believe and how you do your job. If you’re up for that, then right here, right now, you can start. How? Do work that matters.” From a success.com piece headlined Ways to Reinvent Yourself.
- From Forbes: Five Steps to Reinventing Yourself Professionally.
How about you? Share your experiences below or in an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.