When I recovered from a breakdown I thought that my “re-invention” was complete. I’d gone through the typical “Heroes Journey” and emerged a happier, stronger, better version of me.
If you don’t know Joseph Campbell’s work, the Heroes Journey is a common story structure followed by many cultures, in which a character leaves their humble life to go on an unexpected adventure to overcome some great challenge. They have to face hardship and tests of character usually in the form of evil demons and impossible tasks, and learn something new, before they can return home, transformed, to share their gifts with others.
This structure underpins almost every successful story we love to watch or read (think Star Wars/The Hobbit), and coaches use it as a metaphor to help people go through their own transformation journeys.
My version was leaving a small village to create a successful career in the big town, spending years on autopilot acquiring success and wealth, only to find it not enough. Struck down by stress and ill health, I go to rock bottom, find myself lost, face my inner demons, rebuild myself, find a purpose, and return to my old life transformed, ready to share all my new skills and experiences with others so they don’t have to go where I did.
The new me was here. Job done.
How naive. Fast forward 6 years and I’m now in the middle of another huge, life changing transition period. In just 18 months I’ve gone from being a corporate career woman, a daughter, a partner and a cat parent – in a relatively stable world – to a business owner navigating the entrepreneurial roller coaster in the middle of a global pandemic sans partner, mum, cat and a few other family members who sadly didn’t make it through this year.
So, this is why most good films have sequels repeating the same story!
It’s funny because I spent years leading people through change. Creating that bold vision for the future, setting goals, planning for the unexpected. I was an expert in helping them navigate their emotions, process grief and come out the other side stronger and better equipped for the next time such a change happened. Only I still felt blind-sided when hit by my own tsunami of change.
So, I know a bit about change and personal growth. I know that the only thing certain in life is change and therefore nothing is certain. I know that as humans we like to feel a sense of control, and we love familiarity because it’s safe. And when we find a place where we feel happy and content and safe most of the time, we do whatever we can to stay there.
Except life doesn’t work that way.
In the blink of an eye our comfortable, familiar lives can shift in ways we never imagined. We can lose a job, a loved one, our health. We can find ourselves having to make decisions we never thought we’d have to make.
Bruce Feiler, a writer of a book called “Life is in the Transitions – Mastering Change at any Age” calls these moments Lifequakes. He interviewed hundreds of people who had experienced life changing transitions and coded them into patterns. In Thrive Global he wrote “The most challenging step may be the first. Lifequakes can be voluntary or involuntary, but the transitions that grow out of them must be voluntary. You must choose to enter this state of change….Transitions involve three distinct phases. I call them “the long goodbye,” “the messy middle” and “the new beginning.”
I find myself now somewhere in between all 3 all at once, reminding us that transitions are not experienced on a set timeline. The important thing is that we process our emotions, learn the lesson and enter our “new beginning” armed with more wisdom and a better idea of who we are and what we want.
So, here’s what I’ve learned through my experience of making a success of such transitions (so far) and my own journey of re-invention.
You have to get intentional about what you want
Being made redundant? Going through a personal loss? Realised there’s more to life? Feeling stuck trying to make a business or relationship work?
I’ve been there.
If you do not face reality, and are not intentional about what you want instead, you will feel lost, stuck and out of control.
Accept what’s happened has happened. Work out what you can and can’t change. See it as an opportunity and grab it with both hands.
Take this time out to work out who you are and what you want. Most of us are finding our usual distractions are limited now, and we have more time with our families, partners, or alone. We have ALL been jolted out of autopilot this year and this means being faced with our own fears, broken coping strategies and dreams not yet realised.
There is no better time to look inwards, face your fears and be really honest with yourself about how you’re feeling about the life you’ve created so far.
And yes, I say created, because although we have little control over our circumstances, we do have the ability to control what we create for ourselves and your current situation is likely to be a culmination of decisions you did or didn’t make.
Start by asking yourself those big questions you’ve either been avoiding or “not had time” for:
Who do I want to be? What do I want more of in my life? What do I want less of? Who do I need to be to achieve the life I want? What would I do if I wasn’t afraid? What am I afraid of? Listen to that small voice inside that’s been trying to get your attention to tell you what you really want. Your inner wisdom, intuition or spirit guide! However that shows up for you, listen to the message.
A good idea is to write down important areas of your life and rate them out of 10. This could be health, career, relationships, personal growth.. whatever is important to you. This can show you where you’re out of balance and which areas need more attention.
Once you have a clearer picture of this start working out how to get there. What do you need to do or change? Who do you need support from? What’s stopping you?
Then take action.
Yes you will feel uncomfortable. Yes you will start to justify why you can’t do these things. Why you “can’t because” or why your past story means this just isn’t available to you. This is your mind trying to sabotage you. More on that later.
It is absolutely a choice to make, despite difficult circumstances or painful emotions.
You have to heal from the inside first
Why? Because your limitations come from within. Your habit of thought and habit of action are deeply rooted into your subconscious and whenever you go through change, in they come to keep you stuck where you are. It’s like little gremlins that run around in your head making mischief and pulling wires out to distract you from doing what you need to.
Your mind is just trying to keep you safe. And safe means staying where you are. Because your mind believes that the very fact you’re still breathing must mean you are in a great place of safety and it’s really not worth the risk going anywhere else.
Your mind doesn’t care if you’re happy or sad, or de-motivated, or secretly harboring a life- long dream to become a writer, or an artist, or a nurse, or whatever your vocation is. Because that’s change, and change is uncertain, and uncertainty creates fear. We are hard wired to move away from fear.
Healing from the inside just means becoming more self-aware and then taking action to address the limitations that are stopping you from becoming who you want to be. Perhaps you’re stuck in an old story about yourself, you have a certain pattern of behaviour, or limiting beliefs about who you are and what you can achieve. These show up in how you react to others, how you deal with problems, whether or not you take opportunities, and how you deal with failure.
Finding and changing these patterns and beliefs are essential to creating a life you want. Because otherwise you are just living in the past. And as I always say, if you don’t you’re just bringing your 7-year-old self to the table. And 7-year-old adults are not very good at coping with life.
This year has been a huge test for me. I’ve built a business from scratch, embraced social media, put my writing out there, made videos, created courses, and helped people transform their lives.
To do this I had to face and heal my visibility fears, stop being a perfectionist, overcome imposter syndrome, and generally get un-stuck so I can take the action to shift from a passion hobby to an actual business! Anyone embarking on a journey as an entrepreneur will know this is a lonely path that forces you to confront every block you didn’t know you had and face every fear you wanted to hide from. But despite some days wanting to wallow in all the losses that have hit this year I’m still here, and I’m still working on my inner self.
You need to tell yourself a different story
You can’t change your past, but you can change the meaning you made of it. Why does this matter?
Your mind believes what you tell it. The lens through which you look at your life is going to tell your body how to feel. Think of the stories you read about people who have experienced hardship in their lives. We’re either reading about a victim who stayed a victim and is still suffering, or a victim who decided not to be defined by their terrible circumstances and chose not to be a victim who has overcome adversity to create a positive life for themselves. Who are we most inspired by? Which type of person do you want to be?
Our past story is so powerful because it defines who we are, our character, how we see the world, and our beliefs about ourselves and our abilities. The problem is our memories are unreliable, we learn from poor role models, and beliefs are often mistakes. For example, children that are let down can form a belief that they’re not worth anything as an adult. Children who are rewarded only when they get good grades or win something form a belief that love is conditional and failure is not an option. Children who come from broken homes don’t learn what a loving relationship looks like.
In my life I’ve experienced living with limited money and opportunities which made me think I wasn’t capable of much. Physical and emotional abuse which resulted in food issues, weight problems and not feeling good enough. Parents who despite their best efforts weren’t able to show me what a healthy relationship looked like.
I’m still working on my story, but I can tell you I’ve created a far more positive one than the one I used to hold on to, and that’s reflected in my ability to write more openly about my experiences, to show up more authentically in my work and personal life and to take braver action towards creating the business and lifestyle that I want.
So you may have had a difficult past and often this same story can show up in your present. But it’s never too late to change your story and it’s in your power to create a new happier chapter of your life.
Reinvention is constant
This year in particular we have all been shown just how fast our familiar lives can disintegrate, and change, but also more importantly how adaptable and resilient we are.
Suddenly barriers that seemed impossible to overcome have been broken down, rules changed overnight, huge shifts occurred in the way we live, work and communicate. Offices that were once seen as essential lie empty. Education is happening in the home. Businesses are working together for the greater good. Everyone is pivoting.
We all woke up to the fragility of life and at the same time how easy it can be to change and create new possibilities. This is our re-set. As we move slowly and cautiously towards a new normal, why not create a new normal you’ll actually enjoy and thrive in?
With the right mindset and self-awareness it’s possible to keep re-inventing yourself. It doesn’t need to be a huge transformation, maybe all you need is a series of course corrections. Try something new, learn from it, adjust, try again. As long as you’re moving forward and not staying stuck you are being the creator of your own life.
You are capable of far more than you think
We all have untapped potential. I hope you’ve taken that much from this blog. It’s up to you to tap into that, if that’s what you want. Once you’ve made a choice you just need to keep going and arm yourself with a good toolkit to manage your emotions so you can show up as your best self in that moment.
My journey has not been easy, and it continues to not be easy, but on the days when self-doubt tries to creep back in, and the critical voice tries to take me down, I keep going. I always get a message from somewhere, whether it’s in the form of an opportunity, a phone call from someone unexpected, a client telling me how I’ve made a difference to their life… and it reminds me to stay on my path.
So I challenge you to be intentional. Take charge of your life. Create the version of you that you really want to be. It’s all possible.
I’ve chosen to believe that life is happening for me, not to me. You can borrow that one if you like!