Project Self: 7 Steps to Reinvent How You Live, Learn, Work and Play - Rolling Stone
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Project Self: 7 Steps to Reinvent How You Live, Learn, Work and Play

Old paths, old perspectives and old habits must change to make room for the new.

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Gajus —

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Reinvention is born from disruption. And there’s been no bigger disruption than the pandemic. It has forced us to reflect on what really matters to us and has altered how we live, learn, work and play. While the 2020s started with the promise of innovation and change, much like its century-old predecessor the Roaring Twenties, instead we were served challenges that have made the past few years some of the most daunting we’ve faced in generations.

But when devastating things happen, creativity and ingenuity often thrive and reinforce our resilience. Deep, existential crises can also lead to introspection, which in turn can stimulate reinvention and change.

With that in mind, the promise of the new Roaring Twenties — life post-pandemic — may still be possible as we rediscover the joys of life, according to doctor, medical sociologist and professor at Yale, Nicholas Christakis. How soon? Christakis, a social epidemiologist who’s done extensive research on the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic and its aftermath, estimates the time for new beginnings and reinvention will be closer to 2024.

But why wait? In truth, reinvention is a strategy for self-renewal and transformation. And like any new venture, be it a project self or a new business, it involves taking chances and making sense of emerging opportunities over time.

Now is the perfect time to reinvent ourselves.

From my experience as a wellness consultant for C-suite leaders, right now may be the perfect time to reinvent ourselves. That way, we’ll be ready to handle new ways of living, learning, working and leading. I like to think of it as a “project self.” I’ve been inspired by INSEAD professor and leadership expert Herminia Ibarra’s classic tome on changing careers Working Identity. Over the course of my career leading senior executives through the process of self-transformation, I’ve found a few practices to be helpful. As I’ve learned, you often must make those opportunities happen yourself, but a structured process can help.

Wondering how to get started? Here are seven steps I developed based on my belief that, rather than waiting for a catalyst to spur change, we should actively explore possibilities and seize opportunities. I’ve used them time and time again with clients and myself to spur reinvention and positive change.

1. Connect with role models and mentors.

Regeneration doesn’t happen in isolation. Shifting connections and changing relationships, especially in your professional life, helps you grow into your new possible self. Find role models and mentors who are in industries or roles you’re interested in. Engage with these people and open your mind to what you can learn from them and their experiences. Having support can help your chances for success as you figure out your own path for change and reinvention.

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2. Look around and open your view.

While connecting with role models and mentors, don’t rely on them to the exclusion of your own instincts, attitudes and ideas. Be observant. Ask, feel and notice everything around you and expand your view like a wide-angle lens. But don’t hesitate to question others’ opinions and your own as well. Being open, inquisitive and perceptive dissolves the normal distinction between what you think you are, or are not looking for, and helps you gain experience and understanding.

3. Explore any and every possibility you find appealing.

Experiment with different roles or paths. Expand your understanding of what’s possible and try out different ideas. Craft and execute “identity experiences.” Doing this allows you to experiment with new roles. Take note of what you like and what you don’t like about the roles you experiment with. Keep the momentum going and learn how to survive the rocky period that ensues when something doesn’t work out or you are transitioning between careers.

4. Make time for reflection.

It’s important to have time to synthesize experiences — to unravel them to inform future options and actions. This is crucial for ongoing growth and development; research reported in Harvard Business Review shows that “employees who spent 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting about lessons learned performed 23% better after 10 days than those who did not reflect.” Step back periodically but not for too long.

5. Decide what to abandon.

Old paths, old perspectives and old habits must change to make room for the new. Allow yourself a period of transition while you weigh the pros and cons of leaving a certain career behind. As you start on your new path, leave whatever will not help you on your journey.

6. Integrate and experiment.

Like building any new habit, the most effective way to achieve success is to make big changes in small steps. Make changes in your life step by step, but consistently practice observing yourself along the way to get where you want to go.

7. Don’t predetermine your goals before you get there.

We don’t always have a clear idea of where we are going or where we want to end up. Get out of your own way and let this process reveal new benchmarks for success. Reorder your priorities and explore newfound interests. Always update your commitments and goals.

I’ve found the hardest part of change and reinvention is deciding to just do it. But as one wise spiritual leader I know once told me, building a better world is a very worthy goal, but it can often help to just build a better you. After all, more fulfilled and happier versions of ourselves are likely to thrive and have more to contribute to bettering the world.


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