The reason could be any: a layoff, a chance to climb the corporate ladder, a new entrepreneurial venture, a calling to make the world a better place, or simply to avoid never-ending boredom at your current job. There will come a time in almost everyone’s life, where it becomes essential to release a V 2.0 of yourself. Today’s post is to assure you it’s possible to reinvent yourself—no matter your age or circumstances.
An article appeared in the NY times exactly 25 years ago to this day. In this article about midlife career changes, here’s what the owner of a career-counseling consulting firm said:
Corporate America can no longer be perceived as a benevolent paternal employer taking care of employees from the cradle to the grave. Jobs in the future will be of shorter duration, and individuals will have to assume responsibility for their own lives.
This was breaking news in 1986.
In today’s gig economy, it almost seems ludicrous for anyone to rely upon a single job or a lifelong employer to care for them.
Gone are the days when people found a job right in their twenties, settled in, climbed the corporate ladder (if they chose), and retired at the same job. With a retirement pension to boot!
That concept has gone the way of floppy disks or rotary phones—out! Never to return.
Many factors have contributed to these shifts in employment trends. Increased competition and pressure on companies to shore up their bottom-lines, easy access to a global, less expensive pool of talent, not to mention the economics of providing a retirement pension for a longer-living population.
In my own family, I’ve seen relatives who’ve had more years in retirement than in creditable service. I bet their employers had not bargained for such terms during the hiring process!
As a population, we are living longer and healthier. And the longevity game is just getting started.
If the latter half of the 20th century was rife with technological inventions—hello internet—we now live in a world of rapidly advancing bioengineering and biosciences. The focus is now on one goal—increased lifespan, or to be more specific, increased healthspan. Read this post here to learn about the differences between lifespan and diseasespan.
Age-related advances are happening in real-time. And rapidly.
Biogerontology, a sub-field of gerontology, is one of this decade’s hottest areas of research. With breakthrough medical technologies like CRISPR, scientists are trying not just to understand the biological aging process but also how to intervene to increase longevity.
“50 is the new 30” may no longer be wishful thinking by someone in desperate denial about their midlife. It is closer to being a fact.
While it bodes well to know we may have many more active and healthy decades ahead of us, it also presents us with a conundrum.
More time to fill
What are we going to do with all these additional years?
Tempting as it may be, it would be a travesty to spend all the additional time on the golf course or the couch with Netflix. Disappointed? I know. But, we need to and are capable of more.
Not convinced? Here’s a snippet from Roman emperoror Marcus Aurelius’ Mediations:
At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?
In addition to having more time to fill, increased lifespan also means increased financial obligations and outlays. Which, in turn, may require us to work longer than we had anticipated.
Under such circumstances, to sit back and plod along in our current jobs, simply running out the clock until we retire, isn’t going to be a viable option much longer.
Change is in the air
Many different factors can wreak career changes: corporate restructuring, taking time off to serve as caregivers, obsolescence due to technological advances, globalization, the need to add value to society, or just pure boredom.
Change is inevitable. Progress is optional.
Like taxes and death, change is an eventuality everyone needs to be prepared for.
Ready or not, change will come—no ifs about it. You ARE going to be dragged into the turf. Instead of kicking and screaming your way in, isn’t it better to go in prepared and willingly?
That’s why it’s important to reinvent yourself. No matter your age or expertise.
Staying relevant and ahead of obsolescence isn’t only for those who need to meet financial obligations. It’s equally essential for those who are set financially too. A life without purpose is like a story without a plot, i.e., quite meaningless.
Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose – Victor Frankl
So, how can you reinvent yourself?
Reinventing yourself doesn’t necessarily mean learning to code in Swift, Scala, Python, or Ethereum programming (or the corresponding equivalent in other industries.) We’re talking about a much more fundamental shift in our attitudes towards attaining expertise than simply getting certified as a blockchain analyst or a telemedicine specialist.
There is only one way to avoid obsolescence—by bringing value to the table. As Cal Newport says, “Be so good, they can’t ignore you.”
At the crux of it, to “be so good” fundamentally requires one skill—the ability to learn new stuff and connect hitherto unconnected dots. If you can master that skill, you won’t just be sought after in the employment market but equally popular in social and family settings. That would be nice.
So, let’s figure out the business of learning.
Learning to learn
Before we get into the mechanics of how to reinvent yourself successfully, let’s bust some common myths about learning.
Myth#1: Cannot teach an old dog new tricks
When was the last time you tried teaching an old dog a new trick? Like, really tried? Because I’m here to tell you this saying is outdated.
Scientific advances in the last couple of decades have confirmed that neuroplasticity (rewiring the brain by building new neural connections) and neurogenesis (creating new brain cells) can happen regardless of age. Read this article for more details on why the very act of learning helps improve brain function.
An interesting article featured in the New York Times profiled someone who expected to complete his Ph.D. in Plant Biology at 66. This was after the person had already spent over thirty years of his life being an accountant!
According to the National Science Foundation, the article says, about 14% of doctoral recipients are over the age of forty.
Old dogs can learn new tricks. For sure. And not just any tricks. PhD-level tricks.
How’s that for inspiration?
Myth#2: I don’t need to learn since I’m not planning on applying for another job
Again, to be abundantly clear, reskilling or upskilling isn’t just for those interested in landing a new job or accumulating fame or wealth. It’s equally important to reinvent yourself if you’ve had enough of board meetings and budgets and would like to focus on more important social issues or making the world a better place.
Because every profession, every vocation, even every hobby, requires you to walk into it with a beginner’s mindset to learning.
Our brain cells are based on the “use it or lose it” system.
Increased longevity doesn’t pair well with fewer brain cells.
Myth#3: I may be able to change jobs, but I cannot change careers, especially late in life
If the story above of someone getting their Ph.D. at 66 hasn’t convinced you that it’s possible to change careers, then consider this.
Some of today’s most widely available and popular jobs— cloud architect, blockchain analyst, uber driver, data scientist, social media manager—did not exist even five years ago. That should give us pause. The reality is that we cannot even fathom what the careers of the future are going to look like.
Saying no to potential future careers is like saying you won’t like a dish before it even makes it to the menu!
Second or third careers will require some reinvention. Yes, it may be daunting to go back as a beginner instead of an expert. Your new mentor may be closer to your child’s age than to yours. But, if you can get past that minor inconvenience to your ego, the world is your oyster!
How to reinvent yourself?
As discussed, your motivation to learn may come from many different sources.
It could happen when you take your client call while you’re on vacation in Hawaii. That may get you thinking about perspective; to reevaluate how you’d like to spend your future. Or, it could be your desire to become a horticultural entrepreneur instead of spending more time in corporate law.
Whatever your motivation is, learning to learn is an art in itself. And, in that regard, we can draw inspiration from the polymaths who’ve made our world a better place.
Become a polymath
A polymath is an individual whose knowledge spans many subjects. They draw upon their multidisciplinary knowledge to solve complex problems in unique and fun ways.
All true innovators and change agents in the world are renowned polymaths. They integrate their varied knowledge from the sciences and the arts to create beautiful products and masterpieces. Think Leonardo da Vinci, Einstein, Steve Jobs, to name a few.
The future belongs to polymaths. So, why not try to be one by modeling the tricks they use.
1. Imitate George (the curious one)
Be curious. Like George, the monkey. Always. The most important factor on whether you learn something well or not depends on how much interest you bring to the table. Deep learning only happens when you’re inquisitive about the subject.
I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious - Einstein
2. Focus on process, not outcome
When the learning becomes the object instead of just a means to an end, it can make the knowledge acquisition process that much more enjoyable. Mentally shift your focus of study to understanding the subject instead of trying to pass a test.
3. Growth mindset
Believe that you can learn. This mindset change is vital if you are looking to reinvent yourself for your second or third career.
If you are an expert in another field, it’s going to be intimidating to start over with a mentor closer in age to your child’s. But bringing child-like curiosity and checking the ego out at the door is required for true learning.
4. Expect failure
That’s right. Don’t just be prepared for, but “expect” failure. Rejections and failures are par for the course. Again, if you focus on the process instead of the outcome, it becomes easier to handle setbacks through the learning journey.
5. Magic happens outside the comfort zone
Enough said. A sure way to stagnate and become irrelevant in life is to stay within our comfort zones. Please read this post to see why it’s important to test boundaries and how to get out of your comfort zone.
6. Enjoy being the underdog
When you’re a newbie, it helps to remember that expectations are low. Enjoy the low-pressure situation. Test outcomes and change course, if needed. Think of it all as one big experiment and be objective about the results. If it works, keep going. If not, make changes. No one’s counting how many tries you take.
In the end
Yes, it may feel nice to cuddle under the blankets and do nothing. But, every time you think of staying under the blankets, here are some words from Aurelius again to guilt trip you:
So, you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
Marcus Aurelius was a stoic philosopher and the last of the five good emperors. It is in our interest to take his words of wisdom seriously.
So. There you go. Reinvent yourself. Pick up a hobby, reskill for a job, learn something different.
Yes, the best time to do this may have been twenty years ago. But the next best time is now.