After a two-year hiatus, the airport is bustling, and my social media feed is once again filled with images of friends and colleagues jetting off to destinations near and far. The pandemic has been one long fermata, characterised by the postponement or cancellation of family reunions, corporate events, adventure trips, and beach holidays. It’s as if the doors have suddenly been flung wide open, and the marauding hordes are rushing for the exits. In many ways, travel is an apt analogy for reinvention, as the Great Resignation has encouraged employees at all levels to rethink their careers in search of greener pastures.
Planning a trip is far less daunting than contemplating a professional reinvention, which, by definition, is about moving into a new space, typically requiring new skills, networks, and mindsets. So while the question of “what’s next” is met with a myriad of possibilities, the reality is that it is, for most people, unchartered territory.
How then should one approach reinvention in a way that enables exploration, while ensuring defined outcomes? Based on my personal experience and extensive interviews with professionals around the world who have successfully reinvented themselves, I have developed “The Reinventor’s Roadmap” which comprises three stages, each in turn consisting of three defined steps.
Stage 1: Prepare for the Journey
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a robust plan. Preparation is key to success.
The first step in this stage is to REFLECT by assessing one’s strengths and weaknesses, values, and motivations. Some executives are no longer content with simply “finding a job”, they aspire to leave a mark. So the notion of legacy is one that looms large.
The next, and crucial, step in the preparation stage is to conduct RESEARCH on possible reinvention pathways. The final step is to REIMAGINE, combining self-knowledge with an understanding of the potential opportunities. This is about visualising the upcoming adventure and is an intensely personal process. Each individual faces a different set of constraints and personal circumstances. Each individual brings a unique set of skills and traits that will be a source of differentiation in their chosen domain. Each individual defines meaning and purpose according to their values and lived experiences.
This stage, as with planning a trip, is filled with excitement and a sense of anticipation. As Freya Stark, the British-Italian explorer and travel writer, once wrote: “Surely, of all the wonders of the world, the horizon is the greatest.”
Stage 2: Embark on the Adventure
It can be a humbling experience to acknowledge that there are gaps in one’s knowledge base, and that reinvention requires we RELEARN to fill these gaps. In some cases, the domain is a profession unto itself. For example, someone who is committed to reinventing him or herself as an academic might want to embark on a PhD. Someone who is interested in landing a board directorship would find it valuable to enrol in courses about corporate governance.
The next step in this second stage is to REFRESH relationships, which requires a combination of leveraging one’s existing network while building new connections. Additionally, a critical aspect of reinvention in the 21st century is visibility and personal branding. This will require individuals to REPOSITION themselves, building credibility and thought leadership. What others know about you from your past may not be how you want to be known in your future.
Reinvention is no walk in the park. It is not meant to be. In the words of intrepid traveler and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain: “Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you.”
Stage 3: Stay the Course
Reinvention is not an overnight process. The last stage is about committing to the journey.
Many executives take a while to truly RELINQUISH the past that they are familiar with. And who can blame them? They have invested years of their life constructing that reality and have come to appreciate all the trappings of success that come with it. In the best of cases, it is a comfortable space which continues to have a strong magnet-like pull on the individual. At the other extreme, executives may feel a sense of resentment and bitterness as they reminisce over what they once had. To transition successfully to the next chapter ultimately requires leaving their previous existence behind and walking resolutely towards the future.
As with most journeys, there are bound to be curveballs and setbacks. Executives determined to reinvent themselves will need to REALIGN and make adjustments along the way.
Finally, it’s time to REAFFIRM the path taken, and to celebrate successes, be they small wins or jackpots. There is wind in the sails as momentum builds, and he or she joins the ranks of the Reinventors.
Travel is an activity that requires a leap of faith. We hurtle through the skies in a metal craft at 900 kilometres per hour, only to disembark at a foreign destination where the sights and sounds are unfamiliar to us. Yet, we travel, because the allure outweighs the uncertainty. Likewise with reinvention. In closing, it’s worth remembering the words of French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, André Gide: “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
A version of this article was originally published in The Business Times on Jun 13, 2022.