Do you ever wake up, look in the mirror, sigh and think "you again!"? Maybe you have just emerged from an unhappy marriage and long for a new start. Or perhaps you are still struggling to shake off your adolescent insecurities and escape that lonely, bullied kid you used to be. If so, why not reinvent yourself? Such reinvention may even provide a fresh burst of energy and a new enthusiasm for life.
Before looking at the subject in more detail, it should be stressed that reinvention must be authentic. Critics will quite rightly argue that pretending to be someone you are not would simply turn you into a fake. This is a fair point. A quiet introvert in his fifties, whose greatest pleasure is books and long walks in the countryside, is likely to be miserable sitting in a nightclub with noisy, excitable 20-somethings. On the other hand, a 24-year-old girl who loves parties, fashion, and celebrity gossip, might be equally bored studying for a philosophy degree or attending lectures on art history.
If reinvention is to be a success, you must work with, not against, your nature. Now imagine that the introverted man in the above example endured a childhood of bullying and neglect. Consequently, he grew wary of people and learnt to take comfort in books. Had he grown up in a different environment, maybe he would have enjoyed dancing, drinking, and partying. Equally, the 24-year-old girl may be far more intelligent than she gives herself credit for. Perhaps she was raised in the shadow of a brilliantly clever older sister. Trying to keep up meant inevitable failure, so she misbehaved at school and then dropped out. Reinvention can also be a process of rediscovery.
First, you must decide who this new person is to be. If you wish to reinvent yourself, presumably you are dissatisfied with your life. So what exactly do you want to change? For some people, merely ditching their mask is enough. Perhaps you began to act during your High School years, pretending to be someone you are not in the hope of fitting in. People trapped in unhappy relationships, especially with overpowering or domineering partners, often say that they cannot remember who they are. Have you re-shaped your personality in hopes of pleasing your partner, making friends at work, or winning the acceptance of in-laws?
Before you decide who you want to be, decide who you are. Have you allowed other people to label or define you in a way that suits them? This happens a great deal, especially within groups of friends. The most confident and overbearing member will often cast the others in a role that suits him. Should his friends then break out of the role he has assigned them, maybe gaining promotion, earning more money, or dating someone attractive, it can be bitterly resented. Maybe you are tired of being "the quiet one" or "the dull one". Mothers often complain of being defined by motherhood and long to return to their career. Maybe you were a gifted student who devoted her adolescence to study and now wishes to be more spontaneous and crazy. Work out your goals first.
Reinvention need not mean ending your marriage or moving to a new city. Often, the most important step is simply letting go of the past. Many people never leave behind the person they used to be. Scratch the surface and you may find that the beautiful 30-year-old model never quite escaped the unpopular schoolgirl with braces. Old feelings and thought patterns can linger for decades. And people can quickly slip back into them when faced with bullying, rejection, or stress. Indeed, an old self can literally reappear. For example, in his autobiography the actor Brian Blessed describes how, during his mother's mental breakdown, she reverted back to the neglected girl she had once been, literally speaking and acting like a little child.
Begin with a few simple, practical steps. The British novelist and poet William Morris advised people to have nothing in their home that wasn't useful or beautiful. So be ruthless. Rid yourself of any book, photograph, or item of clothing that brings back bad memories. Is your cupboard filled with your childhood toys and games? Do you really want or need them? You needn't throw away your life up to this point (unless you really want to), but a good clear-out will be excellent preparation.
Now take a look at the people in your life. Do you still see old school or college friends you never really liked, or felt never really liked you? Many people stick with such friends throughout their life, even when they no longer have anything in common and do not really enjoy their company. Indeed, many stick with friends who actually make them feel worse every time they meet.
Unfortunately, everyone sees themselves through the eyes of other people. If you are determined to leave the old you behind, you may have to do the same with old friends. No matter how you try to develop a new self, as soon as you are with those you have known all your life you will slip back into the old you. It might also be helpful to quit social media. Is seeing photos of school bullies and ex-lovers really helping?
Finally, it must be emphasized that letting go of the past is not the same as repressing or denying it. Therapy will help you face any guilt, shame or regret you are carrying and also help you recognize the harmful patterns of thought and behavior in which you may still be trapped. Only once you have faced such things can you let them go.
So, you have worked out a realistic new you, ditched toxic friends, quit social media and been through a course of therapy. What's next? How about some new clothes? What is your style? Maybe you are now approaching middle-age and would like to swap the jeans and sneakers for a more adult, classy look. Or maybe you want to ditch the gloomy adolescent pose and wear something brighter and happier. How about selling your car and buying a new one?
Of course, these are small changes. If you truly wish to reinvent yourself, maybe you could change your career. Or how about moving away? Professor Jon Kabat-Zin, an expert on Zen Buddhism, once wrote that "wherever you go, there you are," meaning you cannot run away from yourself by moving somewhere new. But in many cases, moving away from your childhood town, or even your native country, can be like a rebirth.
The key is to escape anything that defines you in a way in which you no longer wish to be defined. For example, since the 1990s, divorce rates among the over-60s have rocketed. And women seem to initiate these late divorces far more often than men – usually because they have had enough of feeling trapped in the role of housewife and mother.
Above all, reinventing yourself should be a positive experience; you should be reaching out for a better life and a better you. It should also be fun. If you are moving to a new town, drive there with an upbeat song blaring out at full volume (Don't Stop Me Now by Queen, for example, or We Gotta Get Outta This Place, by The Animals) and sing along. If you are quitting a loathsome job, invite some friends over and ceremoniously burn your tie! A reinvention is a rebirth – and it's never too late!