By John R. Nocero, Jennifer Rawley, Molly Downhour and Patricia Graham
John: How someone can take this, one of the most ridiculous songs on the planet, and turn it into this, one of the most beautiful and brilliant songs ever, speaks to the power of re-invention. Major life changes are never easy, because your present self and its priorities, combined with the urgent matters of day, conspire to work against you. Choosing re-invention is never easy. When I graduated college, all I wanted to be was a disc jockey. I achieved that within three months of graduation. Little did I know that being a disc jockey meant eating potatoes, because that’s all I could afford with the meager pittance I was earning. Since that time, I have re-invented myself multiple times over. According to Webber (2014), many of dream of a future that’s very different from our present. We’ll live in Hawaii instead of Hackensack; abandon singlehood for family life; or paint murals for a living. But getting from here to there is hard, largely because some powerful psychological forces align against reinvention.
It’s in our nature, for example, to spend our energy primarily on today’s immediate concerns, to hold a distorted perception of our future, or, even if we’re future-focused, to keep chasing after what turn out to be the wrong dreams. Too often, we give up just when we need to push harder, and persist when we actually should quit. Yet without a more clear-eyed assessment of our present and our future, and a more effective approach to setting, pursuing, and achieving goals, we can end up with a future we really don’t want—in which we are sick, broke, lonely, or just plain unfulfilled. Major life changes are never easy, because your instincts and the urgent matters of the day work against you. But when you learn to focus on your future self, you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve.
Question for my three friends: What is the best re-invention you have ever had, and what advice would you give someone who is looking to reinvent themselves?
Jen: If I asked someone else what they think my best reinvention is, I’d probably hear it was the transition from pharmacy to administration because it’s something that sticks out in my career. I think my best example goes back much further and is something that I had not really thought of as reinvention until writing this. I can remember a distinct moment in middle school when I consciously decided that I was not going to conform with “the system”. I’m against most things that are inefficient, and I saw my school life as a complete waste of time. At first, I honestly did not know for sure what I wanted to do or become, but I knew I had to get to college ASAP and tackle it quickly. I also didn’t have any immediate ideas of how to do it but I did take advantage of every opportunity to pivot that presented itself (and still do, perhaps more thoughtfully). When people ask me “how did you do that”, I usually answer with something to the effect of being in the right place at the right time a whole lot of times.
Back to 8th grade, my family moved mid-year and I was at risk of losing the high school credit for Algebra I that I was taking. The new class was at a different place in their book and I was not able to pass their most recent test which was used to assess me. The teacher suggested I wait until 9th grade “like normal”. I went to the guidance counselor and begged (literally, pleaded- tears and all) for a chance to prove myself. I struggled thru, barely passing that first quarter because not only was I behind in Algebra, I had always missed being taught fractions due to moving 13 times previously. Try doing any algebra without knowing advanced fractions. Even so, I managed to make it thru and get the credit. Let’s not discuss the gpa impact, because it really does not matter.
That single credit set me up for success. I went on to do 2 years of highschool and then when I was 16 I was a dually enrolled highschool/community college student taking classes on the college campus exclusively. When I was 17 I enrolled at FSU and started my official college career. I changed majors early on, and schools, ultimately graduating from pharmacy school in my hometown of Atlanta, and later going back to get my MBA. I sometimes wonder what might have been if I had gone with the flow and not fought for that ‘next level.’ I believe not only would my timeline have been impossible, I also would have risked losing my self-confidence and tenacity. I’ll never know for sure, but I’m glad for how everything worked out. I’m grateful for the people who helped me along the way and gave me those second chances-there were so many more besides the Algebra. I’ve never forgotten them, and I try to pay the favor forward whenever I have the discretion to do the same.
Molly: I have two good examples of reinventing myself. The first was an example of circumstances pivoting my path. The year was 2007. I was working full time as the nursing supervisor over the phase I oncology clinical trials unit while taking a full patient and clinical trial load. My oversight included the research nurses, infusion nurses, research lab techs, and research coordinators (~14 employees). I was working full time, working on my master’s full time, and I had 18 month old twin boys. My mother was in poor health, requiring frequent trips from Arizona back to Maryland. My husband and I started a major remodel on our house requiring the four us to move out with our two dogs and two cats to a much smaller space. I was burning the candle at both ends to say the least. Then I found out I was expecting with our third son, a surprise and also a complicated pregnancy requiring bed-rest at 16 weeks. This was the sign from the universe to slow down! I put school on hold and took a position as a part time clinical trials infusion nurse upon my return from medical leave. This pivot professionally gave me the opportunity to finish my master’s program and maintain my sanity. We often want to do it all, but sometimes doing it all right now doesn’t make sense.
The second example of reinventing myself was when I chose to leave my job as the clinical trials program director that I helped build. While I loved the mission, my colleagues, and the patients, it no longer fulfilled my passion. When I was notifying my contacts of my departure and who would be taking over my responsibilities, one of the vendors asked if I would ever consider joining their team. As a nurse, I had primarily worked in hospitals and direct patient care roles. This was really outside of the box and my comfort zone, but I was intrigued. After several conversations we put together a job description and business plan where my role was focused on helping clinical research sites be successful, thus ultimately helping patients. (I will always be a nurse at heart.) This was new, exciting, and had so many opportunities; many are still being discovered daily.
Whether being forced to see the obvious setup for disaster or choosing to take a calculated risk, both reinventions worked out for the best. The last reinvention even led me to #FourFriends.
Trish: I believe that a person doesn’t necessarily “reinvent” oneself, rather, that person discovers a new aspect of their qualities or talents that were untapped or underutilized or they change the way they’ve “always done” something. I also believe that in order to “reinvent”, there has to be a driver, a significant reason or challenge that brought the reinvention or discovery about and I’ve had a big one happen to me recently.
Since my teens, I’ve had difficulty in communicating with my mom (does this sound familiar to some of you?) and just learned to live with her forgetting a name or getting flustered when given too much information at one time. My friends from high school were always referred to as some other name or a new name. For example, I had a couple of friends named Mark. One she called “Pontoon Mark” (because his dad had a pontoon boat business she knew about) and the other she would substitute some other like sounding last name with his real last name, despite my correction of the last name over and over. As I grew older and my “more type A” personality traits came forth, trying to coax her how to give me the quick summary of a long story or how to use her smart phone became increasingly more difficult. She knows me more than anyone and knows full well that I am not the most patient individual, so she mostly approaches discussions with me in an uptight and nervous way, trying to be quick (but fails miserably), or tells me a story out of chronological order making it difficult for me to follow.
I am blessed that my 70+ mother and 90+ grandmother live two houses away from me. We lost my father almost 8 years ago and my mother is caring for my grandmother (who just turned 95 this summer!!). As you may expect at that age, my grandmother’s health is steadily failing and several weeks ago, I was with her alone and she asked me to be more patient with my mother. My grandmother said, “You know she mixes things up. She has that thing where you switch two letters or numbers around…” and I said, “Dyslexia?!!” and she said, “Yes. We had to go to the school when she was little and had to switch schools to get her better help and we had to work with her at home, too. But don’t tell her I told you because she never wanted to be labeled or be looked at differently…” Oh my goodness!!! Now I knew she mixed things up, but didn’t know it was due to dyslexia.
This revelation changed everything for me in dealing with my mother. Everything finally made sense. How my dad did all the math in the family, how she would suggest that I write lists, show her how to do something instead of providing her instructions, and she would repeat phone numbers back to me two and three times, “Yes mom, that’s what I said, Jenny’s number is 867-5309!”
This was groundbreaking knowledge that I wish I had YEARS ago. I knew that I had a huge driver to reinvent myself on one of the most unsolved and longest challenges in my life. I immediately changed the way I spoke to her. My language became simpler, slower, and with way less information. I showed her rather than told her and I began writing phone numbers down for her instead of repeating them 3 times over. Better yet, I just went ahead and put them in her smart phone for her.
I spent time thinking about how I’d been communicating with her in my adult life and came upon this…I figured out that many of us bring our business language in both content and speed home with us and expect that our non-hustle business-world families hear and understand us all the time. As leaders, we want the short and sweet, get-the to-the-point fast, and options as opposed to opinions. My mother is a phenomenal woman. She is smart, sassy, and funny as well as the kindest and most loving non-judgmental person I know. She well deserves my understanding and my “reinvented” self. I am still in the process of my reinvention and I think it will take a long time, but things are going great so far at a tough time. Maybe she thinks it’s the wine?! Who knows. The best part of my reinvention is that she has no idea that “I know” and I intend to keep grandma’s revelation a secret.