Re:invention

When the same message features twice in quick succession, one has to take it as a sign from the universe.

(a) Last week, I watched Miss Americana (Yes; I know I am likely the last one on the bandwagon). Aside from being a gripping story, one part imprinted itself in memory. It’s the scene where Taylor Swift says, “Everyone is a shiny new toy for like two years. The female artists have reinvented themselves 20 times more than the male artists. They have to or else you’re out of a job. Constantly having to reinvent, constantly finding new facets of yourself that people find to be shiny.”

(b) Two days later, a podcast I was listening to referred to the importance of businesses reinventing themselves every 5-10 years, if not sooner, in order to stay relevant and competitive.

‘Reinvent’ has, for a long time, been on my list of favorite words[1]. Every human being recognizes the need to reinvent themselves every few years, if not more regularly. Many of us are very different now from when we were toddlers or teenagers. Some of us pivoted to the extent that when people from our childhood days meet us now, they cannot help remark–‘You have changed so much’. We rarely consciously attempted to undergo an entire reinvention process until the pandemic hit. Suddenly, everyone took it as a sign for change. While many embarked on the journey, fell out of it and got back up again, I never thought of it as a reinvention process. Until now.

Over the past few days I spent hours mulling over (1) the need for reinvention (why bother), (2) what would a reinvented self look like and (3) when was the last time HR reinvented itself? The third question took me by surprise. Here I was thinking about myself, and suddenly I was thinking about an entire profession. This led to a quick realization of the extent to which I had tied my identity to the profession, but that is a post for another time. This one focusses on what reinvention means, assessing the need to reinvent (the why) and how to embark on the journey. While I have used a person as a reference, what holds true for a person, holds true for a profession as well as an organization.

What

Reinvention is intentional or unintentional change, usually drastic and uncomfortable, in order to stay relevant, get ahead and ‘win’. The goal can vary but usually sways within striking distance of remaining, in the words of Taylor Swift, the shiny new toy: because we all know the day we stop being the shiny new toy, we are well on our path to decline, no matter how comforting or gradual.

Why (can also be read as when)

One doesn’t need to reinvent continuously; that is growth. One does need to grow continuously. However, every once in a while, there is merit is pausing and checking in to see if we are the person we want to be. I write a letter to my future self every 5/10 years. On a date, I open the letter and check if I’ve let my past self down or made her proud. That could be one way to check-in.

If you’ve made a mark in your career by being the rising star or an emerging leader, after 10 years in the industry, you should have risen/emerged. That’s another sign. Another sign could be declining popularity–in personal life and professional. Either ways, the moment you feel you are losing the race, or that you aren’t the person you should be, it is a good time to reinvent. You could also watch out for signs for the universe to tell you when it’s time. For some it was Covid; for me, it’s moving to a new country, a new business unit, and the above mentioned ‘signs.’

How

Look inside and outside. The external environment gives you a drift of changing current, and introspection tells you how off you are from where you should be. When both combined indicate the need for change, set yourself up for a reinvention run. As I embark on this journey, I am making an exhaustive list of the 200 things I need to fix and the steps to get there. It is daunting and already mentioned above–drastic and uncomfortable. Once I have finalized my list, I am going to vet it with other people to check if the direction will yield required results. Once that’s done, it is time to create a game plan. Here’s the secret: reinvention never happens overnight. It usually takes years and when you emerge on the other end, it feels like overnight re-haul. Give yourself 120 days for the first check in and 365 days to hit stage 1 of reinvention. Some pieces can change overnight. I can throw out my entire wardrobe and built one overnight, provided I have the cash to spend. Some others like building a new career direction will take all of the 365 days before showing a glimmer of success. Set realistic goals and then use no zero days/a minute a day–whatever technique works for you. It is a whole lot of willpower, but the returns are always positively disproportional to the result.

Reinvention is rarely a choice. Scratch that. Reinvention is a choice between existing and becoming a dinosaur. If you are ok with dinosaurs, stop reading. If not, scrape together every bit of willpower and power through.

As HR professionals (if you are in HR & reading this post), we have a responsibility to not only work on reinventing ourselves and the profession but also help build systems that allow the organization to reinvent. This isn’t the responsibility of the C Suite alone.


[1] Yes, I have a list of favorite words and if you are interested, I could add them at the end of a future post for reference but back to the point.

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