Oprah’s newest book titled, What I Know For Sure, got me to asking myself what do I really know? After these past two really challenging years one thing I really know about is picking yourself up and starting over after things fall apart. I just turned 49 (amazing all by itself!). More amazing is that even now, I am, once again, reinventing my life and career.
This has been such a difficult time but also one of such huge growth that I feel compelled to share it. I know I am not alone in facing abrupt reinvention and I hope my own journey can be helpful to others SO ….. here are my Top Ten Rules to Strong Self-Reinvention.
1) Look for Deeper Meaning in the Mess
Two years ago when my life blew up, again, in spectacular fashion, I was freaked out, angry and absolutely terrified. I was scared to death that maybe I really was so flawed, so deeply fucked up, I was beyond repair and would never be able to achieve a sound, solid career and life.
But, despite the terror and exhaustion, I knew that in order to find a way out I had to go in, deep. The first step to breaking through the breakdown is taking a deep, honest look into ourselves at our patterns, the parts of us that need to improve AND the parts of us we know are good.
In the midst of my brokenness I saw how tormented I’d been by my feelings of unworthiness. I was horrified and embarrassed to realize how much that “not-enoughness” had driven a deep desire to be recognized and validated by others. This was wildly painful and embarrassing to face but as soon as I did I started growing again, and loving myself more. As I got to know myself better I started more truly believing in my own value.
In reinvention it’s important to examine the circumstances, feelings and reactions and stay on the alert for those Eureka! moments when a whole new realization pops into consciousness. It’s often in our most tortured moments we learn the really powerful truths that can transform and free us.
2) Make Conscious Choices
Sometimes life blows up and we have no other option but to reinvent. The choices then aren’t if you’re going to do something differently, they’re what and how you’re going to do it. For me, I just made the choice that I wasn’t going to allow my attackers to defeat me. That not only meant figuring out a way to get my career back on the rails. It also meant not allowing myself to harden, to succumb to the depression or the hate. It meant working very intentionally on my inner self and on forgiveness.
Other times the call for reinvention is more subtle. Things aren’t catastrophic but you know they aren’t what they should or could be. In some ways this is even harder because you have to throw yourself out of the nest! You have to overcome the human tendency to stay in the comfort zone even when it’s uncomfortable. Everything we do is a choice. Deciding to do nothing is a choice!
3) Allow Yourself to Wallow in It – Have a Dirty Bathrobe Day
At the beginning of my ordeal I tried everything to fight back against the destruction seizing my life. I fought and flailed to keep my career moving. But at times the sheer weight, fear and hurt took me under. Then I would lie on the couch in my increasingly dirty bathrobe, binge-watch TV ALL DAY and drink too much beer at night. At first, I felt terribly guilty but as time went on I relaxed into these occasional escape days.
A couple of months into my unasked for life-changing mess I told my counselor about my Dirty Bathrobe days and, to my great surprise, she said, “Well, given what you’re going through as long as it’s only a day or so and not three or four and every week, it’s probably pretty healthy!”
When facing extremely challenging, life-changing phases in our lives we need to be gentle with ourselves and make some room every now and then to lay down the burden and take a break from the battle.
4) But Don’t Wallow Long – Get Your Butt Off the Couch!
The reason I was able to begin to relax into the Dirty Bathrobe Days was that I never stayed for very long. After one or two days of god only knows how many episodes of Game of Thrones, Heartland, Orange is the Next Black and countless Lifetime movies I would always pull myself up, reengage, get back to taking better care of myself and start moving forward again. I got to where I could really enjoy a wallow day here and there because I knew I could trust myself even in the midst of awful circumstances to drag my butt up off that couch!
It is critical to find your motivation, your catalyst, the thing you hook into to pull out of the despair. And this is NEVER something outside yourself even though it might look like it.
For me, this came in the form of my beloved dog, who after two days of laying next to my prone, zoned body would become restless and I knew she needed exercise. Or the cat pestered me for food. Or my fiancé really needed to talk. Sometimes it was that I just didn’t want to treat myself unhealthfully for one more moment. It was love that got me off the couch. Love for the dog, the cat, John and even for myself.
So go ahead and give yourself a break, wallow a bit, but for god’s sake don’t lie around until you get bedsores or can’t find a Lifetime movie you haven’t seen!
5) Get Professional Help
If you can’t pull out of your version of the Dirty Bathrobe Day get professional help immediately. And, even if you can, get help!
I am a big believer. The old stigma has it all wrong. It’s not the really fucked up, crazy people who go to mental health therapists; it’s the people who are sane enough and brave enough to realize they are in deep.
When my recent ordeal exploded it triggered so much pain from past traumas that I found myself literally flinching from old memories. I knew I was going to need professional help to cope with the attacks and my own frantic, stabbing feelings. I began working with a therapist, who luckily, was trained in Eye Movement Deprogramming and Reprocessing (EMDR). This turned out to be life-transforming. I am now absolutely certain that had I not leaned into therapy so early in the crisis I would have had a much harder time surviving it, let alone thriving on the other side.
Professional counseling can be especially valuable if your need for reinvention involves shame. Growing scientific evidence suggests that shame is one the most painful and destructive emotions. Guilt is believing that you have done something bad; shame is believing that you are bad. Shame means feeling worthless, rejected, cast out.
The professional counseling and deep dive inner work not only helped me survive the onslaught, but it actually empowered me to reach a place where I feel more enough than I ever have in my entire life. This feeling is SO WORTH the vulnerability of baring your soul to a trained stranger!
6) Remember You Still Are Even if You Don’t Still Have
In what seemed like a blink of an eye I lost my title, all my current clients, every single one of my active work projects, the home I had lived in for four years and, at least in some circles, my reputation. The sense of loss was devastating and, because I had always based so much of my self-worth on my work and doings, I felt utterly cast adrift and valueless.
The main thing that helped me weather the loss was realizing that even through I may not HAVE those things anymore, I still WAS everything I had been before my fall from grace. Every talent, every skill, every bit of professional and personal experience was still in me.
The same is true of everyone. You can lose things, positions, jobs, titles, homes, lovers. But no matter the loss you still are what you are and all your talents and experiences are right there ready to help you open up the next phase of your reinvented life.
7) Imagine that Maybe You Are So Much More Than You Thought – STRETCH!
Because of the circumstances that led to the unasked for pause in my career my usual work channels were closed to me for over a year. This was so horribly painful. Who was I if I wasn’t a consultant, an advocate, if I wasn’t working on the issues I’d dedicated my life to?
At first I was resentful and terrified and my ego stung. I felt like I’d been demoted in life in general! I really had to scramble just to pay the bills. But I moved forward, took some risks, STRETCHED! I got a paid gig as a writer. I took on some research work. I started teaching personal development courses. I also started volunteering for causes I loved but had been too busy for. And, guess what? I LOVED it!
I realized that by fighting so hard to hold onto my old familiar view of myself I was actually limiting my full identity. Not only was I everything I had been before but I was also a professional writer, a wildlife healer and a great dog-fence builder! By clinging to the old image of myself, I was masking my bigger, fuller, more creative bad ass Self with a capital S!
You can either believe you’ve been lessened by the loss of the old, familiar way of things, or you can find fabulous aspects of a fuller, richer, more multi-faceted YOU.
8) Kiss People Off and Make New Friends
Sometimes one of the hardest things about self-reinvention is the need to cut loose the people around us. There is a reason the old cliché about learning who your true friends are has been around for so long. It really is in our darkest hours we learn who is truly there for us and who isn’t. I was staggered with the pain of abandonment by so many I considered friends and the terrible sense of isloation.
To reinvent strong you have to shed the people who undermine you. Don’t chase after the ones who flee. You can never lose a true friend and abandoners aren’t worth your effort. And don’t spend time with those who tear down your dreams or judge you unworthy. It is easy enough to fall into the trap of doing that ourselves – we don’t need reinforcements!
Instead be very intentional, spending time with people who are positive, moving forward and genuinely want good for you. Sometimes these are the old, dear friends that stick. Other times they’re new friends that appear at just the right moment – don’t overlook or undervalue either of these precious gifts. And do not, for one more second, spend your precious time and energy on people who don’t believe in you and want you to be your very best!
And remember, cutting someone loose today doesn’t mean they’re out of your life forever – sometimes it just needs a big break. I “divorced” my biological family for years and now we are coming back together more healthfully and lovingly than I ever would have believed.
9) Keep Giving
When I finally let it sink in that it would be months before I could resume my career my self-value plummeted. Some part of me knew that I needed to find a way to feel like I was making a positive contribution. That’s when I started volunteering for causes I cared about. I joined a volunteer organization that builds fences for dogs who were living their lives on the end of a chain.
It was incredibly good for me. Watching a dog run and play freely for the first time in their lives in a fence that I had helped build I knew I’d done something valuable that day. Their canine joy and forgiving natures were infectious. And, being part of the community of fellow volunteers helped overcome my sense of isolation.
Giving to someone else is one of the very best ways to feel valuable and abundant because it proves you have enough to spare, you have something of value.
10) Develop/ Deepen a Spiritual Practice (I don’t mean religion!)
I am beyond grateful that I already had an established practice of meditation, journaling and spiritual connection before my big mess slammed into my life. However, what I was going through was so intense I knew I needed more. For a while every book I read was on the subject of spiritual growth in difficult times. Feeling a bit like the Prodigal Daughter I reconnected with the Unity church I hadn’t attended in ten years! I started working with a Course in Miracles. Not only have these steps helped me cope with the trauma, they’ve opened whole new vistas, opportunities and friendships.
Whatever spiritual path you choose be sure to include gratitude. It is essential not to let the challenges blind you to goodness and abundance you already have. We attract what we focus on. What we appreciate appreciates! And there is nothing better for keeping a hopeful positive outlook than practicing gratitude.
Connecting to our spiritual aspects is essential to shaping a strong self-reinvention. These times of turmoil can break us down but they also hold the promise of breaking us open into deeper, richer more beautiful lives. Getting in touch with spirit, with our true inner selves is key to seizing that awesome gift.
To Wrap Up: Make no mistake, successful self-reinvention isn’t for wimps! But it is absolutely essential to living your fullest life. Here’s to empowering your inner Phoenix Rising and becoming the next awesome version of YOU!
If you fellow reinventors have other tips I’d love to hear them!
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