The writer F. Scott Fitzgerald believed there were no second acts in American lives—that people rarely get a shot at redemption or reinvention, at changing the narrative.
But our lives are constantly evolving, and the world around us is, too. So, it makes sense to wonder, even briefly, how to reinvent yourself. Is your life in need of a drastic makeover, or just some tune-ups? Here’s what you need to know.
How to reinvent yourself
Self-reinvention isn’t a simple, straight-line process where you start as Person A and change into Person B. According to Lia Holmgren, a life and intimacy coach based in New York, self-reinvention is an evolution.
Self-reinvention “doesn’t have to have an endpoint,” Holmgren said, “but one will feel it when their life is different. The process might not be as visible, but the transformation will at some point be remarkable. You’ll just wake up one day and say: ‘Wow I love my new life,’ or ‘My life feels so different, better now.’”
How exactly does one get to that point of realizing how much things have changed? Here are 10 things that can help:
1. Determine what exactly needs to change
The first thing you need to know, before you start making any changes, is what you’re trying to change.
As Holmgren put it, “It’s good to know what frustrates you in life.” Starting from that point, recognizing what the problem is, will allow you to more clearly understand the shape your solutions will take.
2. Define your core values
The next step, before you start changing anything, is to recognize what you believe in. Are you someone who places a lot of importance on family? In relationships? Career? Faith? Culture?
“Defining values is important so you can honor them in your new life you’re about to have,” Holmgren said. If you don’t have a clear idea of what’s important to you, it would be all too easy to pick a new path all wrong for you.
3. Identify your strengths
Another important bit of self-reflection to engage in before making changes is taking stock of your strengths.
“Knowing what you’re good at will help you accomplish your goals faster and more effectively,” Holmgren said.
Strengths can come in many shapes and sizes. Are you someone who’s great at physical exercise, or does your talent for sports stem from your dogged competitiveness? Are you someone with an innate understanding of visuals and aesthetics, or is your skill limited to painting and not translatable to graphic design? Recognizing what the real strength is behind your successes can help you big time.
4. Start small
You may be at a point in your life where you’re ready to reinvent yourself but don’t know where to begin. It’s important to manage your expectations and start small, according to Holmgren.
“Test the waters,” Holmgren said. “If you want to become a journalist, maybe take a class or work as an intern before you sign up for a master’s degree. Before you start a new company or a business, do your research. Go to conferences, meet people and find out what they love/hate about their business.”
This kind of preliminary exploration will help give you an idea if this new path is for you before you go all-in.
5. Don’t get bogged down by choice
It may be tempting to keep your options open and nibble at a few different ones without making a big decision. But if you really want to genuinely reinvent your life, that kind of approach just won’t do, Holmgren said.
“If you really want to be good at something, or find out if you like it, it can take years,” Holmgren said.
Playing the field will only lengthen that process and push back the future moment when you realize how much you changed.
This is why doing that work identifying your strengths, desires and values will help “make sure the new you will have a chance of success,” Holmgren said.
6. Don’t trap yourself in a to-do list
When setting out on a big journey, it’s possible to wind up stalled because of various pitfalls. One approach Holmgren does not advocate for is the classic to-do list.
“Sometimes it takes our focus and creativity away if we get sucked too much into what we have to accomplish,” Holmgren said. As she pointed out, life is full of “interesting things and opportunities” that some people might ignore in order to focus on a preconceived to-do list.
7. Instead, keep a diary, journal or log
Rather, Holmgren sees more potential in keeping a diary—in writing about the past and the present rather than the future.
“Once you try different possibilities, write a journal about how it made you feel, what could you do better and what not to do,” Holmgren said.
This approach will allow you to stay flexible with your approach while giving your future self a window into what worked and what didn’t.
8. Build habits
Have you ever mastered anything on the first try? Probably not. That’s because, Holmgren said, “Repetition is the best way to learn and succeed, and routine is also a good way to become successful.”
If your new life path is going to stick, you need to get used to doing certain new things over and over until they’re second nature. That doesn’t mean you should be rigid and inflexible, but without a sense of commitment, you’ll never truly transform your life.
9. Seek out feedback
“Ask others how they like your transformation,” Holmgren said. “Ask friends and acquaintances who you can trust and who are honest with you.”
This last point—honesty—is crucial because sometimes the people closest to us are the least willing to criticize our choices. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, but if you’re trying to recreate yourself and start on a new path, safe, comforting feedback isn’t necessarily what you need.
10. Celebrate successes
One great way to build habits? Reward yourself for your progress—it’ll make you that much more excited to keep going.
“Treat yourself to something nice when you succeed,” Holmgren said. “It can be a small thing, such as ice cream or a massage, or a big thing, such as a new car or an expensive bag.”
So long as you’re still spending within your means, the reward doesn’t matter as much as how it makes you feel. Do something special to mark the occasion and you’ll cherish the memory even more.
What does it mean to reinvent yourself?
There’s no one right way to reinvent yourself. It’s more a question of addressing a need rather than working towards a defined goal.
“Sometimes we need change,” Holmgren said. “We want to do something else, the old activities—such as jobs, hobbies, etc.—don’t suit us anymore, and we have a strong need to become someone else.”
Just as some sharks need to keep swimming constantly in order to survive, human beings often need novelty, change and growth in their lives in order to flourish. Reinventing yourself could mean trying a new career, moving to a new city, adopting a new life philosophy, some combination of these or a type of change that only you can envision.
Signs you may need to reinvent yourself
Sometimes it can be hard to see the need for real change. Everyone experiences slumps from time to time, but those often sort themselves out or can be remedied with an easy distraction, like a weekend getaway or a night out on the town. But if your discontent isn’t transient or falls into one of the following categories, it may be time for a reinvention.
1. You feel stuck in a rut
If you wake up every day feeling like you’re just a cog on a wheel going through the motions, that’s a sure sign something needs to change.
If “you feel stuck in a rut,” Holmgren said, you may need to consider reinventing yourself ASAP.
2. You’re not happy
Another sign is, even if you don’t feel stuck in a rut of doing the exact same things over and over, you’re just not happy.
If “your current way of living doesn’t bring you joy anymore,” Holmgren said, a reinvention may be necessary.
3. A dead-end job
Often, a fresh start is just what the doctor ordered for people whose jobs are the source of their miseries. If you’re bored with your current job and don’t see the potential for advancement, Holmgren said that’s a sign you might want to make a big life pivot.
4. Fantasies of a different life
If you can’t stop daydreaming about leading a vastly different life or living as someone else for a day, that’s your brain’s way of telling you something.
If “you’re craving to do something else,” Holmgren said, it might be time to act on that desire.
5. Experiencing an itch
Of course, you don’t need to spend your every waking moment daydreaming about an alternate life. If “you have the curiosity to do or learn something else,” Holmgren said, that can be enough of a motivation to start doing or learning that other thing. There’s no reason you should shut yourself off from potential future fulfillment.