Reinvention is a process of risk, adaptation, and evolution. It means giving yourself permission to change, to see your world through new eyes, to see yourself through new eyes. The thing I love about the verb reinvent is that it’s a reminder that you invented yourself the first time around. And so, we are always in a position to create ourselves anew.
When Michael Jordan shocked the world in 1993 by retiring from basketball at the top of his (or anyone else’s) game, everyone was stunned. When a few months later, he showed up swinging a bat in a minor league baseball park in Alabama, we had to pick our jaws up off the floor. Jordan lost his passion for basketball and with the recent death of his father, he wanted to fulfill a childhood dream that he connected to his dad. But there was more to the story.
It’s hard to conceive of now, but Jordan was only 30 at the time of his (first) retirement. As a successful multi-million-dollar athlete, he had to be pulled by something so strong that he would opt to travel on cramped buses, live in motels, eat cheap food, and rise early for batting practice all to play in the minor leagues of a sport he had given up in high school. But for Jordan, after years of being the most watched and dissected human on the planet, the experience was invigorating.
In watching The Last Dance, I was surprised by how not crazy the decision seemed all these years later. What came through in Jordan’s interviews about taking up baseball was how human his desire was, how normal even. He just wanted to be part of a team, one of the gang, and new to something again. Though he had reached the absolute pinnacle of his sport, to him, it had felt like stagnation. MJ’s story shows how personal and relative these feelings truly are.
I understand this idea intimately as I have gone through my own reinvention. The seed to my desire to be a keynote speaker was planted 15 years ago when I was working the NBPA Top 100 Camp. The camp brought in a former NBA player and motivational speaker named Walter Bond to talk to the group. I was mesmerized by his brilliant story-telling, impactful lessons, and innate ability to get the audience to think, laugh, and feel. I remember thinking: One day, I want to do that.
Ten years later, I started to experience feelings of stagnation as a performance coach and the thought that it might be time to try ‘that,’ eked its way into my conscience. With each passing month, it got louder, until I knew I was ready to shift to a new stage. The reinvention wasn’t smooth and it’s still not finished, but I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t taken that leap. The reinvention began with me simply listening to myself.
Fortunately, I had been honing my speaking chops at basketball camps and clinics around the world for over a decade. Coupled with a treasure trove of content from a vast array of experiences with world class players and iconic coaches, and I had a foundation to build on.
There was a learning curve as I figured out how to speak differently, adapt to new audiences, meet with and learn from various other motivational speakers, authors, and business leaders, and constantly improve my craft. I had long been a ‘basketball guy,’ but I didn’t let others, or even my own past, tell me who I was. That choice was up to me.
Evolving as a person is an essential part of being alive. Simply put, if you’re the same person you are at 40 that you were at 20, then you wasted 20 years. The problem is young men and women are still being asked to choose their career tracks before they have any real world experience, which is crazy if you think about it.
Think about your current job or the industry in which you work. When did you choose it? Did you even choose it? Or did you more like fall into it? Are you in a field because it’s what your majored in during college? Because your parents encouraged it? Because a friend knew someone who got you in the door? You were an inexperienced person making an inexperienced decision. It might have been perfect for the time, it might have been good for a while, or it might have been a disaster. Nevertheless, you are not stuck with it now.
The concept of a career has evolved over the last thirty years. The world of clocking in at a single job for decades, a world that our grandparents took as a given, is not the only option anymore. We don’t need to stay in the same place doing the same thing to feel like we’ve had a ‘steady career.’ Even the idea of working for a single place is dated: the gig economy, freelancing, entrepreneurship, flex time, and adult education all comprise the new reality. People can create the careers they want, maybe even ones that don’t exist yet.
Searching for the job that fits your unique skill is a process of self-discovery and self-invention that has lasting, positive effects. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that “younger workers who sample more occupations—viewing each successive job hop as a chance to discover the kind of work they find most satisfying—tend to be more financially successful in their thirties and forties.” There are plenty of practical ways to ‘play the field’ and explore what’s out there. The search will give you a better sense of your choices, and it will bring you satisfaction from knowing that you have found something that fits you.
In the 21st century, we no longer have to follow the conventional path. We don’t have to hit the same benchmarks at certain ages in a certain order anymore—whether that means in our work, relationships, living situation, interests, skillset, or education. In Life is in the Transitions, author Bruce Feiler proclaims that “the linear life is dead.” We no longer have to go “through a series of preordained life stages,” but rather we can “experience life as a complex swirl of celebrations, setbacks, triumphs, and rebirths across the full span of our years.” The old order is dead. Your life can be lived any way you choose.
The average person will move 11.7 times in his lifetime and is twice as likely to live somewhere other than where he grew up. Before he’s 50, he will have 12 different jobs. Millennials (born between 1981-1996) will change jobs even more, staying in a single job an average of four years and having four different jobs in their first ten years out of college. A pre-pandemic survey found sixty percent of millennials are “currently looking for new employment opportunities.” The generations coming into the workforce will continue to be less and less attached to staying in the same job or position as long as previous ones had.
I’m not suggesting you hop from industry to industry, job to job, with no plan or purpose. Your resumé shouldn’t look like a random sampling of careers as though you were eating at a buffet. However, it should read like a story of a person evolving, gaining experience, and utilizing new skills. Each stop along the way is an opportunity to develop, connect, and explore on the way to the right role for you.
My friend Rick Simmons founded the telos institute, a global consulting firm that works with organizations on purpose, strategic change, and leadership. Rick is a brilliant guy with a big heart and an open mind. One of the many things he taught me is the concept of liminal space. Liminal space refers to the in-between, often uncomfortable place between where you are and where you are going. When you are standing at the threshold of the new thing but have not yet begun it, you are inside liminal space. Think of the trapeze artist: he can’t reach the next bar until he lets go of the previous one. Depending on the perspective, this might feel like falling, or it might feel like flying. When he’s in the air, that’s liminal space.
These can be scary but also revitalizing moments in our lives. They require risk because you can’t get to the next bar without letting go of the previous one. You have to let go. You have to be okay in mid-air. You have to reach out without a guarantee of safety.
Even with the right mindset and plan, there will be rejections and closed doors. There will be moments of insecurity where you know less than everyone around you: good. It means you’re not playing it safe. It means you’re stretching, which is how you grow. If you only like to be in situations where you are comfortable and experienced, then you will be doomed to stagnate.
Sustain Your Game teaches you how to bring your A game to every area of your life. With advice from top CEOs, journalists, social scientists, and more, you’ll learn the framework for how to beat stress, stagnation, and burnout. Sustain Your Game will help you be the best in your arena, wherever that may be.
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