A science-backed case for reinvention
Everything comes to an end, more or less. Whether it be by choice or otherwise. It could be an outright loss of something dear to you, or a change initiated by growth and other inevitable factors.
Your closest friends from college get married and start to build a family, your sibling moves to a new country, or maybe a job that was once fulfilling to you starts to feel like a drag.
In these moments of uncertainty when life creates a gap in our existence, one of two things happens.
Either we embrace it as an opportunity to create something new in its place, or we hold on to the past and the resulting feelings of loss and discontent.
According to Carol Dweck, a professor of developmental, social and personality psychology at Stanford University, the path we choose depends on whether we have a fixed or growth mindset.
For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value. How does this happen? How can a simple belief have the power to transform your psychology and, as a result, your life?
Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.
I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves — in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser? . . .
There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens. In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.
Do people with this mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.
In the spirit of the more beneficial growth mindset, the only way to look when we feel uncertain is forward. The natural shift in our lives and relationships doesn’t have to feel like loss, but rather a blank slate of opportunity onto which we could paint any picture we like!
How to reinvent yourself:
- Let your interests lead you
The first place to begin your reinvention is to lean into the interests you already have but haven’t been able to explore yet. Take that cooking class you’ve always wanted to try (now that your Sunday brunches with your friends are further apart), or plan to visit your sibling in the new country they moved to.
- Let your needs lead you
If at any point in your journey you need something but can’t find it, then think about creating it yourself!
Maybe you’d like to make some new friends. Organizing a community focused project in your immediate neighborhood would have everyone meeting up in your backyard, which could be the start of your next great friendship.
- Let your curiosity lead you
If there’s no obvious direction in which you’d like to take your life, then just open yourself up to discovery! Break out of the mold and your usual routines. Go out into the great unknown and see what you’ll find and/or who you’ll become.
Above all, treat everything like an experiment. Always remember that you can correct course whenever you feel the need. Don’t get too attached to your new identity that you allow it to make you feel stuck or miserable.