Reinvent Yourself

The Romanian Leadership Journal Cariere invited me to share my vision about the need of people to reinvent themselves at some point of their life.

I decoded the concept from two different perspectives: theoretical, as I am a human science expert, and empirical, as I have fully experienced the entire process.

If you are thinking about doing it yourself, you may find some interesting insights to go further.

Enjoy!

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It takes five years to make it overnight”, says the French comedian François-Xavier Demaison in one of his shows.

Born in a lawyer family, François-Xavier have always been fascinated by comedy. But „by fear, by cowardice or simply to calm down his parents who advised him to be reasonable”, he dropped his passion and went to study law and political science in Sorbonne and finance in Sciences Po Paris.

During the last part of his studies, he also gave up on his theater classes and, after graduation, he joined Landwell & Associés (lawyer practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers PWC) as an auditor. During three years he had good results, he has been appointed manager and have been sent to the company’s office in New York. He followed the events on September 11th, 2001 from his office in Manhattan and this was the turning point. He decided that it was not his story and he turned back to his first love, the comedy. He contacted his former theatre professors and went on stage. His talent propelled him to cinema and in 2009, François-Xavier Demaison was nominated Cesar Award for Best Actor for his role in Coluche: L’Histoire d’un mec.

François-Xavier Demaison’s story puts on stage the paradox that sooner or later we all have to face: on one hand, we are conditioned to follow the societal rules, on the other hand, we are all exhorted to achieve our full potential. And when these two are not finding common ground, the process of identity negotiation begins.

The society went through major changes during the last decades. The length of studies increased, so the career path, the supreme loyalty to one employer and the security of a stable job disappeared, the family principle is falling apart, the new technologies in an exacerbated consumer society deeply changed the landscape. The future is already announcing huge economic and ecologic changes. We are fully into a paradigm change and, as the sociologist François Dubet was saying (Le Travail des sociétés, Seuil, 2009), “more than temptations, we have to face some kind of order […] everyone is invited to reverse the preestablished patterns, to reinvent the future, to assume and to fulfil his/her own potential.”

And so, the success model that endured over the time is questioned today. Betting on what Tal Ben-Shahar named the strong currency (Fii fericit!, Curtea Veche Publishing, 2009), meaning the material well-being, versus the ultimate currency, the happiness, is not an adequate answer anymore. Both are necessary but the subjective well-being is starting to gain ground. The high stress levels, the desire to have a balance between personal and professional life, the need for meaning and purpose are all factors determining more than half of the Europeans to privilege the subjective well-being instead of the salary (ADB, Workforce View in Europe 2018, study made on 10.000 active individuals), and Americans participants to a study to be ready to give up on 23% of their future incomes to have a meaningful job (Shawn Achor et al, Harvard Business Review, November 06, 2018).

It is no wonder then that the need for reinventing oneself is more and more present and that people all ages are asking questions about themselves, about their motivations and deep aspirations. Ravenna Helson, Psychology Professor at Berkeley who conducted the Mills study asserts that we can reinvent ourselves at any age.

Nevertheless, this desire of change appears to be very complex and profoundly ambivalent says Catherine Négroni (Reconversion professionnelle volontaire. Changer d’emploi, changer de vie. Un regard sociologique sur les bifurcations, Armand Colin, 2007). The employee is oscillating between leaving or staying, anxiety and excitement. The existential questions meet the professional bifurcations: we want to break up with what? The job, the environment, the past? To take what direction? Why?

Because radical changes are rarely a sudden metamorphosis that make us pass from a state to another. In reality, there are twists and turns, dreams and constraints, sudden bifurcations and hesitant transformations. It is a subtle action, far away from the heroic models of the self transformation as Marc-Henry Soulet (Sciences Humaines, Changer sa vie: une question sociologique, 2011) says. Those changes are often seen as will and decision acts which generally arise after a trigger being pulled. A break up, a loss, professional setbacks, a disease or even the birth of a child can represent a turning point, a decisive moment. But this is a simplistic vision which leaves out the latency time during which the individual is negotiating with himself.

It takes a deep reflexive work to pass from an identity to another, to modify your positioning in front of yourself and of others, so as maintaining a permanent self. The sense of the transformation is revealed a posteriori as it is built at the same time as the process of turnaround is going on.

Reinventing oneself can take different forms. A lot of employees dream to become their own boss, artists or to live in the heart of nature. Those projects (or fantasy) are built on the same logic: take your life into your hands, act and don’t take passively anymore a context that doesn’t suit you. Others decide simply to break up with people around them and society they were living in and disappear just like Michel Houellebecq’s character (Serotonină, Humanitas Fiction, 2019). On the other hand, there are more and more people who become nomads. They do the world tour and dedicate their time to humanitarian causes. When they don’t work remote on their own projects.

For those attracted by reinventing themselves, no matter what the nature of this reinventing may be, there are at least two things that need to be taken into consideration.

First of all, we have been taught to believe that wrong things will make us feel happier for longer (Sonja Lyubomirsky, Cum să fii fericit, Amsta Publishing, 2010), and our brain is perfectly playing its game in this trap. Miswanting is the term invented by Daniel Gilbert and Timothy Wilson meaning this act of being mistaken about what and how much you’re going to like these things in the future. On the other hand, our minds just don’t think in terms of absolutes, the social comparison constantly influencing our decisions. Finally, the hedonic adaptation shortens our happiness even when we obtain what we really wanted to obtain or achieve. Those cognitive biases impact our vision about the things and projects that could make us really happy. The brain tripled its volume during the last three million years but the evolutionary design didn’t put happiness on the agenda. Candidates to reinventing themselves should first ask deep questions about what they truly want and then prepare this change.

Secondly, rewriting a biography is a real hard work. Maslow was saying that the most beautiful thing that can happen to a human being is to be rewarded for that work that he/she is doing by passion. Hoping that all the candidates to reinventing won the identity bet and identified the meaningful project, it is time to deploy the strategy to achieving this new chapter. Networking, training, coaching and/or mentoring are precious tools in this context. This way they can find the right opportunities, reinforce the key necessary skills and progress in the transition under the supervision of experts in this area.

I decoded the concept of reinventing oneself from two different perspectives: theoretical, as I am a human science professional, and empirical, as I have fully experienced the entire process.

Indeed, during more than fifteen years I have been building a beautiful career path. I have worked for multinational corporations (Renault, Accenture, L’Oréal), I dedicated my time and energy to more than 8.000 people I have been working with in three countries (France, Romania and Italy), mostly as a Human Resources Director, but also in sales and marketing.

But something was still missing. I was not truly happy. Neither most of the people I came across… This was my turning point when I have decided to drop everything and to begin my pursuit of happiness.

‘Over the night’, I became a writer, a journalist and a film producer, an experience that I have always dreamed of but that I never had the courage to explore. I wrote a lot to challenge my own ideas and my own vision of the world.

I read all the literature (neurosciences, psychology, philosophy, economy, history) I could find on happiness. I took classes in Princeton (Buddhism and Modern Psychology), Pennsylvania (Positive Psychology), Yale (The Science of Well Being), Berkley (The Foundations of Happiness at Work). I gave conferences in Romania, Spain and Germany. During all this time I passed through a deep reflexion process on myself and through all the steps of identity negotiation. I had to renegade the whole system in order to understand it, I had to change everything around me before I understood that it would have been enough to just change myself. It took me three years to understand what happiness is, to learn how to build it and to realize that for people to be happy, they should already just simply know… how to be happy. But did anyone teach that to them?

This is why I created my company. SERMAN INSIGHT is born from my pursuit of happiness and its mission is to offer women, men and children the same tools that made me find my way to happiness. Ser for being, Man for human, In In for everything we hold inside without even knowing it. Sight for the way we see the world at our own manner. The need for reinventing brought me to my true meaning: being happy and teach others how to build their own happiness.

Le fin mot de la fin belongs to Rainer Maria Rilke who gives this advice to a young man who hesitates between a military career or the writing calling:

“You are looking [for answers] outside and this is exactly what you shouldn’t be doing. Nobody can advise you, no one. There is only one way: dive into yourself. (…) Before anything, ask yourself at the quietest hour of the night: is it really necessary to write? Dig into yourself and look for the answer deep inside you. And if this answer is positive, and if you can answer this critical question by a powerful and simple: “I can’t do otherwise”, then built your existence in respect to this need.”

The need for reinventing yourself…

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