How to Reinvent Yourself (Even if You Have Very Bad Hair)

May 15, 2023

7 lessons in starting over from an author who burned down her life to reinvent her career

Trailer park
Rural America
Frizzy hair
Disabled mom
Everyone dead by 21
No place to go for Christmas (which is a real bummer when you consider how cool I look on old men’s laps1)

That’s my super uplifting 6-line origin story! Today, however, my outcome story reads a little bit differently.

Mediocre Investor
Independent renegade who still has frizzy hair and soothes herself with cheese & sweatpants (some things don’t ever change, ok?)

Reinvention has been a big part of my life. Recently, I went through another one: I burned down everything I spent the last decade creating, because sometimes you get trapped inside of your own identity and can’t get out—like a Joe Goldberg cage, except of your own doing. It can be easy to write yourself a narrative and then forget to update it. At some point, the narrative starts driving the bus, telling you who you are, what you do, what you’re good at, what you’re not. It’s not until you start dreading showing up to be that person every day, that you finally realize that who you are now is not the same person as who you were when you wrote that story. And, that’s a conflict. You’re living inside a reality you’ve outgrown.

And yet, this is the BEST news. There’s nothing like having a fresh, dewey springtime meadow on which to build a new life, complete with a complimentary lumberjack and bed of Chrysanthemums. But, it can also be scary, because you’re basically starting back at zero: like you are a 21-year-old girl with frizzy hair, figuring out who you are again.

When this happens, the greatest capital you have is your mind. All the other stuff you thought mattered, doesn’t: not your dumb house. Not your dumb curling iron. Not all the dumb expectations you placed upon yourself for years and years and years. Everything else is in the past: your mind is the only piece of capital that can take you somewhere new.

(Okay, fine: money can also take you somewhere new. But without meaningful direction, YOU’RE STILL IN A CAGE.)

Speaking of “meaningful direction,” how the hell do you get some of that? That sounds like a wonderful name for a band—or maybe an experimental IPA.

Shockingly, I have some ideas.

  1. Trust the things that excite you.
    Listen to your interests like you would the voice of your sixth-grade crush. (AKA: INTENTLY.) Trust what you like. Don’t second guess yourself and mean-judge your every desire. Your desires are little fire-filled clues. They aren’t stupid, and you aren’t stupid, unless of course you’re into “extreme ironing.” That is pretty stupid. But GENERALLY SPEAKING, your attention span is a useful tool. Where’s it taking you? What are you finding yourself being drawn toward? What do you want to read about? What do you think about? What, if you had to write about something, would you want to write about? Your mind is your BFF—and sometimes the only way you guys can chat is on paper. Don’t be bashful: start investigating what’s in your brain. Otherwise, how are you supposed to know?

  2. Consider your own opinions valid & wanted.
    It’s easy to dismiss yourself when you LIVE INSIDE YOUR BRAIN, because you know all your flaws and sometimes those flaws can make you think less of your own opinions. The fact that you stay up too late. That you binge-eat pasta when hungover. That you cannot bring yourself to call people back. That you secretly hate Nutella. That you look like a homicidal baby snatcher anytime you wear red. It’s easy to see your own personal shortcomings and extend that shame to everything else. But, guess what? Your opinions are valid because they are the byproduct of your experiences. There’s no right or wrong—unless we’re talking about my opinions, which are always right—but only “here’s what’s been true for me, and here is how my experiences have helped shape my beliefs.” Of course, no one is mature enough to ever fucking phrase it like that, but there is value in things that have happened to you—and how those things have created your reality. No where in the history of the world will anyone ever be able to access that precise combination of experiences, ever again. Therefore, your opinion is a screenshot of humanity and the shared human experience. And, how is that not valuable?

  3. Contribute your ideas in public like a freak.
    There is a massive fear to become “an opinionated asshole,” by which “opinionated” means “a person who is full of themselves,” but there’s a difference between thinking that you’re right and sharing useful ideas. The latter is one of the most important things you can do. The world needs your ideas; it needs fresh perspectives; it needs new ways of seeing old problems; it needs that hyper-specific combination of your experiences that only you can contribute. This is called leadership—and it’s one of the best ways you can give yourself meaningful direction. Because the moment you start writing, speaking, or saying things out loud? That’s the moment you gain power. That’s the moment you take back your life.

  4. Work to find universal themes from your individual experience.
    It’s not so much a person’s story that is powerful, but what that story means for all of us. It’s a way of crowdsourcing our survival and learning from others. This is why we pay attention to anything at all: to see where we fit in the story and how we can relate. (That’s why you love movies where you have something in common with the main character: they help you reflect on your own life.) So, when sharing your ideas, don’t just tell the world a story: tell them an idea. Offer up perspective. Have the courage to make sense of your experiences and teach from them. This can be a REALLY powerful tool when you’re trying to reinvent yourself, because it makes you useful to other people. And, when you are useful to other people, you feel good. You feel valuable. And now you now have another form of capital: you have attention.

  5. Start viewing life as a BIG-ASS chemistry experiment.
    Remember chemistry? That some things go together, and some things blow up? Welp, same thing happens in life. Some things go together and, um….some things end in soul-crushing devastation covered in Big Mac wrappers. It’s not your fault when something doesn’t work out: THE EXPERIMENT DID NOT WORK OUT. You wouldn’t put yourself down if you decided to mix bleach and ammonia (though you may be dead), and similarly, you shouldn’t put yourself down for experiments gone wrong in life, either. You aren’t supposed to know how to “do it.” Your ego needs to take a backseat for a minute so you can look at life through the lens of a child again—and therein, lies magic. (And also naptime.) “You know what would be fun?” Fill in that blank every day for yourself and see what keeps coming up. Even though life is full of dull responsibilities, the most important responsibility is the one to yourself.

  6. Look at everything as practice. (Just like you once did with sex!)
    I am reinventing my writing career, and it’s weird. Perfectionism always wants to take over, because there’s that ever-human tendency to be like OMG WHAT IF I SOUND LIKE A DOUCHE??? You want everything to be perrrrrrfect before you pull the trigger, but all that does is keep you from moving forward, since there is NO SUCH THING. Therefore, when publishing pieces like “I Drove Across the Midwest Looking for ‘Nice People’ (What the Fuck Was I Thinking?)” I had no choice but to view it as practice. Everything is practice. Everything I’m writing right now is practice. We’re all just out here in our baseball pants, practicing a new thing. And, there is value in that. It’s okay that your thing isn’t perfect, because we don’t need perfect: we need real. We need human. We need you. So, go ahead and flip on “practice mode”—this one shift in thinking will help you do.

  7. And finally: get to know yourself again.
    You need to know what you want in order to make good decisions on your own behalf. For example, I chose not to pursue motherhood because it isn’t part of my path—and the reason I know that is because I’m in a dynamite intimate relationship with myself. Other people are doing what they feel is their path. The easiest way to lose yourself is to step off your own path and try to hop onto somebody else’s, when you know your ass is trespassing. That path wasn’t made for you, so your footprints don’t fit. Ask yourself this every day, too: What do you really want? And then write the answer down on paper, because the funny thing is? You won’t lie to yourself on paper. Not like you do in your head.

Ah, yes: self-reinvention. We’re all doing it, every day, whether we’re planning on it or not. Things you thought you’d never do, you did. Things you thought you’d never want, you do. But, that’s the beauty of being alive, isn’t it?

You may not be able to change your origin.
But you can always change your outcome.

The only thing in life you can’t change?

Is your hair.

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