To want *you* specifically

“I have no idea what I’ll do next” she said to me, as she shared that she had decided to leave her company of 14 years. “I stayed for the last few years even though I knew it was time for me to leave…”

When you’re not ready to face into “the new”, you can hold onto what you already know. Clinging to it. Holding tight. Staying stagnant.

Which is why I want to highlight what it means to  do “reinvention”. For this, I turned to Dorie Clark, a former presidential campaign spokesperson now branding strategy consultant.  She recently wrote “Reinventing you” which has already sold 11,000 copies in a short six months.

To start off, Dorie, what is the larger macro issue that made you want to write on this?

I was initially prompted to write Reinventing You because of my own experience – having to reinvent my career when I got laid off as a journalist amidst the disruption and collapse of the newspaper industry. But I quickly came to realize it’s a far broader phenomenon. The economy, and the world of work, is changing so rapidly today that we all need to reinvent ourselves on a regular basis.

Indeed, a study by Intuit predicts that by 2020, a full 40% of the American workforce will be freelance – meaning we have to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset when it comes to our skills and how we make money.

Yeah, I refer to this during an MIT interview when I say “work is freed from jobs” …

Exactly. But, even people who will to work in established companies need to find ways to keep themselves and their skills fresh. When I interviewed Steven Rice, the EVP of Human Resources for Juniper Networks, he told me that one of the first, and most important, questions he asks potential new hires is “What are you doing to reinvent yourself?” If they don’t have a good answer, they don’t get hired.

A very good friend is now on the market, and the last time time she looked for a job, the metrics of success for very much about “what brand do you work for” but so much has changed. I advocate for people to tap into their Onlyness — that place a person stands in that is ONLY their spot in their world — capturing their history, experiences, visions and hopes. I know you advise something similar —

Can you share how Onlyness (talk here) can be applied in reinventing yourself?

In today’s economy, the worst thing you can be is a commodity – someone who is an interchangeable and replaceable part. Thinkers like Erik Brynjolffson and Andrew McAfee have written about the hollowing out of the middle – the fact that many traditional middle class jobs that require a college education are disappearing, either outsourced abroad or made irrelevant by technological advances. Instead, we’re left with either low-end service jobs, or highly skilled and highly remunerated work. The only answer to this conundrum is “onlyness” – embracing and leading with what is unique about you and the value you can bring. As long as someone needs “a graphic designer” or “an accountant,” you will lose, because someone will do it cheaper. You need for them to want *you* specifically.

In Reinventing You, I tell the story of a woman named Libby Wagner, who was a poet and community college professor of women’s studies and creative writing who reinvented herself into a management consulting career. It was quite a leap, and at first, she was embarrassed about her background and worried that other people would find out. She felt sure they wouldn’t take her seriously if they knew, so she hid her past. But that also made her bland – indistinguishable from other consultants. Why hire her? So over time, as she built her client base and began to feel more comfortable, she “came out” as a poet and started to make it a central part of her work. These days, her e-newsletter is called The Boardroom Poet, and it’s one of the strengths she leads with: she can understand and parse language in ways that traditional consultants can’t.

I’d advise people who are considering reinventing themselves to ask the following questions:

– What is unique about your background, skills, or experience? What is your onlyness?

– How can that add value to your company or your field? (For instance, Libby’s facility with the nuances of language allows her to advise her clients on communicating better with their stakeholders.)

– How can you demonstrate that value? Whether it’s through testimonials, case studies, or the creation of intellectual property (blog posts, white papers, etc.), how can you share your onlyness with the world?


Those are GREAT steps.

To go someplace new, you also have to be willing to leave the past behind.  But when and how, and, what I think a lot of people who are going to read this will really want us to answer, “do I have to?”

When reinventing yourself, you don’t want to be rash. It’s a bad idea to quit your job without a plan, especially if you have a mortgage or other financial responsibilities. But that doesn’t mean you have to suck up adverse circumstances and stifle your dreams and passions while you wait for a deus ex machina to rescue you. Instead, you need to proactively work toward your reinvention – at first, building skills and experience on the side, and then eventually making a leap when you’re ready and prepared.

For Reinventing You, I interviewed a woman named Patricia Fripp – now recognized as a highly successful professional speaker. She began her career as a hairdresser who occasionally spoke at hair shows. She had such great relationships with her clients that when they discovered she spoke, they invited her to address their clubs and companies, and she spent years building a speaking business on the side. She invested profits from her hairdressing business into professional development and high quality materials, such as videos and promotional flyers. When she was ready – with the skills and contacts she needed – she left hairdressing and became a full-time speaker.

As she told me, “You plan your divorce, you don’t just leave.”

But far too many people treat their careers like bad marriages that they stay in “for the sake of the kids.” Some people are so intent on not making a hasty or foolish move, that they don’t make a move – ever. When the moment is right, you have to take action.

What’s great about the storie of Patricia is that she’s owning a dream –  even when no one else sees it for her. I love that. It’s courageous to hold a vision or hope for yourself.

I am thinking about my friend again and why she didn’t move sooner. At some level, I think she thinks of herself as “loyal” and that leaving was “disloyal” – what would you say to her?

The fundamental challenge we face as human beings is, first, understanding who we really are, and then living in a way that manifests that. The process of reinvention, when done right, is about embracing your onlyness – coming closer to your authentic core and living the life you want. Some people might feel threatened by that. Their expectations are upended; you’re not in the box they wanted to place you in. They may say change is disloyal, and that you owe it to others to keep on the path you started. Actually, you owe it to yourself to be who you are. Of course, that’s a very Western idea, placing the individual above the collective. So be it! The world is moving too fast for us to accept stasis. Not only will it not make us happy…these days, it won’t make us safe or secure, either.

Interesting Dorie. I can see why the book is doing so well.

To be fair, I’m not sure this is an issue of self vs. collective. That suggests that one comes at the cost of the other. I think of it more as this: we can each bring our very best to the whole, if and when we are manifesting ourselves fully, then value creation goes up. That is —  not to fit into some one else’s idea of who I am but to discover what it is that will let me manifest fully alive. Then, what I create and do is more valuable. This connects the idea of individual human value (in humanism terms) to value creation (as defined in economic terms). To me, when we bring those two things together- we will have a more viable — maybe even fulfilled — way for people to create.

You can find Dorie’s book here: (in case you are still looking for presents!)

Another book I’ve recommended for people seeking a reinvention is this one by Martha Beck:

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