You have to reinvent yourself. I’ve been hearing that phrase so often lately it’s really starting to get on my nerves. Here’s the problem: Everyone says it after the fact as the reason why they were successful. Like that was the plan all along. Horseshit.

What usually happens is they take a flyer on something, it works out, and in retrospect, they throw out that cool-sounding phrase like it’s some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy – that if you set out to reinvent yourself, you will, and it will all work out in the end. Again, horseshit.

None of those people actually set out to reinvent themselves. In every case I can think of, they were either dissatisfied with what they were doing or necessity forced them to seek other opportunities. When a promising one presented itself, they jumped on it and, glory be, it worked out.

In reality, they made their own luck by being in the right place at the right time and acting on it. Good on them, but an actual plan to reinvent themselves, it most definitely was not.

There’s an old saying that luck is when opportunity meets preparation. It’s very true. As a corollary, I say luck is when opportunity meets desperation. That’s also true. It’s certainly been true throughout my life. Every major career shift I made was a result of desperation, not some grand strategy.

I’m going through a pretty big career shift right now, and one thing I can tell you, no matter how it all works out, I will never blow smoke up anyone’s ass by saying I was reinventing myself. Truth is, it just happened the way it did. Action reaction. One step at a time. One decision at a time.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying you can’t plan a career the way you plan a family or a business. Or that you can’t consciously change direction. Of course you can. At least you can try. And your plan may even work for a time, until something goes terribly wrong, as it will. You know what they say; shit happens. It sure does.

As for those major inflection points that result in big-ticket success – you know, the kind where you’re on TV and the interviewer asks how you did it – those are never planned. So don’t act like it was. The gullible audience may stand in awe of how brilliant and fearless you were, but to those who know better, you just sound like a dick.

Instead, be humble and just say it was dumb luck. That’s the way to go.

Image credit spiralperm via Flickr (P.S. Is it weird that I like the pic on the left better?)

  • Barry Duck

    I love your blogs because you tell it like it is, no holding back. My best advancements came from trying to leave a bad job to a better one, and most times it worked for me and a lot of hard work. I transferred out of a job because of a VP who loved screwing with people and I just had to get out of that place, it was terrible. After I left that plant everything starting looking up and my career took off, the stories from that place, I could write a book.
    I agree everyone now has to have some kind of profound quote like at the end of their emails, some have two or three. I like the quote from Star Trek when Scotty said the best diplomat is a fully loaded phaser bank. I like people who tell it like they see it but now its so hard for people to do that because they fear hurting peoples feelings. My best mangers told me the truth even if it hurt my feelings after I got over my little mad spell I knew they were right and it made things better for all involved. I adjusted without reading who moved my cheese book. Keep up the good work.

    • Steve Tobak

      Your best comment yet, Barry. I’ve always had just one approach: direct. That’s just me. And while I think it’s important to be fair-minded, you can never let yourself be bullied. Guess I learned that growing up in Brooklyn. Also, if anyone gets offended by anything I write, they can kiss my ass.