In college, my first roommate was almost a high school dropout. (This is ironic, because I actually was a high school dropout.)
My roommate and I talked about the mistakes we’d made, the opportunities we’d squandered, and what we wanted to do differently in college. We agreed that college was a chance for us to reinvent ourselves, so we did. I became the editor of the school’s newspaper. He became the president of its largest professional development club.
All we had to do was think differently and act accordingly.
College is the first time most people get a chance to reinvent themselves, and it can be exhilarating. But afterward, it might seem like life doesn’t offer you many more chances to rethink and redesign who you are.
Every time you start a new job? Sure, but most people aren’t starting a new job all that often. (Unless you’re a freelancer — and even then, you develop a reputation.)
Every time you start a new relationship? Yes, but again, few people are starting new relationships on a regular basis. (Although this does explain some people’s tendency to avoid commitment. The thrill of seeming new to someone else can seem like an antidote to the frustrations you have about yourself in your current relationship.)
Whenever you move? Sure, but how often does that happen?
The truth is, once you graduate college and enter the working world, your chances to reinvent yourself are limited.
Or are they?
Perception Is a Two-Way Street
Who you are is partly your own construction and partly the impression everyone else has of you — and everyone has a slightly different perception of who “you” really are. Your mother sees you differently from your father, and so on. To each of them, you’re “you” — but those are two different versions of you. And neither of them is how you see yourself.
The same is true in love, in work, and in life in general. We see ourselves one way, others see us however they choose, and then we jointly create the construct of “ourselves” using their feedback and our own. (And Instagram and Facebook, where we construct seemingly perfect depictions of our lives so no one will think we have flaws.)
So what does this have to do with reinvention?
Simple: you can change your half of the equation anytime you choose.
You only ever control your own half of a relationship. But the part you do control includes the way you see yourself, and the way you react to the world around you. And if you start seeing yourself differently, and acting differently as a result, you give others the opportunity to reframe how they see you, too.
For example, how many times has a breakup left you feeling terrible?
In reality (whatever that is), you’re probably not as bad as you feel. But in your own mind, you’re a failure — at least temporarily. So how did who you were when you first met devolve into the deplorable creatures you see each other as now? Aren’t you still the same people you were when you fell in love?
Well… yes and no.
And that’s actually good news, because it proves your self-perception and the perception others have of you can change over time. In this case, it’s unfortunate that your perceptions went downhill — but that means they can also go uphill, too.
After all, weren’t you amazing enough to be worth dating in the first place?
That idealized version of you, when you were the new lover, or the new employee, or the new student — when you were seen as an endless possibility instead of a multitude of mistakes? That version of you still exists.
You just need to reboot it.
Portrait of the Artist as a Ball of Insecurity
“But I have no reason to think differently about myself,” you say. “I don’t have any big wins. I don’t have the skills or talents I admire in others. I know my own weaknesses too well, and pretending I don’t have them would feel dishonest. I want to be liked unconditionally. I need external validation in order to change my self-perception.”
You do realize all of that is just your own perception, right?
Somebody else in the world right now already thinks you’re awesome. You probably have coworkers who admire you, friends who can’t imagine what they’d do without you, and secret admirers who lay awake thinking about you at night. They each recognize your skills, your strengths, and your upside, all while overlooking or downplaying your flaws. To them, seeing you is one of the highlights of their day.
(Granted, all of that is just their own perception too… but I digress.)
You’re choosing to see yourself however you currently see yourself.
And you can choose to see yourself differently.
The truth is, nobody can define you but you.
Sure, everybody else has an opinion about you. But that’s just their reality. It’s not yours. You don’t get to control their opinion, or change it — so why let it affect you?
Criticism can hurt and praise can feel good, but it’s just external feedback. It can’t affect your own self-perception unless you let it.
By that same rationale, your own opinion of yourself is allowed to change on the spur of the moment. You don’t need someone else’s permission to believe you’re smart, strong, capable, resilient, or anything else you’d like to be.
All you have to do is think differently and act accordingly.
(Pro Tip: Thinking differently is the easy part. Don’t forget to act, or else you won’t create the positive proof that influences your perceptions.)
If You Like This Post
… then you may also like this post about the art of personal branding and how to control your own story, or this post about overcoming imposter syndrome.