There’s a long and glorious tradition around this time of year, as summer nights reach their peak and slowly melt into fall: trying to reinvent yourself. This is especially true for first-time college students: as they enter a life away from their family – and often the majority of their social circle – they look at college as a blank slate, a place where nobody knows who they are. It’s a chance to rebuild themselves, to escape from the trap of who they were in high-school and find a brand-new life as someone else. Someone cool.
Of course, this is hardly just the province of freshmen taking their first tentative steps away towards independence like wobbly baby deer; almost all of us have wondered what life would be like if we could just be different. If we could just… change who we were.
So why don’t you?
Who You Are Is A Work In Progress
The idea of changing who you are is always seen as a Herculean – if not impossible – task. You are who you are and trying to fight against that only brings pain and frustration – this is the message handed to us over and over again since we were children; be yourself, no matter what!
Moreover, we’re taught that changing ourselves is the ultimate in self-betrayal – that by being willing to alter ourselves in some way, we’re proving ourselves to be weak, failures, sheep who go along with the group instead of standing strong as an individual no matter what comes our way.
And to be fair: there’s good in being willing to be steadfast in who you are… but what if you’re not happy with who you are? Should “be yourself” be an absolute when being “yourself” makes you miserable? Should you not strive to improve or to alter the aspects of your look, your personality or your lifestyle that may be holding you back?
The fact of the matter is that identity is a fluid concept. Nobody is the same from one minute to the next, never mind from year to year or even decade to decade.
The difference, then, is whether you just choose to let change happen on it’s own over time…
… or to take control and make it happen. To go and reinvent yourself.
Why Should You Change? Why Shouldn’t You?
One of the questions I get regularly from my readers is “so should I just admit I’m a horrible person and change everything about myself?” After all, in trying to reinvent yourself, it can feel as though you’re saying “I’m a horrible/defective/undesirable person and should be somebody else entirely if I want to be a better person”.
Needless to say, this isn’t the healthiest mindset to have. The question isn’t “should I destroy myself and start over”, it’s “who do I want to be?” The idea behind reinventing yourself isn’t to just be somebody, anybody else. It’s not to recreate yourself in order to please somebody. It’s about making you happy with who you are. It’s about finally learning how to be the sort of person you’ve always wanted to be. It’s about overcoming your self-imposed limits and pushing past your boundaries.
It all comes down to the question I always like to ask: “How’s that working out for ya?”
And often… it isn’t.
Case in point: I spent the majority of my post-pubescent life with the belief that I was “The One Who Wasn’t Good With Girls”. I was a pale, chubby geek who could barely look people in the eye, never mind talk to the people I was attracted to. I was a Nice Guy because that was the only way I knew how to interact with women; I was afraid to tell women how I felt because I knew that there was no way that they would ever find me attractive and being honest would only mean they’d reject me.
And considering who I was and how I acted at the time… I was right.
I wasn’t happy with who I was. I just thought that I was stuck. I didn’t believe change was possible… nor did I know how. It wasn’t until after my proverbial “Batman” moment that I finally decided that shit had to be different, no matter what the cost.
What Is Your Brand?
The first part of reinventing yourself is establishing your personal brand.
Just as you have certain associations with corporate brands – associations with Coke or Nike or Apple – we have associations with individuals. When you think of Marylin Monroe, you have an immediate mental image: blonde, a rarified, unselfconscious sexiness, the breathy voice. You think of Tupac Shakur and you have other images – the skillful wordplay, the “thug” persona contrasting with his songs about social justice, his aggressiveness and confidence. Bill Clinton is a brand. Mick Jagger is a brand. Robert Downey Jr. is a brand. Wil Wheaton is a brand. Dan Savage is a brand.
Think of it as your shorthand representation of yourself – who are you at a glance? What immediately comes to mind when someone looks at you or thinks of you? What do you represent in people’s minds? This is your brand… and most of the time we pay absolutely no conscious attention to it.
This is a mistake.
Your persona, your brand, your stereotype, tells other people who you are. Corporations and celebrities spend a great deal of time and effort at establishing their persona because it directly influences how others perceive them… and they want to make sure that the public sees the good side. Not paying attention to the image they portray and leaving those associations up to chance means giving up control and losing the ability to influence how others view them… worse, it opens them up to being defined by other people. Pepsi doesn’t want you associating their product with rotting teeth and Budweiser doesn’t want you associating them with drunken violence and car accidents.
Look at geeks – the popular image is of the basement dwelling, overweight, acne-spotted socially awkward virgin, venting their impotent rage online through a cloud of Cheeto dust. And yet, this is one of the most famous geeks in America:
The stereotype of “geek” is an example of what happens when you let other people define who you are.
So you need t0 consider your brand. What do you want to convey about yourself at a glance? What comes to you when you think of the style you wish you had? Consider your archetype – do you lean more towards Daniel Craig as James Bond or Jensen Eckles as Dean Winchester? Do you prefer rocking a slick power suit a la Sean Combs or more of a surfer look? Find something that resonates with you, something that defines what you most wish to be and put your personal spin on it.
Examine your favorite characters from pop-culture – especially ones you already resemble slightly. What is it about them that appeals to you? What is it about them that you wish you were more like? These will help guide you towards building your personal brand and persona, especially if you’re not sure where to start. Using, say, Damon Salvatore (hopefully minus the “sociopathic murderer” aspects) as a role-model will give you a foundation to build off of.
Even someone not conventionally attractive can make a start to a personal brand. Kevin Smith may not be appearing on the cover of Men’s Health any time soon, but he has his charm and appeal – and let’s not forget that he’s been happily married with a beautiful wife and daughter for many years now.
Just remember though: this isn’t just a persona or a performance that you put on when you go out and slough off when you get home. If you’re not actually making a point to inhabit your brand, even when you’re by yourself, you’re not actually changing; you’re just putting up a false front in order to please others. People will see the incongruity between your public and private selves and it will make them uncomfortable. They’ll assume you’re trying to pull something over on them. It will make them distrust you. This is not something you want.
You’re not an actor playing a role – you’re creating a lifestyle.
Mange Your Image
Just as you need to manage your brand, you also need to manage your appearance.
Notice very carefully that I said appearance, not looks. Your looks are genetically encoded into you; you can’t change the shape of your face, your height or your build without painful and expensive surgery… and even then that doesn’t always work.
So your body is your body and your face is your face; that’s not going to change. But you can change how people see you by how you present yourself.
To start with the basics: if your body and face are going to be the foundation of your look, then you need to make sure that they’re properly cared for. You don’t need to be in perfect shape with a swimmer’s build and cheekbones that could cut cheese, but you do need to take care of yourself. This means eating right and exercising. A healthy diet – high in water (not soda or coffee… and yes, I’m a huge hypocrite with my 12 Diet Dr. Pepper a day habit) green, leafy veggies and lean protein while minimizing simple carbohydrates and avoiding high-fructose corn syrup and processed foods – will do amazing things for your hair, skin and health even if it doesn’t lead to an Adonis’ six-pack. A mix of cardio and weight-bearing exercises will not only build up your body but strengthen your heart, your joints and your immune system as well as do amazing things for your mood and outlook on life.
The next step is to take care of your face. Most guys know nothing about skin care… and yet your face is 99% of what people are going to be paying attention to. A basic moisturizer/sunscreen combination is the bare-minimum requirement. Again: this is an area where even the littlest effort will produce amazing results. Just the basic attention to skin care will make people see you differently. Clearing up acne, evening out your skin tone and shrinking your pores will create a radical difference.
From there, you need to cultivate your look. Again, this is where you keep your personal brand in mind: if you’re more of a burly biker type, dressing like a Wall-Street CFO is a huge mistake. Your persona should influence everything about your style, from hair to clothes; choosing against your type will only seem like an uncomfortable contradiction. Even details like accessories or tattoos are influenced by your brand; I’m fairly extensively tatted up, but everyone who sees them is quick to agree that they just fit me. That G-Shock watch is going to look out of place on a corporate type but works just perfectly on the surfer or outdoors-y adventurer type.
Don’t be afraid to make changes – even large ones – if they fit who you are trying to be. You may have had that hair cut for decades… so it’s time to try a better one, especially one that flatters your face. If you have thinning hair or a receding hairline, consider going whole-hog and just buzzing your head, especially if you have a nicely shaped skull. If you have a weak jawline, consider growing a beard to give your face more definition. If you wear glasses, consider a switch to contacts… or even to a different style of glasses. Going from the old-fashioned chunky black frames to rimless or something a little more fashion forward can completely transform your face. Remember: you’re reinventing yourself. This means being willing to try things that may be outside of your comfort zone, especially with your appearance.
Much as with your brand, it’s good to remember that your appearance isn’t a sometimes thing; it’s a 24-7 investment. If you’re only wearing your “badass” clothes when you’re going out to meet people, then you’re missing the point – that makes it a costume rather than part of who you are. Even when you’re lounging around at home, your appearance can be important. You don’t need to be dressed to the nines at all times, but at the same time, you wouldn’t see any of the Rat Pack hanging out in stained sweatpants and a beat-to-shit football jersey.
Adjust Your Personality
This is where things get interesting. Reinventing yourself is more than just managing your exterior; it’s about changing your interior as well.
This is the part that trips people up. We’re told over and over again that you can’t necessarily change your personality… and this isn’t strictly true. You can’t, say, force an introvert to become an extrovert, but you can change how you act and behave.
Much of what we consider our personality is the result of habit in as much as it is something inherent in us… and habits can be changed. Being socially awkward or afraid to approach people we’re attracted to, for example, can be changed through experience and repetition. Social awkwardness isn’t a binary state, it’s a continuum; it’s a matter of education and observation combined with training. Spend time specifically working on getting better at social calibration – being consciously aware of the signals other people are giving off as well as the ones you’re sending out – and you’ll find that you’re better at actually interacting with people. Similarly, being willing to go out and face rejection can help you realize that rejection itself isn’t all that bad; either it’s something you can learn from – and thus avoid it in the future – or else a sign that you weren’t compatible in the first place. Learning not to let the fear of fear control you is part of how we become more confident. After all, the magic formula for confidence is experience + survival.
Similarly, positivity is a habit… as is negativity, in fact. Part of breaking down self-limiting beliefs is learning how to force yourself to break the mental negativity about yourself. For example: try the positivity challenge: spending 7 days being positive. Not being unrealisticly self-delusional but simply choosing to see the positive and the good in things instead of the bad. If you have a negative thought, you start over again from Day 1… even if it was on Day 7.
Give it a try. You’ll be amazed at just how difficult it is. And yet increasing your mindfulness about your attitude will in turn help you break the habit of negativity.
It seems ridiculous until you actually do it. I used to be very withdrawn and shy; I could be chatty as hell with people I was comfortable with, but I had to let other people come to me… and I didn’t like that. I wanted to be more outgoing and direct… and the only way I was ever going to accomplish that was to just go out and force myself to approach people over and over again until it became part of who I was.
A good friend of mine is an excellent example of how a change in attitude can change how people see you. A working actor in LA, he spent years trying to hone his craft and putting himself out there for casting directors over and over again. Every audition was like going in and begging for a role, praying to be noticed from among the dozens to hundreds of others competing for the same roles he did. And then one day… he decided to stop begging. He realized that he’s a good actor, a potential A-lister capable of a-list work… and started carrying himself accordingly. One of the first people to notice the change in him was an old female friend from college; they’d been close but never attracted to each other… until after he started to adjust his personality.
“It was like I was seeing you for the first time,” she said later on. ” Suddenly you just had this… swagger. It was like you were a different person and suddenly you were just so damn sexy.”
Much of who we think we are isn’t deterministic or permanent; it’s just a matter of a groove we’ve settled into. Through persistence and repetition, we can force ourselves to develop a new groove, a new thought pattern, a new way of interacting with the world around us.
Sometimes we can do it on our own. Sometimes we need help from others.
Don’t like sports? Spend time learning more about them. Hang out with people who understand them and can explain their passion for it to you without talking down to you and you’ll be amazed at how much you start to appreciate it.
Expand your horizons by trying things you’ve never done before and re-evaluating things that you didn’t like sometimes you’ll be surprised just how much your tastes change over time and how many things you thought were “you” were just the result of habit. By being willing to challenge your own assumptions about who you are and what you’re capable of, you can carve away the old personality and become much more the real you… the best you.
Don’t Sweat the Haters
There will be people who will reject this new “you”. They may insist that you’re “faking” it or refuse to treat you differently. Sometimes it’s simply because they’ve known you for so long that they can’t shake the mental image of this new version of who you are. Sometimes it’s a matter of being threatened by changes to the status-quo; change can be scary and watching someone they knew become a practically different person can be disturbing to them.
And sometimes you will encounter people who will actively try to hold you back. They may have vested interests in keeping the “old” you around – toxic individuals who liked having you to kick around – or they may see your changing as a betrayal of sorts. Often when people are invested in the idea that change is impossible, they resent anyone who threatens that belief. By being willing and able to reinvent yourself you’re forcing them to accept that they – like you – are the sum of their choices and decisions rather than conveniently blaming fate/God/The Universe for their lot in life.
You can’t let these people drag you back to who you were. Don’t let them make you doubt yourself. You know damn good and well who you are and what it took to get there. Persistence and time will teach most of them that you’ve legitimately changed. The ones who can’t or won’t accept it can either deal with it or leave.
The ones who try to pull you back should be cut from your life with surgical precision.
Understand That “You” Will Change
Keep in mind: “You” are a fluid concept and one that will change many times over your lifetime. You may find that you reinvent yourself many times over the years before you find your true, best self. This is only to be expected and is perfectly natural. Sometimes it can take time to find out who you really want to be versus who you think you want to be.
Back in the bad old days, I used to think that I wanted to lead the “player” lifestyle – going to clubs and taking a different girl (or girls) home every night, running the nightlife scene. I spent years in the pick-up community living that very dream… only to find out it wasn’t for me. I had some incredible adventures as I tried – but in the end, it just wasn’t for me. For lack of a better example, I was closer to being Hank Moody1 than than Neil Strauss… and even then it wasn’t quite me. So having reinvented my identity once, I set out again with what I’d learned about myself from the last time. It’s an iterative experience, each new version building on the last, and one that has brought me a lot of joy and satisfaction in my life.
But even without conscious direction, we reinvent ourselves all the time. Ozzy Osborne was the Prince of Mutherfuckin’ Darkness… now he’s a devoted father and family man. Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliff were childhood icons, inhabiting the roles of Hermione Granger and Harry Potter… and now both are respected serious actors. You may be a college jock who becomes an engineer. You may be a social maladjust who goes on to become a playboy. You may be a playboy who goes on to be a one-woman man.
It’s all part of the process of life. You’re just taking a more active role in shaping it.
Think of it like carving a statue or a chrysalis; this “new” you has always been there… you just took steps to bring it to the surface.
- Minus being an irresponsible alcoholic fuck-up, admittedly… [↩]