Reinvent Your Future!
Almost 30 years ago, Verne Tyler was a rising executive for E.F. Hutton, earning a comfortable six-figure salary on track to be the company’s CEO. But he wasn’t happy. “I knew that I was called to do something more significant in life,” he says. Part of the problem was his company’s focus on making money for people already wealthy by most standards, not on caring for the disadvantaged. “I wanted to help challenged youth and their families,” he says. It was a jarring dissonance for the philanthropic Tyler.
Tyler had just hit 40 and realized he was headed in the opposite direction of his dream. “I realized, there is something more important to me. And this is the time for me to do it.”
He started Hosanna Homes, a foster care service for hard-to-place children. Thanks to the desperation of a large property owner who needed to sell his land (and large house) at an unbelievable discount, Tyler and his wife were able to purchase 98 acres in the expensive San Francisco Bay Area of Castro Valley in order to house abused and neglected boys and girls. It wouldn’t be nearly as lucrative as his work at E.F. Hutton, but he discovered an even greater wealth in helping (now almost three decades later) thousands of youth to find purpose and self-sufficiency.
Verne Tyler reinvented himself and his future. Could he foresee his future 30 years before stepping into it? No. But, he didn’t need to see the future in order to invent it. Tyler only needed to realize that creating financial wealth minus investing in the desperate lives of young people was at the crux of his feeling frustrated. He faced the problem in his life to find the solution.
Reoccurring problems happen when you stay in the same place, using the same perspective, fearing the new. Spotting potentialities requires viewing all the variables within your sphere of impact. Looking at the big picture allows you to anticipate needs so that you can evaluate all the possibilities involved in improving your life.
“We have to modify our identities as we go through life,” says Ravenna Helson, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. She directed the Mills Study, which followed some 120 women over 50 years, examining personality traits, personal development, and social influence and proving in the process that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself. “Even at 60,” Helson says, “people can resolve to make themselves more the people they would like to become. In the Mills Study, about a dozen women showed substantial positive personality change from ages 60 to 70.”
But of course it’s wise to get an earlier start. “You can’t accomplish the difficult things in a day or even a week or, in my case, even in 12 and a half years,” says Art Markman, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of Smart Change. More than a decade ago, Markman set out to learn to play the saxophone well enough to join a band. “You have to give yourself enough time to actually accomplish your goal,” he says.
If you don’t have long-term goals, Markman cautions, you run the risk of doing lots of menial things each day—doing household chores, catching up on emails and other essentials—without ever making a contribution to your future. That can leave you feeling dissatisfied, like you aren’t leading a life of significance. “It’s the big picture things that give life meaning,” he says, “like parenting or becoming an expert at something.”
A dynamic cultural shift has occurred that frees people to think outside of their normal paradigms. Author Po Bronson writes about defining the “New Era,” wherein those who thrive do so because they focus on the question of who they really are, instantly connecting that to work they truly love. In his article “Choosing What To Do With Your Life,” Bronson recounts the story of a catfish farmer who used to be an investment broker, an academic-turned-chef, and a Harvard MBA who found his calling as a police officer. These examples of people who reinvented themselves give testimony to the fact that all of us can do the same.
So how do you know what will give you fulfillment? “Project yourself deep into the future and ask: What will I regret not having done?” Markman suggests, and then work backward to avoid that end. “Use that as a way of planning your life.”
Don’t be caught in the mode of replaying what could have been as Yogi Berra so articulately voiced when he said, ‘It’s like deja-vu all over again.” Most of us get stuck because we want to know the future – to avoid the inevitable risks and pitfalls. However, can you really predict the future?
You might be surprised to know you can—to some extent. Past performance usually predicts future performance. Problems in the past tend to repeat themselves unless the causes for them are eliminated and replaced with solutions. The old adage that history repeats itself proves correct more often than not. So being a student of history in your environment is critical. Ask: what has worked and what hasn’t worked in the past? If you take your car into a repair shop more than once and they can’t fix it, you should probably find another shop.
Likewise, if you’ve experienced difficulty with something in the past, you likely need to find a different approach. On the flip side if you’ve found repeated success or gratification through something, maybe that’s your niche. In Verne’s case, he realized that his greatest fulfillment happened when he could help young people overcome their struggles. Conversely when he managed great sums of wealth for privileged persons, his motivation declined over time.
Anne Sweeney, one of the most powerful TV executives in Hollywood, found that one of the best ways to predict the future is to reinvent it. Sweeney announced she was stepping down from her position as president of the Disney/ABC Television group to pursue her dream of being a TV director. “You don’t want to wake up in three or four years and look in the rearview mirror and say, ‘Oh, I never did that.’ And I’m not going to wake up in three years and say I never immersed myself, I never tried,” the 56-year-old mother of two told “The Hollywood Reporter.”
Sweeney, Tyler, and countless other transformational people uncovered the secret sauce of reinventing oneself: you declare your intention and then critically evaluate how to turn future probabilities into future possibilities. A critical thinking mindset is required – it is an attitude, a way of doing business, an approach, a confidence, a frame of mind, the drive, or motivation to make a difference by solving the proverbial question of “what’s it all about?”
Individuals with a critical thinking mindset believe no challenge or opportunity is too great. They approach life with the attitude of optimism, persistence, confidence, and resolution to improve their situation. A critical mind-set consistently evaluates how to do things more effectively—better than before.
A critical mindset is not, however, over-thinking. Being the best at something isn’t the end goal after reinvention. The good news is, you don’t need to be the best. Consider that the fastest runners in the world run between 12-14mph (19-23kph). The average bear runs between 30-40mph (48-64kph). That means if a bear decides to give chase, even Usain Bolt, the world record sprinter, could not outrun it. But there is this adage: to get away from a bear you don’t have to be the fastest runner in the world, you just have to be faster than the guy behind you.
You need not only be better than the status quo, you need to be better than your current position. “The best” is an impossible standard that often causes discouragement. But “better” is a realistic goal and a much easier target. Verne Tyler once told me that he was “driven to offer a better option for troubled children who were hard to place in foster homes, and more importantly, to outdo his own achievements each year.”
The standard of “better” keeps you more intentional. Like being chased by a bear, you always have to be one step ahead not to be consumed, or defeated. You needn’t change jobs, for example, if volunteering gets you to a point of greater fulfillment. Getting better includes being one step ahead of where you were before. Striving after better keeps you pushing, learning and improving because there is always room for improvement. Being the best creates an unattainable goal, and forces a larger-than-life leap that may be beyond your capability at the time. Getting better means keeping an eye on where you need to be next.
Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player of all time, used to explain his success by not focusing on where the puck was on the ice, but on where it was going to be. Too many of us are focusing on our present circumstances and the continuing short-term perspective of just getting by, rather than on where we want to be when our goal becomes a reality. Gretzky didn’t plan on being the best hockey player of all-time. His goal was about making the next score, and finding a better way to do it. But, he always kept his eye on the goal.
You have only one time to do anything—this time in your midst. You have to envision the future as a reality before you can convince yourself to step into it. Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.” If you think you can’t, you’re right. Success comes in cans, failure in can’ts – one step at a time as you choose where to go.
Life is about choices—your freedom to choose the best pathway requires the attitude that just doing it amounts to success (Viktor Frankl). Choose to do something different, learn a better way, and chart a new path to success and you will almost certainly achieve these steps if your attitude is one of gratitude for the journey in pursuing the goal. Have the courage to establish a lofty goal and to pursue it, and be satisfied that you’re committed to doing it.
And then renew your commitment to begin afresh each day, especially after going through trials. Because truthfully, in the end, only those who quit fail. As long as you determine your purpose and plans and stay faithful to them, you can redefine success and your future to lead a life of significance. Start with a plan, but also develop fallback plans in order to retool for the inevitable failures that face everyone who pursues something greater than the status quo.
One of the major causes of failure is failing to plan, or as Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” This includes establishing daily objectives with an eye on assessing potential problems and opportunities. Equally as important is eliminating busyness and tasks that don’t fit with the plan. These can keep you mired in the minutia and they often obscure your perspective from a ten-thousand-foot level.
This includes a realistic view of yourself. Before you can reinvent yourself, you have to know yourself. “People need to understand their strengths, their weaknesses, their passions, and their own story,” says Robert Steven Kaplan, a Harvard Business School dean and the author of What You’re Really Meant to Do. “Then they can look at what’s going on in the world and try to match themselves up to opportunities.”
If like most of us you find the process of self-evaluation challenging, understand that we generally tend toward ‘illusory superiority’—the belief that we are above average in our abilities, even though the law of probability states otherwise. That’s why it’s vital to be severely honest about your current abilities and the requirements needed to achieve the reinvention you seek. Don’t blue-sky your potential and staying power when your potential and dedication can’t take you to that blue-sky. Discuss your dreams with people who care about you and know you well. They can help you assess your skills and clarify your true passions.
Experts in reinvention say we need to align what’s most important to us with the goals we need to get there. All too often we let others direct our future—like that boss who tells you that you need to become a manager or the friend who feels like you should take dancing lessons. These outside influences can divert us from our core values. “If you don’t go through a process of self-discovery, but just accept others’ decisions, 10 years later you might find yourself saying, ‘I don’t think that’s me,'” says John Mayer, a professor of psychology at the University of New Hampshire and the author of Personal Intelligence.
After self-discovery the final roadblock to overcome is not getting stuck in the rut of analysis to paralysis – over thinking to the point of not taking action. Every day you spend in too much analysis is one less day you’ll spend in making the dream a reality. Staying intentional means taking the first step, followed by the second, and so forth. There are simply too many people who view reinvention as a risk, when it’s real name is opportunity.
To see reinvention as opportunity, you need to change the mindset paradigm of just surviving. Instead of asking yourself, “What can I do differently?” consider asking yourself, “What do I want my life to look like in the end?” It’s a little like writing your obituary before someone else writes it for you, as strange as that may sound. This rephrasing illuminated a lot for Verne Tyler during his reinvention, and it led to a life a profound significance.
There are men and woman today who are leading productive lives who otherwise would have perpetuated the cycle of abuse and failure that usually follows the downtrodden of this world – because Tyler reinvented himself. Your reinvention may not be as profoundly life altering, but it will make a profound difference in your life.
Life is after all is less about having to do something and more about wanting to do something that compels you to have to do it.
– Randy Kay