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Reinvention is the New Black

If either your bank account or your emotional reserves are bleeding red, reinvention just might get you back to a positive balance.
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Reinvention is in. More Magazine created an entire "Reinvent Yourself" section replete with advice on how to do exactly that in various aspects of life. RadioShack just announced some sort of reinvention -- gasp but why?! Featuring prominently in media coverage of iconographic people and organizations -- including Starbucks, General Motors and perennial reinventionist, Madonna -- google "reinvention" and you'll find reinvention coaches, books, corporate gurus, PR specialists and even a reinvention bootcamp in case you haven't managed to get away yet this summer. If either your bank account or your emotional reserves are bleeding red, reinvention just might get you back to a positive balance.

So how do you know it is time to undertake intentional change and what are the elements of reinvention? How do you actually reinvent rather than just using it as yet another transformational buzzword? I talked to inspiring friends including Beth Schoenfeldt who first co-founded Ladies Who Launch then left to create Collective-E, a successful new paradigm in female entrepreneurship; Kathlin Argiro, design maven who for over 10 years has successfully survived the rigors of the fashion world with her self-funded company and couture label; and Brian Billings, partner of high-end NYC architectural concern Billings Turoff about their experiences in reinvention and regeneration. Here are some takeaways from their heroic journeys:

• Wake Up Call: You know it's time to reinvent if you're experiencing agony in some aspect of your life. Like it or not, it's usually when a given situation has already soured that we realize that the changes around us are demanding that we change. For Beth, after having a child it became apparent that the vision and focus of LWL had completely diverged from the founding principles. After years of investing mind, soul, money and sweat in LWL, suddenly her place in the organization evaporated. "I never imagined what went down, I was so fully committed and involved. I never thought there would be a LWL where I didn't belong". In the midst of challenges in the organization and life changes, "I didn't have the amount of desire-to-fight it would have taken against forces that wanted something different. When the company decided to go in a strategic direction that was totally against my values and belief system, I just couldn't stay any longer." Heeding the wake-up call, Beth summoned her courage to leave all she had built over the previous years and began again from scratch.

• Choosing Your Perspective: The cliché holds that it is not what happens in our lives that defines us, it is how we respond to what happens. Knowing how to respond requires backing off from the immediate emotional response and identifying the perspective that will yield the greatest wisdom with the most powerful ways to move forward. What got Beth through her loss? "For better or worse, I have been fired, disappointed and rejected in the past and I have learned that it is always for the best." With a laugh, Beth notes she is in good company, "After all wasn't Steve Jobs also once ousted?" After allowing time to retreat inward, give yourself the freedom to "try on" different perspectives until you find the one that is the most empowering and heroic -- not in a martyr sense, but in a triumphant sense. I call this practice "WW_D?" Whether it's Jesus or Oprah, Gandhi or your favorite uncle, scan your inner rolodex of people who figure powerfully in your life, pick the most positive, successful and peaceful voices. Apply their wisdom to your situation.

• Qualitative Over Quantitative: Identify qualitative goals rather than fixating on quantitative outcomes. Dispelling the false association of the "happy" with the "having", ask yourself what an ideal life would feel like. What state of inner being would you experience if you were happy and had transcended this challenge? Kathlin Argiro points out that through her trials, she realized that desire for money and more stuff would not be enough to get her out of bed every morning to deal with the challenges of managing a small company. She knew that only her love for creating beautiful, distinctive clothing would give her the happiness and satisfaction to stay her course. Honoring that love has become her barometer for success each day, and has made navigating the challenges more enjoyable.

• Alignment and Adversity: Moments of adversity are the reminder to align with your highest self. Like Kathlin, Brian unlocked the secret of aligning with his highest self to aid him in navigating situations and people that may otherwise feel adversarial. Providing architectural services to incredibly exacting and affluent clientele, Brian has more than a few stories of clients spewing profanity about whatever else may have transpired in their day. He says, "I realize they are venting their energy with no relationship to what my role is. The bottom line: for some people such behavior is nothing more than a habit. In the heat of it, I remind myself to stay grounded in my own optimal state. It allows me to recognize that not only is their way of being totally of their making, but also it reminds me of how much choice I have in how I experience any given situation."

• Liabilities Into Assets: Reinventors turn losses into resources. As banks convert debt to equity, Brian and Kathlin have both converted excess office space into incremental income by subdividing and subletting. In addition to transforming tangible losses, look at whatever you think you are losing qualitatively as a gain as well. Although the LWL infrastructure and brand were no longer a part of her life, Beth now sees shedding them as a blessing that freed her up to more powerfully capitalize on the knowledge she possessed. Reflecting upon what went wrong in the old model and the core drivers of success for female entrepreneurs, she and two friends formed their new concern, Collective-E, with loyalty to those values. "I think the must-have quality is creativity. If you are in touch with and engaged in creativity, you can resolve any situation. If you find yourself in a hole, remember that hole is likely to be how you move forward. It is those who refuse to change or try the same thing over and over with the same result who remain stuck."

Preparing to write this post and to lead a Reinvention Retreat called Sustainable Success at Omega in October, many friends from countless walks of life have shared openly about their reinvention experiences. An actor friend told me how she recovered from a 1-2 punch of first being hit by a drunk driver (dragged in reverse by an SUV for an entire city block), regaining her ability to walk only to be brutally raped in her first outing. Two sight-impaired neighbors each shared how their plunge into darkness ripped away many known aspects of their lives, leaving them to navigate the sometimes quiet but often raging search for surrender and strength. Traveling this summer, studying the rise and decline of the ancient Inca culture in Peru and observing evidence of human suffering and triumph walking ruins in Europe, I have been struck with the reminder that life persists because it evolves through duress. Whatever duress you may be experiencing, remember it is only how you respond to the challenges that truly defines you as a human being.