What Neil Patrick Harris Can Teach About Career Reinvention

Even if you didn't get through med school by age 15 (in real life or on TV), you can reinvent yourself to reach new professional heights.
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It happened just as we all thought it would 20 years ago: Doogie Howser hosted the 87th Academy Awards. Ok, maybe we didn't think it would play out this way in 1994. So how did that child-genius whiz doctor become the host of Hollywood's big night? Reinvention. And even if you didn't get through med school by age 15 (in real life or on TV), you can reinvent yourself to reach new professional heights. Here are five-and-a-half lessons we can learn from Neil Patrick Harris (NPH):

1. Grow up with your career. Many child stars fizzle as they enter adulthood because their success lies in one specific skill: possessing an immense amount of cuteness. Once they grow up, their cuteness is, well, less cute. By taking on an array of fun roles from a lovable womanizer on How I Met Your Mother to a drag queen rock star on Hedwig & The Angry Inch on Broadway, NPH proved he is much more than just a child star. If your superiors only see you as a one-trick pony, consider taking on additional roles to demonstrate you're more of an NPH than a Corey Feldman.

2. Find a new audience to appreciate your work. After retiring Doogie, NPH took his talents to Broadway, where he was able to build a following from a whole new audience. Sometimes the key to professional growth is simply to find a new gig. Creating a fresh start in a new environment gives you the freedom to reimagine your personal brand without being held back by an employer that might lack the vision that you have for your professional growth.

3. Take your work seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously along the way. The reintroduction of NPH to pop culture came in a role that was mostly a joke. In the 2004 movie Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, NPH played a fictionalized version of himself as an over-the-top, sex-craved ego maniac. And with this one brilliant, self-deprecating role, he smashed the glass ceiling that so many child stars cannot break through.

4. Seize your opportunity. After the Harold & Kumar success, NPH was able to keep the momentum going by joining the cast of How I Met Your Mother the next year. If you have a professional achievement, take advantage of that momentum by informing your network of allies about your growth. If the old saying is true that good news comes in threes, why stop with one professional victory?

5. Don't let a slow period bring you down. NPH was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1992 and wasn't nominated for another significant television award for 15 years. So if you've been having a bad professional month, year, or even decade, hang in there, work hard, and above all, channel your inner NPH.

And five-and-a-half: Get yourself a Vinny. If you get off track, have your best friend come in through your bedroom window and give you blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth advice. It always worked for Doogie.

Jack Stahlmann is a corporate speaker and Huffington Post blogger. He can be reached at www.dontflinchguy.com

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