Reinvention is part of being human. The nature of our lives is that we learn more and collect new ideas and that makes us want to do new and different things with our lives. But we often never actually make that transition.

The problem is that we are hard-wired to think about the present. Even people who are great at planning get tangled up in daily details because, after all, this is how humans stayed alive as they evolved: never taking their eye completely away from their immediate needs.

So what’s really useful is a list of small cheats to get around your proclivity to obsess about today. You need to trick yourself into taking big risks to reinvent yourself by thinking of them as small to-do items on your daily list.

Here are ten tips for reinvention:

1. Rewrite your resume. Before you even do something new, you can rewrite your resume as if you have started something new. A resume is a story. And what I have found is that so many times when people hire me for career coaching we end up overhauling their resume, because what they really need is for an outsider to come to them with a new story of their life so that their plan for reinvention looks like the obvious next step. Your resume is the story of your life that you read to yourself to practice believing in your own reinvention.

2. Make the changes out of logical order. When you think about where you want to get to, take a look at people who are already there, and look at how they structured their life. An entrepreneur, for example, downsizes their life so they can live on very little money. If you know you want to be an entrepreneur but you’re not ready to make the leap, at least start living on a lot less. That’s a crucial step forward that you can take early. Or if you are separating from your parents’ business, you might make non-financial decisions first, and leave the financial break for last.

3. Compartmentalize your debt. You could tell yourself forever that you can’t reinvent yourself until your debt is paid off. But for many of you, that waiting period will consume too much of your life. So much of reinvention is mental. If you tell yourself the debt doesn’t matter, and you pay it back very slowly, then it won’t have power over you to stop reinvention. You can be whoever you want to be, with or without debt. So start making the lowest payments, or get a forbearance. Your reinvention is more important than living debt free.

4. Start very small. Reinvention is all encompassing, changing how we talk, how we spend our time, how we deal with dreams, everything. But if you ask yourself to do something so big so fast, you’ll do nothing. So start with something very small. For example, it turns out that you can look smarter and more capable by changing your hand gestures. That’s right. Intellectuals have their own brand of body language and, like all body language, humans are very good at subconsciously reading hand gestures accurately. So learn to talk with your finger tips together. And while you’re at it, if your reinvention tilts toward intellectualism, listen to jazz, because that makes people think you are an intellectual.

5. Choose a new setting. A lot of reinvention is knowing yourself. You need a clear picture of your strengths and weaknesses, which will help you overcome our natural, irrational biases that we are better at everything than we really are and that we have a better future than we really do.

You can also get a more clear picture of yourself by putting yourself in a new setting. Sort of like how you learn a lot about the woman you’re dating when you go on a vacation together. A great example of seeing differently in a different context is food arrangements by mysterious Instagram chef Jacques la Merde. He makes a hot dog look like fancy Asian fusion food. And surrounded by dainty servings of expensive ingredients, a Hostess Cupcake looks like it might actually be gourmet food.

6. Focus on relationships rather than ambition. Reinventing yourself takes a lot of time and energy. James Altucher, famous for his own reinventions, says it takes five years. If you are making that investment, consider centering your reinvention around relationships rather than ambition. Having a solid community around you matters much more than feeding your outsized ambition. When you think about what you want to get for yourself, ask yourself “Why do I want that?” If the answer is that you want to live up to your potential, reconsider that path. Because living up to your potential is a red herring—it’s a phrase people use when they are trying to control our choices.

Your true potential is how much love and kindness you can give. How true to yourself can you be? Yes, this sounds sappy, especially from the person who has written posts to take down Tim Ferriss, David Dellifield, and the Sheryl Sandberg/Dave Goldberg combo. But I truly believe that the only reinvention worth doing is one that brings you closer to being your true, best self, and the people you want around you. This advice is hard to stomach after hearing your teachers tell you your whole life “you’re so smart! you’ll go far!” But don’t reinvent yourself to meet someone else’s expectations. And pay heed to the research that says relationships are more important than ambition.


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48 replies
  1. Christopher
    Christopher says:

    The Jacques la Merde site is satirical. The english translation of his name is Jack the Shit.

  2. penelopestunk
    penelopestunk says:

    11. Insert yourself into a news event by baiting people who aren’t even readers of your blog with the goal of starting an internet storm. At the same time, try to hurt someone that you feel got everything you deserve in her moment of vulnerability. There’s no better way to drive traffic to your blog, and no faster way to demonstrate that you are no longer even a little bit relevant.

    • MBL
      MBL says:

      I fail to see how you can both find her irrelevant and be reading this and feeling compelled to leave a comment.

      I refrained from leaving a comment on either of the last two posts because, while I understand “striking while the iron is hot,” I also see the need for having a sense of decorum. And yet, the visceral response that people have had tends to validate her previous posts.

      I think that there is a need to have the “should they have ‘leaned in’ quite so hard” conversation. I found it interesting that Sheryl said that she would have still married him had she known they would only have had eleven years together (?!?) but didn’t address whether or not they would have cashed out and spent more time together as a family had they known. I do hope that this conversation happens at a later date. And, like it or not, it will be newsworthy to see if this event changes her choices regarding work/family balance.

  3. Mark
    Mark says:

    From elsewhere on this blog: “It’s a fine line between a heart attack and a suicide.”

    Does providing medical advice that’s as bad as your career advice count as reinvention?

    • Maurice Levie
      Maurice Levie says:

      yet you are compelled to read it. like a bad car accident, you just can’t look away :)

  4. MBL
    MBL says:

    “Because living up to your potential is a red herring—it’s a phrase people use when they are trying to control our choices.”

    This is awesome. The link to that 2011 post and the one to the 2008 post within it are both good.

    I hope that you post more about this on the homeschool blog. It is one of the hardest things for me regarding homeschooling. Well, the last couple of weeks have been more of a roamschooling thing, but even then I kept thinking that we were wasting a great opportunity to do more things. But pushing things to a point that things go south doesn’t usually work out so well.

    Penelope, I owe you an enormous “THANK YOU!” for creating this community. The highlight of our trip was meeting yesmykidsaresocialized and her wonderful family. We met up with them four times, including a 27 hour stretch that included a sleepover. And it is true, they are indeed socialized. In a good “they are fun to be around” way and not a “they have been indoctrinated with an agenda” way!

    Again, thank you so very much.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      We had a blast hanging out with you and your family.

      Yes, my kids are socialized. And without any sort of “script” of how to communicate with people, and without school.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s so great to hear! My most significant relationships in the last ten years have all come through my blog – including Melissa, Cassie, and the Farmer.

      This community has proven to be an incredible way to meet people, and I’m so happy to hear you have that experience as well!


  5. Joseph Fecarotta
    Joseph Fecarotta says:

    Penelope, I think you might be the bravest, most clear blogger I know of. That includes your last posts (especially) and that dead-on piece about Mr. Ferris. You bring to light that which we think, or have a shadow of a thought, and put it out there. Perhaps with poor timing, or an edge, but still – you are courageous.
    Keep on writing!

  6. Shawn
    Shawn says:

    Great post Penelope. I especially appreciated two points. In order to reinvent ourselves, we must know who we are. We must have a good idea of our strengths and weaknesses before we can change course well. I also loved that you emphasized being in community. Going through major change is really hard without a good support system. We need people surrounding us that help us be the best we can be.

  7. Greg Basham (@Greg_Basham)
    Greg Basham (@Greg_Basham) says:

    Reinvent yourself like you invent facts?

    Rubbish. Your advice will ensure job candidates will fail reference and background checks.

    In my experience candidates telling the truth wins out more favourably and consistently even when some referees aren’t positive. Firms put this into context.

    But your approach borders both on the unethical and stupid.

  8. Anna
    Anna says:

    #3 — specifically the “debt doesn’t matter” post — came out just when I needed it and got me through a financially very grim period last year. I kept moving forward with my plans even in the dark days and survived! That post kept me from packing it in and giving up my business. This year I’m in the black. Thank you!

  9. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Reinventing yourself does require a lot of time and effort. The very thought of it is overwhelming. It’s a journey that has many twists and turns as the process of self-discovery and subsequent implementation of various actions unfold. Planning is still important with the realization that plans are meant to be altered and flexibility is key for a successful journey. I don’t believe there are any shortcuts. However, I do believe there are sparks that can be inserted and ignited at certain phases and places in a person’s life to get the process in gear in a forward motion with positive results when the inevitable stall or slowdown occurs.
    One thing I’m doing currently is going through all my stuff and trying to determine its worth (asking the question – should I hold onto it?) and then, if so, find a way to organize it so it’s easily accessible and easy to find. A de-cluttering process to see where I’ve been and hopefully get some insight on where it makes sense to proceed. It’s also a “feel good” process that makes me feel that I’m accomplishing a worthwhile task that’s long overdue.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I really like this part that you wrote:

      “there are sparks that can be inserted and ignited at certain phases and places in a person’s life to get the process in gear in a forward motion”

      Often we look at other people and we think, “That’s just luck.” But I don’t think it’s luck. I think finding that spark is the result of giving genuine focus to reinvention.

      Actually, probably most things that look like luck from the outside are a result of the often-private diligence that seemingly lucky people put into realizing their goals.


  10. Claudette Stewart
    Claudette Stewart says:

    Remember when I asked you to write about food? Your illustrations and your fine bit of writing indicate you are thinking, to me.

  11. Eve
    Eve says:

    There is nothing more exciting than witnessing a person reinvent themselves. You can’t deny the force of nature that is put into motion when a person changes direction. We loose track of this in our security and reutein. If we could all take a step forward as focused and demand that the world change to meet our needs the world would be a better place.

  12. Heather
    Heather says:

    Interesting article. I’m in a transition period too, trying to reinvent myself. I want to be much more about health and fitness than my current technology role in the corporate world. Liked hearing about not worrying too much about debt, although it is part of my why and I liked the part about building on relationships, my new passion is all about relationships.

  13. ENFP
    ENFP says:

    But you’re an ENTJ, I actually don’t understand how you can give advice based on Fi/Fe values. You don’t manage your life according to those views anyway, if you did, you wouldn’t have had that rollercoaster of a life.

    This piece of advice is the only one I can’t understand from you because it does not fit with the image you give off. I’m not saying you’re not kind, I’m saying you’re driven and tough.

  14. Alta
    Alta says:

    First time, am hearing about focus on relationships rather than ambition. It’s so true. I never thought about it.

  15. Housewife By Chance
    Housewife By Chance says:

    Reinvention is a right and privilege all too few of us take advantage of. The course of a woman’s life, especially if she has children, often dictates that her terms of engagement change, because so precious few of the institutions and infrastructure about us make staying the course practical or doable, no matter how much we may want it so. The term reinvention may be too lofty for some, making it seem like it requires a total 180 or must be an all-or-none proposition. But reinvention happens incrementally most of the time, not in one fell swoop. Thanks for the post.

  16. BK
    BK says:

    What if you have already started on the path toward reinvention even though it wasn’t a conscious decision on your part? Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that weren’t really of our choosing and we veer away from the path we had chosen for ourselves.

    I am an HR professional but have spent the last nine years working in product development (albeit in HR products and services). While I haven’t entirely given up on a career in HR just yet, I am pretty close to that point.

    I could battle hard to get back into a traditional HR role – or just go with the flow and continue on the path I’m currently on. While I may think of myself as an HR practitioner, the rest of the world sees me as a product development/marketing professional.

    Sometimes reinvention happens to us in spite of our own intentions. It’s strange, but, in many ways, going back to my old career and profession would probably be “reinventing” myself more than if I just stayed on the path I’m currently on.

    Sometimes you just have to decide whether to continue doing what you’re doing and make the reinvention complete or try for what will actually be a more difficult reinvention to where you thought you would be or should be. In many ways, pursuing the career you had always planned can sometimes feel like swimming against the current.

    It can be that a certain career path just isn’t in the cards because of the realities of the job market, our own talents and abilities, specific opportunities that arise, our finances, the need to earn a living and how employers perceive us.

  17. brooke
    brooke says:

    For as long as I can remember I wanted to reinvent myself so that I could be in demand in the tech field and never worry about finding a job that pays well. Having achieved that 10 years ago I want to reinvent myself so that I don’t have to spend 50 hours a week driving to and then sitting in an office. There are no 40+ women in corporate America because the office sucks.

    I don’t believe for one second that sustaining a career in corporate America is easier than being home with kids. Dull doesn’t equal difficult. You can tell the degree of difficulty of a given thing by how few people do it and the high barriers to achievement, like triathlons, women with $2 million 401Ks, or medical degrees.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      I’m not sure where you work, but at the top Tech firms there are quite a few over 40s women with high paying jobs, same in medical, and women that work for themselves. I know quite a few divorcees in office type positions.

      If you’re having trouble in your field (keeping up/ not becoming bored) that’s one thing, not saving enough of your income is another.

      A job is not meant to be one’s sole-purpose and definition. You can’t recreate yourself through job title.

      • brooke
        brooke says:

        Disagree. I don’t see women over 40 in the halls (in tech); I do see them on LinkedIn with titles like self employed/independent/member. They are not leaving CorpAm because they have trouble keeping up, they leave it because it no longer meets their needs.

        My point that rarity is an indicator of difficulty is not a personal lament, just the opposite. The degree of difficulty is not the number of people around you also complaining, but rather the absence of peers once the goal is achieved.

        • Susan
          Susan says:

          I agree. I wanted what you wanted 20 years ago (in tech). Achieved it and left at 39 (6 months after returning from maternity leave), because I got sick of having to pretend I don’t have children and constantly being put in the position to compromise my kids or risk “not living up to my potential” in the corporate world.

  18. says:

    “Your true potential is how much love and kindness you can give.”.

    Amazing you can write this kind of stuff when you tried to take down Sheryl Sandberg in her grief. You are truly pathetic individual. We got a glimpse inside you mind and it’s pretty damn ugly

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      What is wrong with you? Stop reading the blog and go away if you don’t like it.

  19. Steve Mielczarek
    Steve Mielczarek says:

    So, like, where’s the delete button? I want to delete my last post. It bugs me. I want to crush it like a bug. Where’s the delete option? You do have a delete option, don’t you? Where is it? This life here on earth certainly isn’t working the way it’s supposed to. I’m getting mad now. Where’s the milk?

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      I don’t know! I wonder the same. Often I post from my phone and it does whatever it wants, I hit “Post” and then realize there are so many typos and some sentences don’t even make sense.

  20. Vera Wilde
    Vera Wilde says:

    YES! Narrative is so important. Telling a new story when the old one has gotten old. Starting the new journey before you know where it leads—because that’s how you learn. Compartmentalizing debt because investment in human capital WORKS. And you have to invest in yourself first.

    I’d already been doing much of this as part of my bold new life experiment. I recently left a Harvard postdoc to make art and volunteered in a Mexican hostel for a month.

    But the last part of your post inspired me anew. Just had a lovely phone conversation with an aunt I hadn’t talked to in 14 years. :)

  21. Helen
    Helen says:

    Criticising a widow’s life choices and speculating she caused her husband’s (utterly fictional as it turns out) suicide doesn’t qualify as ‘taking down’.

    Also, do you really think men really so freaking pathetic that being asked to help out with their own damn children will cause them to kill themselves?

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      So Helen,

      Your solution to being upset over a stranger’s blog post is to post irrelevant comments on every blog post from this point forward? Don’t you have better things to do, rather than to obsess over Penelope’s incorrect conspiracy theory? At some point these comments make you and others like you look like you are crazy.

      Try meditative breathing and yoga and just relax.

  22. Bria
    Bria says:

    “But don’t reinvent yourself to meet someone else’s expectations.”

    Yeah. Good stuff there.

    As a recent grad, this hits home because I am, once again, living at home, and I don’t want to fall back into the person I was before I left for college. The expectations of family and friends can be rough, though they are often not there on purpose.

    The part about waiting until you’re debt-free to do the reinventing is also especially applicable to me right now, although Dave Ramsey may have a few comments to make on your ideas…

  23. Ross
    Ross says:

    Reinventing, for many people, really boils down to recognizing one’s own genetic proclivities. With the exception of some celebrities most people reinvent in order to align themselves more to their true selves, whether they realize it or not. People who don’t loose energy because they feel as if they are constantly going against the grain, which in fact they are. People can fine tune their personality, but the core is typically stable. Suit the environment to your nature, and as they say, the rest in history.

  24. Hammo
    Hammo says:

    Sorry P, you lost me on your first point. You see I have recently reinvented myself and the first thing to go was the resume.

    I know you’ve built a career about career advice, and I’ve been following you for years, but now I’ve left that resume behind and in fact are in the process of destroying all known copies. Why?

    You see the resume was the thing holding me back. It was the thing I turned to when unhappy in my role and every time I dusted it off, it just told me to go do the same thing somewhere else.

    With no resume I’m truly free to reinvent myself from the past.

    • Despoina
      Despoina says:

      Hammo, you just nailed it (for me).

      I was just wondering today, if I should keep doing what I am doing during the last 28 years (but in a different setting, aka company), or doing something completely different. I guess it is fear that held me clinging to the familiar up to now…

  25. Holden Seguso
    Holden Seguso says:

    Great stuff Penelope,
    Favorite piece of advice was suggesting kindness and digging closer to your true self as a way of reinventing yourself. I believe that if anyone (especially entrepreneurs) who’s trying to succeed in something wishes to develop an unbreakable organization or business, the most deeply ingrained value one must cultivate is altruism (which implies integrity, kindness, and faith). This could be practiced a life time and result in an extremely powerful network if done sincerely. Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. Thanks a lot Penelope!

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