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The Opportunity of Reinvention

reinvention is more than rearranging chairsRearranging chairs at a rehearsal the other day made me think about a former colleague. He did the math when he retired and calculated that he had moved more than 250,000 chairs during his 42-year career.

He didn’t work at a convention center or as the stage manager of an orchestra.

He was an instrumental music teacher who set up, took down and rearranged those quarter of a million chairs, all in service of teaching many thousands of sixth, seventh and eighth graders the joy of making beautiful music together.

That he moved all those chairs is remarkable.

What’s truly amazing, though, is that he had essentially the same job, in the same school district, in the same school, in the same classroom, for nearly half a century.

I was lucky enough to work with him during the last four years of his teaching career, and while I watched him grow and evolve, he never went so far as to reinvent himself.

He didn’t have to.

How things have changed.

In the nine years since he retired, three different people have held the job in which he excelled for longer than any of them have been alive. The first transferred to another school after three years, while the other two are biding their time, doing their best in one career while they reinvent, preparing to move on to another.

Even in public education, where, for better or for worse, tenure tends to minimize job-hopping, reinvention is much more prevalent than it was just a few years ago.

In other fields, reinvention is the norm.

In her new book Reinventing You, Dorie Clark writes that “the era of gold watches and lifetime employment is over” and offers these reasons for why rapid job turnover has now become standard – and why learning to reinvent yourself and your career is now essential.

  • Far-reaching layoffs are part of the new normal.
  • More professionals put off retirement, for either financial or personal reasons or both, than in the past.
  • There is less stigma around leaving a company, or even a career area, to seek a better title or salary.
  • Change and flux are happening more rapidly, and many believe they are here to stay, so that even professionals who remain in the same company or field need to reinvent just to keep up.

Sounds daunting, doesn’t it?

Sometimes the idea of staying in the same job, in the same classroom or cubicle can feel less overwhelming, safer. But even if it were, safe doesn’t always equal good. Besides, staying put without reinventing is less and less likely to be an option.

Just like my colleague’s students learned, with his help, to go from playing simple scales on their plastic soprano recorders to improvising like the pros in jazz band, you can learn to navigate the change of reinvention.

Reading books like Reinventing Change and working with coaches like me are among the many options that can help you with get clear on your values and strengths, figure out how to get paid for using them and get your awesome self out there in a new, reinvented, career.

Reinvention, Retirement-Style

Even though he never really reinvented his career, in the nine years since he retired, my colleague has reinvented himself. He still gardens and travels, and now he blogs about both. And he still teaches private lessons, some of them via Skype these days.

I see him once or twice a year at a concert. He looks younger and is happier, more vibrant and more alive every time.

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