The Art of Reinvention: Becoming More of Who You Really Are
This piece is from a talk I gave at Google for Startups in Madrid. Watch the full talk here.
It was my first Web Summit, and as I sat at the dinner table in Lisbon with 10 incredible women in tech, I started to get anxious. As a social media marketer and community builder who helps women change their life through travel…I wondered, what was my connection to tech? Why was I there? Before I had a chance to prepare, the personal intros started. And as I listened, everyone sounded so accomplished—I needed to sound worthy of being there…and now it was my turn…
….Hi, my name is Cepee, I’m from Texas, I live in Madrid and I work in digital marketing and run a little business, She Hit Refresh, that’s my side hustle…as soon as I heard the words “little business” and “side hustle” come out of my mouth, I cringed on the inside. Luckily my friends picked up on my diminishing words and called me out—in the kindest of ways—and asked me to redo my intro as the #bosswoman I am.
You see, assuming a new identity takes practice. Bridging the gap between who you are and who you want to become requires owning who you need to be. This is what I’ve learned on my own path to reinvention.
Reinvent yourself, change your life
A few months before that dinner, I made my first big sale—a five figure one. I sold out my first ever retreat—10 women from the U.S. were coming to spend a week in Morocco with me, who they had never met. This sale validated that I had created something of value in my community of over 5,000 women worldwide. We had even been noticed by Forbes and USA Today at this point. So why was I so uncomfortable referring to my new business as a business?
Well because I was struggling with becoming. And when I think of what a reinvention really is, it’s an act of becoming; and that’s a process. A process of intentionally becoming who you want to be in the world and how you want to be seen in the world. If you’re trying to pave a new professional path you need to get used to owning who you need to be.
If you’re not content with where you are in life, you need to push the boundaries of what you think is possible for yourself- to unlock your potential. Not only does this lead to progress and personal growth but it creates a meaningful life. And with each mini-milestone of becoming you build another layer of confidence that will help transform you into someone you can’t see yet and take you to places you can’t even begin to fathom right now.
Just a few years ago I came to Madrid to teach English as an auxiliare and was unclear of what my future here would look like, I could never have imagined that I would be on a stage at Google for Startups, speaking to a room full of 100 people—it wasn’t even an option for where I was in life. I had to go through my own reinvention for this to become a possibility, and reality.
How to reinvent yourself? Play with your identity
So what does it take to do this, to become, to reinvent?
At the root of reinvention is self-discovery. And to discover yourself you must play with your identity. We think of our identity as this fixed structure that determines who we are and who we aren’t. Our identity is created by the actions we take and the choices we make, and over time we start to think of ourselves as someone who does X but not Y. So the world watches, and reinforces this identity by seeing us as someone who does X but not Y.
When we try to do something new and break out of this identity we’ve built, that’s when the feelings of insecurity, self-doubt, anxiety, and fear surface. And to avoid these feelings we often choose to stay safe the walls of our identity, which stifles our personal growth and smothers our potential; keeping us from becoming who we really are.
So in order to become, you have to intentionally try on different identities. Which means you have to let go of who you think you are. You need to make different choices, take unfamiliar actions to pave a new path of opportunities, and sit in the discomfort that comes with that.
You have to cross that imaginary border you created for yourself and try new things. Which is scary! When’s the last time you tried to do something new? How did it feel to put yourself out there like that?
But trying new things is what you have to do to reinvent. It requires seeking out new experiences and saying yes to people, events, and situations that are aligned with your goals and interests no matter how intimidating it is or how unworthy you feel.
When I moved to Madrid I promised myself that I had one year to find a way out of teaching or I would have to move back to the U.S. So I applied to marketing jobs left and right –and despite everyone telling me getting sponsored would be impossible– I scored a job with a Spanish startup—that was my first real experience here trying on an identity that scared the living daylights out of me.
I didn’t quite understand why I was hired. It was a social media role and my only experience with social media up to that point was staying in touch with friends and family on Facebook. I said yes to a job that I didn’t feel prepared for and accepted the discomfort that would come with it because I was willing to try on a new identity to change my path.
I struggled adapting to a Spanish work culture, working in a language I was not comfortable in, and then quickly being promoted to managing an eight-person team. I’d never managed anyone before. I felt like a fraud in my own skin on a daily basis, gripped with impostor syndrome and anxiety.
But I had to show up for myself, no matter how painful it was, and try to become who I needed to be to succeed. And by becoming on a daily basis, I became.
The path was imperfect and full of mistakes—which means I was doing it right because mistakes are ALWAYS part of the journey. Remember there’s no perfection in reinvention. This experience of committing to my identity shift changed how I saw myself and changed what I thought was possible for myself; my reinvention had started, and what followed were the most transformational years of my life.
I decided to start a blog even though I had never written or done anything creative before, and I started calling myself a blogger. I started a community to meet other bloggers even though I had never built anything like this in my life, and I became a community manager. And this community, the Madrid Blogger Network, just celebrated three years and is Madrid’s largest community for bloggers and creatives. With just a few months of social media under my belt I owned my new profession: I started applying for a new job and scored a full-time remote gig that paid double the Spanish job and 4x what I made as a teacher. Then I started another community, She Hit Refresh, as a hobby, and I called myself the founder, and through that I ended up creating a global community that turned into a business last year.
By showing up as who I needed to be for each of these growth spurts—as uncomfortable and daunting as they were—I became a new version of myself and created new opportunities, and ultimately became more of who I really am.
It was hard; but reinvention is hard. It’s much easier to stay safe, play small, and avoid discomfort. But it’s by intentionally doing things we’ve never done before, and then doing them over and over and over that we play with and transform our identity.
If you’re thinking, okay sure, that’s you, but I’m different. I don’t even know what I want to do, who I want to become, or where to start. The secret is, you probably won’t know any of that when you start, and you won’t even know whether or not you’ll succeed. But you have to start to give yourself a shot. Action is what leads to change.
But you have to be intentional about it, otherwise fear will hold you back from who you’re meant to become. Who was I to become these things? What would my friends think? What if I failed? All of these thoughts ran through my head, but I went forward anyway.
With each new identity you try on, you’re going to judge yourself and you’re gonna assume that everyone else is judging you. Let them judge, you’re the one stepping into the arena to become more of who you are while they sit in the crowd.
I know my reinvention has been a direct result of being open to play with my identity.
Reinvent your life abroad
And moving abroad played a pivotal part in my journey. The reason why I was able to reinvent myself here in a way that I couldn’t in the U.S. is because moving abroad creates a fertile playground for an identity shift.
Just being in a foreign environment and experiencing new things on a daily basis that forces us to become someone new. You’re building a life in another language, and learning how to navigate in your new reality. Not only that, but you’re making different choices because you’re chasing new dreams.
If you have any doubts about your ability to reinvent, just know that simply moving abroad (or planning to do so) shows that you’re the type of person who is already on a path of reinvention, and you already have the skills to make it happen. You’re intentional about leaving your comfort zone: you’ve sought change and purposely disrupting the path you’re on.
My life was actually quite comfortable in Texas. I had everything: a home, a great job, a routine, comfort and ease. Yet I still felt disconnected; I was bored with the monotony of conventional life. I desperately needed a change, and intentionally came to Madrid to create that.
I’ve become many things since moving here in 2015: a blogger, a social media marketer, a community builder, a public speaker, a leader, and most recently, a business owner—none of which I dared to do back in Texas. And that’s probably because I didn’t have to. There was no need to reinvent myself because the conventional path was already paved for me. But in Madrid, I had to create my own path to move beyond teaching.
And on this new path I got to choose who I wanted to be. That’s beautiful thing about moving abroad is that it’s much easier to explore different sides of yourself because you’re surrounded by new people. There’s power in this, you have fewer inhibitions because you aren’t carrying the weight of your identity—the one you co-created with those who know you “back home.” You’re a blank slate to everyone you meet and are no longer bound to the “you” you left behind.
If you want to be bolder, be better, and realize your potential, you can play with your identity by taking actions you would have previously shied away from.
Everyday that you intentionally (and even unintentionally) do something new, you build the confidence to hop off the hamster wheel of what you’ve always done and test out new versions of yourself. The more you do these things, the more you become.
The art of reinvention
Remember bridging the gap between who you are and who you want to become requires owning who you need to be. For me, this meant moving abroad, playing with different identities, and embracing who I was becoming.
So, my challenge for you is to try on different identities. Because reinvention means no more playing small. You have to go big: embrace discomfort and do things you’ve never done, and keep doing them on a regular basis. Do them even when you’re scared and even when you don’t know what you’re doing. You have to create your own pressure to transform. Over time these intentional changes and choices will create opportunities and help you become who you need to be to rise to the occasion.
Since Web Summit I’ve been trying on my new identity whenever I get the chance. So here we go…Hi, my name is Cepee, I’m from Texas. I live in Madrid and I’m the founder a business called She Hit Refresh.
If you enjoyed this piece, catch my full talk on Reinvention at Google for Startups in the video below!