Do Yourself a Favour and Reinvent Yourself Regularly
I used to have an amazing career, management-level positions at consecutive ad agencies, huge clients, responsibility, great team and seemingly endless opportunities. I was great at it, like really great.
I was smart, successful, driven, and miserable.
My opportunities were laid out in front of me. They looked pretty, but they were just more of the same. Another big client. Another campaign. Another impossible situation to solve. Another diplomatic move. Another week spent in the office, sacrificing my whole life for something I had stopped believing in already.
I fell into the competency trap. I was too good at what I was doing to consider something I had less experience with. And everyone else around me thought the same. What else would you do, they asked. This is your whole life.
I didn’t want it to be my whole life. It was getting boring and stale. It made me complacent. It made me uninterested. It made me exhausted. I stopped having fun. I stopped seeing the opportunities for what they were and they became just another hoop to jump through.
So I quit.
Two years ago, I quit and I’ve never looked back. And as scary and uncertain it was, it was the best thing to do because ever since I have to reinvent myself regularly — as a freelance consultant and a writer. I depend on the uncertainty and the constant changes in my new life, and I am facing challenges that never allow me to get complacent or fall into the competency trap.
Here’s how to avoid falling in a routine of your own greatness:
Exploit and explore
“Balance is not something you find. It’s something you create.” — Jana Kingsford
The competency trap is quite dangerous because if you only grow in the field where you are naturally good, you might miss out on learning essential ways to keep growing. Investing in your improvement is great, but you need to diversify your areas and skills. Being too specific will challenge you only so far. You need to find the balance between exploiting your capabilities and exploring new grounds.
Try something that you suck at
“If you don’t feel foolish the first time you try something new, you probably aren’t doing it right.” — Kara Timmins
When you are really great at something everything becomes an accomplishment, a task, another box to tick. It sets you up for becoming an overachiever and eventually, nothing will be enough. You are killing the fun from your own life by considering it as a series of projects.
To break the cycle, do something where you are really terrible at. Try a new sport, learn an impossible language (how about Hungarian?), play a musical instrument or start to sing — make sure you are really terrible at it when you start. This will teach you more than climbing further up the same ladder. Humility, persistence and failure are great to give you perspective.
Put your old skills into new use
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Everything you have ever learnt serves you. Nothing is wasted. You just need to find creative ways of using them in a different environment. Dig deep into the core of your skills and figure out how else they can serve you.
I was a problem-solver. An analytical, cool-headed person, far away from any kind of creativity. But creativity was the thing I dreamt of, no matter how far it was. I realised that deep down, I was solving all the problems in a very creative way, by applying a different angle to them. That skill started to be my go-to skill when I started writing. I was consciously building my different perspective and I was certain I could do it because I have been doing this forever. Only differently.
Dare to take risks
“You can’t cross a chasm with two small steps.” — David Lloyd George
Being very competent at a certain thing leaves you in a rut, with blinders on. You see only one way ahead, and there is no reason to divert from it. This gives you a false sense of security and stops you from taking risks or making bold decisions. You have too much to lose; everything you worked for and achieved.
But not taking risks is not a good thing. I’m not saying gamble away you life savings in the hope of tripling them. It is more about trying things you never tried. Taking roads that were too obscure to see more than the next step. Letting go of stereotyping and your list of expectations. Let life surprise you. I promise you, it will.
Make peace with being mediocre again and start growing from there
“Perfection is shallow, unreal and fatally uninteresting.” — Anne Lamott
The biggest catch about the competency trap is once you were successful it’s daunting to get back to mediocrity. Beginner’s luck wears out quickly and even if it feels great at first, you soon realize how far you need to go to see real success again. But there is nothing wrong with being average again. Accept that mediocrity is good for you. It teaches you, it humbles you and it can make you adopt new skills and coping mechanisms. Embrace it and grow from there.
Make crazy big dreams and work on them
“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” — Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Dreaming big is a gift. However, dreaming more of the same is usually not big enough. The same direction dreams keep you on the same path where you might excel but they also threaten to lock you in.
Make sure your dreams are grandiose and not limited to what you already know. You don’t need to be realistic for your dreams, that’s goal setting phase already. The more frightening your dream is, the further it can snap you out from the trap you got caught it. Grandiose dreams need extra effort, high risk-taking affinity and continuous reinvention if yourself.
Do yourself a favour and even if you are very good at what you do, reinvent yourself periodically. This is how you ensure growth and avoid burnout. Not to mention that it is a lot of fun spent with someone important: yourself.