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Consider Old Willie: Does Reinvention Make You Phony?

When I think of Willie Nelson, I think about a national treasure.  At 89, he is one of the most popular musical personalities in America and around the world.

But Willie is also an example of a person who reinvented themselves—someone who is worth studying. 

The young Willie Nelson was nothing like the long-aired old hipster of today.  He had short hair, wore suites and ties, and sang on the Grand Ol’ Opry. 

When you think about personal reinvention, always remember Ol’ Willie.  He went from “used to be” to the personality of today, an off-beat, untraditional, outspoken guest on national TV and still performing.  He has totally reinvented himself.

You Can Be Successful in One Decade and Obsolete in the Next
In an age when people are living longer, all too often, many careers are getting shorter.

We all have to answer the question, “How are we going to stay in the game when many of our peers have been on the sidelines for a long time?”

Never before have so many high-level jobs become obsolete so fast as technology takes their place. Artifical Intelligence is replacing once very high-level jobs, and most jobs of today won’t exist in 20 years. People who entered the workforce in promising careers with skills that would seem to take them on a 40-year run, find their skills no longer take them where they want to go for very long at all.

I find that too many people believe personal reinvention is an alarming concept. They see personal reinvention as a violation of their own character. I would cease to be the “real me,” they think, and I would become inauthentic, even downright phony. Yet in today’s world the ability to change one’s skills, image, style, and approach—to reinvent yourself—is a survival tool.

When Willie’s Career Wasn’t Going Anywhere
Some may remember when Willie Nelson’s career was stuck between third gear and high.  Willie came to Austin to end his career–and it turns out he began it all over again.

When Willie moved to Austin in 1972—it was to retire from the music industry—because of the ups and downs of his career. His last albums had sold poorly, although critically acclaimed. We think of Willie’s career as being long and enduring, but much of it had been marked by episodes of working as a disk jockey, selling books door-to-door, and trying things that didn’t work.

When Willie came to Austin, at a point which some people would call late in life, he found his voice—a combination of country, folk, and jazz, along with a personal style that broke out of the traditional country mold and became distinctly Willie.
Without Willie’s personal reinvention, he most probably would not even be remembered today, nor would he have gone on to act in over 30 movies and organize his famous 4th of July Picnics.

So How Do You Go about Reinventing yourself??
So how do we reinvent ourselves? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Don’t Wait for Obsolescence to Come and Get You. Reinvent yourself for the future now before you have to. I’ll bet many workers were shocked at the old buggy whip factory when the owner came in and told them their job had been discontinued because cars had ended the buggy whip era. You will need several career transitions and to do that you need to keep tapping your own passions and learning new skills.

  2. Develop a Bias for Keeping Up with the 21st Century.  You can’t find a book called “The 21st Century for Dummies,” spend a couple of days reading it, and then be caught up. In today’s world, if you’re really behind it will most likely take you years to catch up. Staying abreast of what’s happening is a job for every day.

  3. Make Yourself an Attractive Personal Package. There are a few jobs that demand brains without people skills, but they are few and getting fewer. Careers today demand attractive, personable leaders who connect with direct reports, peers, and senior management.

  4. Retread and Retrain. At some points in my life I found that my skills had expired like last year’s credit card. I had to learn new technical skills that required literally thousands of hours to master. You can’t move forward with yesterday’s knowledge

  5. Look the Part. We’ve gone through an era where people in many industries prided themselves in dressing down to a wardrobe of denim and t-shirts. We’re going into an era when dress must be more intentional and you may be shocked when it becomes time to look at your wardrobe. And our clothes fit best when we are fit. Looking fit and healthy is a competitive edge in today’s job market.

Like Ol’ Willie, you gotta find a new attitude and new moves. There are new songs for you to sing and new music to play. If you pride yourself in never changing, you and those around you are in trouble.

And don’t forget the most important element—I call it the “coolness factor.” You gotta be cool, interesting, and your own unique self. Matthew McConaughey said, “My biggest hero is me ten years from now!” Well said, Matthew, well said.

Austin, Texas

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Carol Kallendorf, PhD. | (512) 417-9756 

Jack Speer | (512) 417-9428


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