Have you ever gone to your high school reunion, or seen an old friend on Facebook, and wanted to ask, “what happened to you?!”
A Saturday Night Live skit last week had me thinking about this. The premise was a game show called “What Have You Become?” Three contestants, who had all been told they’d had great potential when they were younger, had never done anything with it as they grew older. In fact, they’d all become pretty disappointing. One man had the highest Space Invaders score in all of Alabama, another had been to 100 Katy Perry concerts, and a woman was a serious knitter, but was not very good.
After introducing each contestant, the host would then ask What have you become? forcing each of them to re-evaluate their life choices, often causing them to break down in tears at the realization that they had done nothing with the potential they’d had 20 years before.
I’ve never wanted to be one of those people who were asked “what happened to you?!” at my high school reunion. I didn’t want to be one of those “could’ve been somebody” dreamers who thinks they missed their big chance and never made it. Or worse, were still living the dream — the big game, the magical night, the night they were the hero — that they might still achieve that long-gone goal.
It was actually hard to watch the What Have You Become skit, because I always believe it’s never too late for someone to redefine themselves. It’s never over, it’s never too late. I think anyone can escape the thing they’ve become, and to become the thing they wanted to, or at least work closely in that field.
It’s Not Too Late
That’s the message that my co-author, Kyle, and I tried to convey in Branding Yourself: that it’s never too late to redefine or reinvent yourself. Just because you’re 30 and working at a job you hate doesn’t mean you’re going to retire at 65 from that same job. The whole beginning of the book was inspired by the steps I took to rebrand myself after leaving my much-hated “what happened to you?” job working for state government. I figured if I could do it, anyone could.
Some of my state government colleagues were prime contestants for the What Have You Become? show. But with just a little bit of energy and imagination, they could have broken away from that life and career. They just didn’t want to, and I was frightened that I would be infected with that attitude.
The sheer fact that you’re reading this blog post, that you’re visiting this blog at all, tells me you want something more. You don’t want someone to ask you, “what happened?” You want them to ask “How did you do that?”
This blog post is not about the three steps you need to take to achieve greatness, or five obvious pieces of advice masked as “secrets” on growing your brand. This is a plea for you that, regardless of what you’re doing now, you can take the steps necessary to quit the What Have You Become show, and do whatever it takes to become the person you wanted to be.
For me, it was leaving state government and rejoining the private sector. It was working my ass off for hours after work in writing blog posts, and shaking a few thousand hands at a few hundred networking meetings.
For you, it may be taking classes, doing a lot of reading, or even giving up that time-consuming hobby that’s not actually doing anything to make you better.
We’re the sum of the five people we spend the most time with and the books we read. Look at the five (non-family) people you spend the most time with. Are they who you aspire to be? Find people who are, and spend time with them. Hook up with business mentors, industry mentors, or even just someone who’s smarter than you, and meet with them on a regular basis.
Look at your bookshelf. Is it filled with books that can teach you new skills and lead to a better, richer life? Read those books, and not the ones with bare chested men clutching a half-dressed woman to his torso. Listen to them during your commute. Check them out from the library and study them. Or buy your own copies and mark them up with notes, underlines, and highlights.
No one is going to give you the opportunity to leave the What Have You Become game show. You’re not going to be given a year-long stipend and a cushy new home while you redefine yourself. You’re going to have to sacrifice and work hard to get there.
But I can tell you from personal experience, as hard as it is, as endless as it may seem, and despite the fact that it’s an ongoing process, the results are totally worth it.
Erik Deckers is the owner of Professional Blog Service, and the co-author of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing.