Wellbeing

New Year, New You and the Myth of Reinvention

Self-improvement is now a multi-billion dollar industry and personal growth is the product. But is the promise of self reinvention fated to failure?

There once was a twenty-something year-old account manager called Katie. She decided her New Year’s resolution was to completely reinvent herself. She quit her job and founded a centre for abandoned puppies. She lost 15 kilos. She became a part-time yoga instructor and she gained 10,000 new Instagram followers. But was she happy? That’s irrelevant because Katie doesn’t actually exist – she’s as fake as the myth of self reinvention we’re sold, especially around this time of year. While it’s easy to see why fantasies like this are appealing — filled with promise, although not at all practical — the idea of a life or personality makeover is not only misleading, it sets us further back.

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Perfection has a funny way of always seeming just out of reach. Image: Unsplash.

Author Marc Freedman writes that behind every attempt at a life-makeover is an “underlying assumption that the past — in other words, our accumulated life experience — is baggage to be disregarded and discarded.” People want to transform who they are for a bunch of reasons. Maybe they’ve just ended a relationship, changed jobs or are just unhappy. Maybe it’s because the sale of products and ideas is often founded on the presumption that we’re not good enough. That we should be something we’re not. Reinvention sells, baby. Learning to love yourself just as you are does not sell. But in the long term, it’s much more valuable.

The metaphorical journey of self-transformation based out of a desire to ‘improve’ yourself is about masking who you actually are with the person you’re trying to be. Walter Akana talks about the ‘coolness’ cache attached to self-reinvention as its appeal, saying “self-reinvention is a contrivance designed to make people feel better about how they look, not only in the eyes of others but also in their own eyes.” What we’re dealing with is identity as commodity — creating a new exterior self as a reaction to exterior circumstances, or put another way, “fooling yourself about fooling others.” Resolutions like this are the enemy of real change.

Researcher Mike Bulajewski draws a parallel between how we think about our technology and ourselves, suggesting we face pressure to update ourselves as quickly and efficiently as an app. “Identity innovation [has become] an economically exploitable activity just like technology,” he says. Cynically put, we’re in a culture in which the ‘consumption of the self’ has been normalised, and in which “glorifying the new and jettisoning the old,” as D.H. Lawrence put it, is not only acceptable, it’s expected.

The narrative of self-reinvention is clearly a powerful one. It symbolises the ideal of the individual who selects an identity like one selects a Twitter bio, free of context and free of the symbolic chains of the past. But the past can’t be changed, nor can it be escaped. Wouldn’t it make more sense to try to make peace with the past — to live harmoniously with it, seeking to understand it without letting it define you? Reintegration rather than reinvention? You might be able to reinvent your approach to the challenges life throws at you, but you can’t reinvent your whole self. That’s self-deception. Like Drake said, y’all need to know yourself.

Often people don’t change because they don’t know themselves to begin with. Without recognising aspects of themselves that need to be improved (including the true source of these traits), they might be tempted to blame others or look for quick fixes. But if you can fully accept yourself, flaws and all, you can start to understand old habits and traits, and begin chipping away at them patiently and without judgement, in order to form new habits. It can take a lifetime. The trick is being okay with that and recognising that it’s worth the wait.

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Everyone’s looks different. Image: Unsplash.

Slow change based on self-love and awareness can lead to enriched relationships, a more meaningful career and an empowered well-being in the long term. All you have to do is embrace yourself, acknowledge and accept what ails you and be willing to grow from that awareness. Muhammad Ali was on some woke level when he said, “A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.”

If the prospect of showing yourself some love is more daunting than the prospect of changing aspects of your personality and physical form as a new year’s resolution then a) this just proves how important a task it is and b) here’s a simplified checklist of things you can aim for every day, to achieve some reintegration with your glorious inner self.

Put your happiness first

It’s easier said than done, but try not to look to other people for acceptance. In a time when we’re encouraged to exploit ourselves like a natural resource, the act of self-acceptance is a truly revolutionary one.

Be your own best friend and/or lover

It’s common for young people to feel like they don’t even have an ‘authentic self’. Maybe you do, but maybe that’s just a notion invented by the self-help industry for us to consume. Does it matter? Show yourself the patience and love you’d show your best friend, or a stray kitten. Hug yourself. Have a maz. Eat some ice-cream and enjoy it. You’ll feel better.

Reject perfection

See self-criticism for what it is – fear. Yes, you may have made mistakes in the past, but you don’t live there. Focus on making yourself happy in the now.

Focus on what you love

Does wearing leggings as pants make you happy, because comfort? Do it. Do you get a kick out of contouring? Not shaving? Walking around naked? Do it, do it and do it. Make an effort everyday to slowly rid yourself of anything that doesn’t give you warm and fuzzy feelings, whether it’s your job, the people you surround yourself with, whatever. Be patient with yourself and go at your own pace. You don’t have to start on the January 1 to make positive change and you don’t have to stick to it. Mistakes are cool too – it’s not the end of the world.

Don’t hate

One of the signs of a harsh ‘inner critic’ is passing judgement on other people. If you find yourself looking for faults in others, stop. Reflect. What is it that you don’t like about that person’s ‘fault’? Could it be that it hits a nerve with you because of your own self-judgement? Yes it could. Try thinking kind, beautiful thoughts about everyone you come across. If you can adore the curves and extra rolls of skin on a girl from Instagram, maybe you can start adoring your own, ya feel? You deserve all the adoration. Shower it on others and pour it on yourself.

The best thing about self-love is that you can never have enough. Screw fear of being seen as ‘up yourself’ in 2016. The more love, the merrier. Here’s to a brand new year full of self-acceptance, not false promises. Of knowing yourself, not wearing a mask. Of reintegration, not reinvention. You’re pretty great the way you are.


Jerico Mandybur is a Sydney-based freelance writer and editor, interested in pop culture, feminism, fashion, social justice and radical ideas. Especially when they intersect. In her spare time, she produces community radio and hugs other people’s dogs.

Lead image: Unsplash