After art historians dissect and classify the work and explain it neatly in art history books or on the walls of museum exhibitions, it makes perfect logical sense. Naturally, Picasso transitioned into new styles like cubism or Monet with his failing eyes graced the world with more mottled Impressionist paintings. In retrospect, of course artists evolve. But in the moment, I’m sure Monet and Picasso were nervous about breaking new ground.
It’s a deeply emotional struggle whenever we shift our fundamental “brand” or style of creative output. Picasso, Monet, and all creatives before and since have had to wrestle with the reality that to stay fresh, enthusiastic, and authentic, you have to disrupt yourself.
That takes courage.
Because your personal brand can become a comfortable home where you know what to expect and others know what to expect of you. The only issue is that as a living creature, you grow. So in time the brand that once seemed tailor-made for you now feels like compression clothing.
If you don’t try on new garb that better fits who you are now, you can end up doing all sorts of unfulfilling activities to mask the fact that you’re bored, feel like an imposter, and are struggling with motivation. But if you have the courage to step out and try something new, you can avoid the emptiness and feel truly alive to yourself and your work.
I went through this process of creative evolution this past year, though more in an entrepreneurial capacity. Previously, as a time management coach, I focused exclusively on universally accepted concepts around lasting behavioral change with time management. I’ve enjoyed the diversity of clients this has attracted and still plan on offering this approach to anyone who might need my services.
But this past fall, I announced a new faith-based offering called "Divine Time Management." I realized that by hiding from my audience the huge role that faith played in my life, I was being inauthentic and withholding valuable information that could lead to new levels of breakthrough for people who were open to it.
I’ve owned a business for over 10 years and had never done anything overtly Christian so I was nervous about how people would respond.
Would my current clients leave? Would people put a lot of judgments on me that were based on their past experience and not who I actually was?
Despite these concerns, I stayed true to myself and mustered the courage to move forward. Did some people leave my list? Yep. Were a few people not happy with the evolution? For sure. If I had done this by survey and public opinion, would I have proceeded? Probably not. But was I being true to myself and allowing myself to grow in my work? Absolutely.
To my pleasant surprise, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, even from people who didn’t share my faith background. They appreciated that I was being authentic to myself and in turn giving others the inspiration to do the same. Both myself and my business have flourished as a result.
The road was long and bumpy, but here’s what I learned:
Like Gretchen Rubin says in Better Than Before, be particularly aware of anything that you feel you need to hide or explain. It's a good sign you're living out of alignment with your values. Also pay attention to instances where your body is there but you mentally disengage because you could almost do what you're doing in your sleep. Admitting to yourself that you need to infuse new life or maybe completely change your brand or your work is an important first step.
Some people may flip out and don’t want you to change because it’s inconvenient for them in some way. So it’s OK to start sharing with a small circle of supporters. This will probably look like conversations with mentors or close friends. (Be very careful about how much you share with colleagues if you’re not thoroughly committed to a shift.) Give yourself the freedom to brainstorm and to not commit to any particular new direction immediately. There’s often a door you could open if you just stopped to consider that there could be a way out, or at least a shift.
Once you decide on a direction, you don't need to cannonball into the new way of working or kind of work. You can start with a special project or class or even a hobby. You don’t need to even show anyone your new work at first. When you’re in the incubating stage, it’s important that your new creative outputs have a safe space to be birthed and to develop. Keep doing the things that are already working for you to provide a firm foundation until you figure out what sticks. There’s no need to immediately quit your job or publicly rebrand your business.
When you do decide to go public with your new ideas, explain your story in an authentic human way. For example, Natalie Sisson, known for years as “The Suitcase Entrepreneur,” unpacked her suitcase and rebranded as someone who helps people create businesses that aren’t necessarily about traveling all over. Instead of just saying that she was going in this new direction, Natalie shared the story of how changes with her father’s health had lead to a personal re-evaluation of her priorities. Yes, this was a shift from her digital nomad lifestyle but by telling her story she could illustrate that it was ultimately about freedom to have a business that allowed you to have a life you loved.
There’s a time and place for surveys and customer feedback. But when it comes to re-inventing yourself, an outside in approach is dangerous and can leave you feeling like more of an imposter than before. There is far less creativity than there could be because people are so concerned about measuring and monitoring public opinion that they keep themselves within a narrow band of what they feel is politically correct, socially acceptable, and what people expect from them.
You are not a new brand of deodorant. Stop acting like you should always dictate what you do like a market survey for a mass consumer product.
In short: You are more than your "brand." As a living, breathing, developing human being, you don't need to be ashamed to change. It's vulnerable to let go of some of the roles you've held for a very long time and the persona you're known for. But it's also incredibly freeing and an opportunity to truly come alive. Now is the time to be who you are now instead of carrying around the shell of who you once were.
Have you been type casting yourself?
What ways have you seen yourself or others break out of your own personal mold?
Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training and author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress and How to Invest Your Time Like Money. Find out how you can accomplish more with peace and confidence at http://www.RealLifeE.com.