Reinvention: When and why to change (or not change)
By Michael Whaby
“Changing with the times when I rhyme, people feelin’ it like braille
They say, ‘Logic different now,’ and I be like, ‘Oh well’” – Logic
Have you ever been in a relationship where your boyfriend or girlfriend says to you, “you’ve changed”? I bet most of us have. And to that point, I would say, “Yeah, and Taylor Swift used to be a country music artist, but look at her now—nominated Artist of the Decade.” Change is inevitable and often good. But why is it hard, and when is it necessary?
What makes change so hard?
Society has become accustomed to using labels to stereotype groups and individuals. The problem with this is that people will often tend to mirror the labels that are used to categorize them, as if it were a standard to live up to. Label someone a class clown, or funny, and that person will likely go out of their way to continue to live up to this expectation; label someone smart, and that person will try to live up to this expectation.
I know firsthand that change is difficult. In high school, I didn’t make above a 3.0 until halfway through sophomore year. Then, I remember my dad telling me that he would give me ten dollars for every A that I received on my report card. To me, that was worth putting forth some extra effort and making some changes. The very next report card was the first time I made above a 3.0. My dad lived up to his word, and it felt good to make some extra cash. What felt even better, though, was that feeling of accomplishment—seeing my hard work pay off (no pun intended).
My friends were startled to hear that I had been doing well—not outstanding, but well—in school. Suddenly, this became my new image to them. It was harder to convince my teachers, however. Some of them clung on to a negative image of me. And this was not a flaw of mine; I’ve encountered too many teachers, especially in high school, that did not want to see a glimpse of potential in some of their students.
Change is possible. What makes change so hard is when others hold on to a previous image of you and you let that hinder your vision of yourself. Sometimes its not enough to convince yourself that change is possible; you have to be willing to prove to others that you’re willing to take the steps necessary to change, regardless of how others might perceive you now. This might mean “upsetting” friends or family by taking more time to focus on what you should have been doing all along to become who you want to be.
When is change necessary?
Answering this question is just as much about personal identity as it is about the world around you. I opened this post with a quote from Logic, and also with referencing Taylor Swift. Both are music artists that have changed their images with the changes in times. Thus, in their evolution, they have embraced their malleability as artists without changing their core values. It’s not that what they were doing before wasn’t working, it’s that the change that they brought worked much better.
Taylor Swift went from country music to pop-style music, and this change lead her to the top of the charts for the better part of a decade. Sure, country music-oriented people were likely sad to see this change, but she was able to make more of an impact in her musical career to her fans, and the world, by instituting this transition.
Changing with the times is how many stay at the top of their fields. Take science, for instance, new knowledge is constantly being accumulated with new research. If this new knowledge is just ignored, then advancements in any scientific field would happen much, much slower, if at all. Scientists constantly integrate new knowledge into their research to push the boundaries of scientific knowledge even further. By ignoring changes with the times, we practice stubborn behavior. Change is necessary when there is enough evidence that suggests that change would be for the best.
It is not self-serving to change when others—and yourself included—enjoy the way that things currently are, especially when change would bring good overall; it is, however, self-serving to inhibit change just to feel the need to stay consistent with how things were before. Again, don’t let stubbornness hinder your ability to accept change when, in fact, change is necessary.
I found it hard to reinvent myself when I decided to switch career paths late in undergrad—I was a senior. Everyone saw me as one person while I was trying to become someone else. It almost felt like I told people I was going to do something for them and never lived up to it. And to add insult to injury, this made any form of imposter syndrome that I already had even worse. When it comes to your life, be selfish sometimes. Don’t let others’ expectations of you hold you back from what you want to be. We’re in an age of social distancing, and that doesn’t have to be confined to the context of a viral pandemic. Relationships with others can be toxic if you allow it, and distancing from those relationships can help to clear any cloudiness from your judgement. Its hard to escape labels; it’s even harder living as someone that you’ve always wanted to change, but never did.