Is it ever too late to reinvent yourself?

When you get to your mid-30s, you start to rethink your life and how you've been living it.
02 Jun, 2022

Have you ever come across someone who was a lawyer when you met them last, but 15 years and two kids later, they had become a painter? Do you remember that friend with acrophobia in college, now posting photos of a bungee jumping expedition from the Navajo Bridge in Arizona? Is there an elderly person in the family who has picked up gardening in retirement but disclosed they never had a green thumb? This is perhaps, reinvention.

Reinvention is often a process of self discovery, of changing the direction and purpose of your life, letting go of old habits and adopting new ones. Those could be as simple as going from being a junk food glutton to eating organic only or steering your life towards a spiritual journey with a lifelong inward search. It could happen as a result of something traumatic in your life like the death of a loved one that leaves you in anguish or simply be the outcome of feeling stuck in a rut.

Life often comes with an algorithm. Go to school, graduate, work, get married, have kids, grow old. Preferably in that order. Especially if it is to determine a person’s success quotient. After all, you don’t want to make babies in your teens and study in your 40s. Or can you? And if that happens, can you still turn your life around?

One of my childhood friends, Ayesha, whom I met in sixth grade, was one of the smartest girls in class. She excelled in mathematics and her focused attitude towards education when many of us were looking to bunk classes was enough for us to assume a future in business school for her or something to that effect. In our core group of friends, her mother, a full-time banker, was the only working mom and it seemed as though she would follow suit. But during sophomore year, aged 19, she shared she was getting married and leaving for America. By 27 she was done with three kids. When we both hit our 30s and were doing the same things we had been since a decade, we would end up having numerous discussions on life and how all the cliches about time flying by were so true.

Discussions changed into personal soul searching and introspection. After 20 years of marriage when her son was ready to go to college, she began to float the idea of herself beginning college. I thought she had said it in jest. It was like those things we think out loud but never really do. You know, like wanting to climb Kilimanjaro. “For 20 years I have thought of my family only and done everything to suit their needs,” she told me. “I now want to think about myself.” A realisation struck me that she had never thought of a life beyond meeting the needs of her family for almost as long as I knew her. Short of her 38th birthday, she enrolled in undergrad, had uncovered an untapped potential and is now on her way to becoming a therapist. The perfect profession for a woman I’ve seen handle life at a young age with so much poise and wisdom.

However, merely opting to do something different is not reinventing yourself. It isn’t a new label or opting for a different job. It is the thought process behind a certain decision that would alter your lifestyle in the future or changing habits in your every day life consciously when they no longer serve a purpose or add value to your life. It is one thing to lose weight if you battled obesity, but it is reinventing yourself if you understood the impact a certain eating lifestyle had on your health, what being overweight did to your image, whether it bothered you and now you consciously adopt healthy eating and remain steadfast in your new approach towards life.

In Pakistan, music fans were left shocked and perplexed when one of the biggest pop stars in the country, Junaid Jamshed, went through a personal metamorphosis. From a singing icon in stone-washed jeans to an Islamic preacher with a long beard and modest plain white clothes, he had left music for good. His profound relationship with religion had reshaped both his mind and outward appearance. What was evolution and transformation for some was extremely jarring for others who directed a lot of criticism his way. For years he had propagated a modern lifestyle through singing and dancing and was now negating everything he stood for at one time.

In an online appearance, Jamshed disclosed that he had met a religious scholar and told him that despite fame, wealth and almost everything one could desire, he was not content as a person. He thought music had been food for the soul but the scholar told him, “Music was for the nufs (self) while the rooh (soul) needed something more meaningful. It needed to find a connection with God.” This stayed with him. Jamshed went to the extent of saying, “I would rather jump into fire than go back to my old life.” That is how much he had changed. It was a complete rebirth. A reinvention.

All over the world, people have changed roles, evolved, transformed. Arnold Schwarzenegger transitioned from being ‘The Terminator’ to the ‘Governator’ when he became the governor of California with no prior political experience. Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, was a Hollywood actor first. Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson, a brunette who changed her name and became blonde before joining movies. In her unfinished autobiography, My Story, Marilyn Monroe talks about shedding her real name as she often didn’t identify with it. Many actors have adopted screen names and abandoned their birth names in order to give themselves a new identity more aligned with the image they are aiming to carve. This shows that reinvention has no boundaries, no rules and definitely no age bracket.

I quit working for a television channel after working in the media for over 10 years. I felt a mental stagnation and overly burdened with work politics. Journalism for me seemed less about exploring stories and narratives and more about dodging bullying at work and handling unprofessionalism. I felt uninspired. It took me about four years to resume writing — my original passion. In those four years I did what I thought I could never do — cook. It was daunting, simply because I had never put together a recipe before. With cooking, I uncovered a whole new world of flavour, colour and aroma that satiated both my mind and the tummy!

After enduring months of stress at work, I found a way to keep myself occupied within the comfort of my own home and wilfully detached myself from the news to make time for new activities. I joined French language classes and learnt how to swim. Doing this enabled me to experience a life beyond the political talk shows and news alerts that had become second nature to me. Dabbling with new interests gave me a fresh perspective and approach towards many things in life and were small steps towards making big changes.

When my friend Saira caught herself in the middle of an acrimonious divorce, she found herself at a crossroads. During her married years, she had taken immense pleasure in being a homemaker and at 37 found herself being financially responsible for a child as a single parent. The girl who once binge-watched Netflix shows was crash studying for a one-year diploma in three months to expedite the process of finding work. Once she did, it came with financial independence that she found liberating and the support of an office network that overwhelmed her. This recharged her for a new life that she embraced with an assured spirit. And this hadn’t even been by choice. But perhaps that is the resilient nature humans are born with. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

One of my friends Jalal, who lives in Dubai and is in his early 40s, said he would want to reinvent himself to avoid a midlife crisis. I was fascinated — doing something to avoid something? He elaborated that crisis often comes as a result of professional or personal peak or due to a lack of progress one expected. “It is the 10 per cent nuclear family who are likely to be even aware of going through a crisis,” he added. “Only those with heightened awareness will seek to orient themselves before they collapse intellectually.” This resonated a lot because I have come across people with no itch to grow or a yearning to learn. To each his own but as he pointed out too, an element of self awareness is truly needed to know how to evolve.

I feel time sometimes magnifies your fears because you’ve spent a longer stretch being comfortable with patterns in life and change can always be daunting. Junaid Jamshed was perhaps having an existential crisis and looking for meaning in life, Ayesha wanted to pursue her own interests after being a giver for years, Saira needed a contingency plan. The ability to give yourself a rebirth at any stage is possible and for any reason. Don’t be skeptical of change, embrace it. Give that fencing class a shot if it tickled your fancy. Take a horticulture course if you want to be in an unfamiliar territory. Paint a piece of old furniture and let a dormant skill reemerge.

Ultimately, with reinvention you’re seeking to make a change in some aspect of your life, be it the mind, body, soul or an image to attract certain work. Just learning something is, of course, not a reinvention but it can begin a momentum for you to begin getting comfortable with new ideas, new practices and new interests that could transform the way you think or live in the future.