The Story Economy Blog

The Nature of Reinvention

highline mainLast week, I was at a writer’s conference in New York City. Whenever I go to events like this, I alternate between inspiration and overwhelm. Friday evening, after the final session for the day wrapped, I knew exactly what I needed: falafel and a walk on The High Line.

My friend gave me subway directions, and I popped up 10 minutes later on 8th avenue, right in front of a falafel vendor. Hair blowing wild, people bustling around me, I sat in some tiny strip of a park and enjoyed my pita. Then I climbed the stairs to The High Line.

If you’re not familiar, The High Line is an old elevated freight rail line that’s been repurposed into a park. The blend of old railroad track and plantings is so fantastic. It’s the ultimate reinvention project: take an old, used up thing and turn it into something completely new and charming.

I went to see the garden. But what I wound up seeing, as hosta and perennial grasses poked out from bits of railway, was my own reinvention project: my career. I wasn’t just thinking about my career—I was thinking about the careers of most of my freelance colleagues.

Continual reinvention is really the nature of being a creative freelancer. The train you were on leaves without you and the station shuts down for good, so you walk along the rusty tracks and start coaxing blooms. There is always a plan B. And then a C, D, E, F, and G after that.

A few things occurred to me about reinvention as I strolled along The High Line. And when things occur to me, well, I think you know that I like to share them.

Reinvention means letting go. People and companies most successfully reinvent when they let go of their attachment to the form something has to take, whether it’s a medium, a process, or a relationship. For example, nearly every coffee table displayed the familiar yellow National Geographic magazines in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. But when subscribers starting dropping off from the magazine, the company reinvented itself as a multimedia brand, including a TV station. I understand the temptation to stick with what you know and define yourself by it (“I’m a magazine writer! I can’t do that!”), but attachments to form can wind up choking the brightest people and companies.

Reinvention requires humility. There’s not a lot of room for ego in reinvention. Think about when Martha Stewart went to prison. She didn’t like it, but she went. She served without fuss. She got out and basically said: “I did my time. I’m ready to work again.” And then she went on to create dozens of new things and earn back the respect (and money) she may have lost.

Reinvention can mean turning your back on what’s “stable.” Sometimes we have stuff we think we can’t possibly live without—people, places, ideas, jobs. And though it may be stable, it’s sort of killing us. Tina Turner was in an abusive relationship with Ike Turner for years. She was a teenager when she met him. He built her career, and kept her under his thumb, controlling every aspect of her life. She was successful, but it wasn’t worth the cost. She finally left him in the late 70s—she’s been quoted as saying she only had 36 cents and a gas station credit card when she left. She used food stamps and worked as a maid, but she kept performing when she could. She was far older than most musicians trying to make a go of it. But she kept at it, and finally reinvented her career as a successful solo artist.

Reinvention has to start on the inside. A colleague recently told me that the name I knew her by wasn’t actually her given name. She never liked her given name, she said, so when she went away to college, she just started introducing herself with a different name (what I know her by). “Didn’t it feel strange to just suddenly go by a different name?” I asked her. “No,” she said, “because my old name never actually felt like my name.” I’ve never much liked the name Judi because it’s so old-fashioned. Still, it never occurred to me to change it because in my heart, I actually feel like a Judi. Reinvention only works if you’re in tune with the deepest stuff inside of you. No one will believe your reinvention if you don’t.

What is your company reinventing? Leave a comment and share it!


  • Mike Plotnick

    Posted by Mike Plotnick on 05/06/15 4:24pm

    Wonderful insights, Judi! Thanks for sharing your falafel/High Line experience!

    • Judi Ketteler

      Posted by Judi Ketteler on 05/06/15 5:02pm

      Thanks, Mike! I could have made the entire post about falafel b/c I love it so much! But alas, it is good to make an actual point!
      -- Judi

  • Shel Horowitz

    Posted by Shel Horowitz on 05/06/15 4:36pm

    Thanks for this. My big reinvention is to take the work I've done as a marketer for green businesses and leapfrog it to help companies understand the profit in addressing much bigger issues, like hunger, poverty, war, and catastrophic climate change. It's very exciting and more than a little scary.

    PS: I'm a fan of both falafel and the High Line--wish it had existed when I was growing up in NYC.

    • Judi Ketteler

      Posted by Judi Ketteler on 05/06/15 5:01pm

      That's a great project, Shel! Thanks for sharing!
      -- Judi

  • adrienne robinson

    Posted by adrienne robinson on 05/18/15 1:29pm

    Judi, I always look forward to your writings and find them deeply insightful. I appreciate how you inspire me and thank you very much for sharing your writings.

Leave A Comment

Related Posts