The section below includes quotations about making life transitions — movement from any one life stage to another or to several others — as discussed in Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career by Herminia Ibarra. For me, the strength of Ibarra’s book lies not as much in its career advice as in its focus on the psychological aspects of making any transition or life change. Ibarra elaborates on how transitions occur in terms of practical experience, and how this experience will feel over time — as an exploration of “possible selves” even in the absence of an explicitly identified end result. For Ibarra, planning and introspection must take a back seat to experimentation and reframing our stories as we move toward newly defined identities.
Ibarra rounds out the book with comprehensive practical advice, and the cumulative effect of the book is to create a safer and more comfortable personal space for engaging with and working through any life transition. Highly recommended: Ibarra’s writing repays study of its substantial and unique ideas that have value well beyond what can be represented in a few quotations.
From Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career by Herminia Ibarra:
“Many of us feel a tug between well-paid, challenging, or stable jobs and the vocations we have practiced on the side, in some cases for the whole of our professional lives. Becoming a musician, a writer, an artist, a photographer, or a fashion designer at midcareer entails big personal sacrifices and typically dumbfounds the people around us, who fail to see why we don’t simply keep our passions safely on the side.”
“Since we are many selves, changing is not a process of swapping one identity for another but rather a transition process in which we reconfigure the full set of possibilities.”
“To launch ourselves anew, we need to get out of our heads. We need to act.”
“We learn who we are — in practice, not in theory — by testing reality, not by looking inside. We discover the true possibilities by doing — trying out new activities, reaching out to new groups, finding new role models, and reworking our story as we tell it to those around us.”
“During the between-identities period, we feel torn in many different directions. Although there are many moments of reflection, this is not a quiet period: A multitude of selves — old and new, desired and dreaded — are coming to the surface, noisily coexisting.”
“[No] matter where we start, our ideas for change change along the way, as we change. Where we end up often surprises us. For these reasons, as much as we would like to, we simply cannot plan and program our way into our reinvention.”
“How do we create and test possible selves? We bring them to life by doing new things, making new connections, and retelling our stories. These reinvention practices ground us in direct experience, preventing the change process from remaining too abstract. New competencies and points of view take shape as we act and, as those around us react, help us narrow the gap between the imagined possible selves that exist only in our minds and the ‘real’ alternatives that can be known only in the doing.”
“Old possible selves are always more vivid than the new: They are attached to familiar routines, to people we trust, to well-rehearsed stories. The selves that have existed only in our minds as fantasies or that are grounded only in fleeting encounters with people who captured our imagination are much fuzzier, fragile, unformed…. Whether it takes months or years, living [these] contradictions is one of the toughest tasks of transition.”
“Change takes time because we usually have to cycle through identifying and testing possibilities a few times, asking better questions with each round of tests, crafting better experiments, and building on what we have learned before…. Which self we test hardly matters; small steps like embarking on a new project or going to a night course can ignite a process that changes everything….”
“Self-creation is a lifelong journey. Only by our actions do we learn who we want to become, how best to travel, and what else will need to change to ease the way.”
“We don’t find ourselves in a blinding flash of insight, and neither do we change overnight. We learn by doing, and each new experience is part answer and part question.”
“Once you head down the path of discovery, there is no going back.”