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Starting from Scratch Isn't an Easy Feat, But It Can Be Done

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Here's Our Take on How to Open New Door and Creat the Life You've Always Wanted

By Tennille M. Robinson, Tanisha A. Sykes & Stephanie Young  

In April 2004, Joy Harris and DaWayne Brashear became co-owners of Edit Interiors, a Bloomfield, New Jersey, company specializing in interior architecture and design. Determined to make the business a success, the pair enrolled in an intense four-session seminar to help clarify their business goals. In the process, they found out a lot about themselves, too.

Offered by the Miami-based Reinvention Institute, led by CEO and Chief Vision Officer Pamela Mitchell, the Reinvention BootCamp: Career seminar helps individuals zone in on their career transformation. "In working with and coaching people, you're shepherding them from having [their wants] be a dream to making them a reality," says Mitchell.

The seminar came at the right time for Harris: "I was more resolute in what I did want, because I was surrounded by so much of what I didn't want." Harris, 44, a former hairstylist and salon owner from New Jersey, says the impetus to take on interior design came from several factors, including her father's death and her impending divorce.

At the same time, Brashear was starting to recognize his own need for change. Prior to co-founding Edit Interiors, Brashear worked as a flight attendant for United Airlines. He barely missed being on one of the planes used in the 9-11 attacks. Later laid off, Brashear struggled for two years to survive financially, mentally, and physically. "I was 30 pounds overweight and didn't have a clue about what I wanted to do or who I was," he recalls.

By the time the two started working with Mitchell, both were "very, very committed to making change happen and very open about what they needed to work through in order to get there," Mitchell recalls.

Exercises such as creating a scrapbook of their ideal life; brainstorming a list of the 10 best jobs for them; and defining whether money represents happiness, power, or security helped the duo pinpoint objectives and eliminate barriers. Now, with more than 30 completed projects to date and fiscal year 2006 revenues at $400,000, the two have successfully forged ahead. Harris and the now-slimmer Brashear are two individuals who recognized the need to reinvent themselves and sought out the means to do so.

There is a lot of value in taking stock of your life. If you know you need a change but you're stuck, then it's probably time for reinvention. Such a transformation could be mental, spiritual, physical, or all of the above. For some, it's working at jobs they hate but staying because the jobs fit their lifestyle or others' expectations. For others, it's feeling trapped in a loveless, or worse yet, abusive relationship without a clue about how to escape. Then there's the weighty issue that plagues many of us: figuring out how to lose the last 20, 30, or 40 pounds.

Your ideal life doesn't come conveniently packaged in a bottle. "To step out of your comfort zone and trust that you're going to build something is an enormous feat," says Mitchell. The only way to get where you want to be is to take a chance that you can live the life of your dreams. Our team of experts, including life coaches, psychologists, spiritual advisers, and career experts will show you how to unlock doors of opportunity. All you have to do is follow the rules.

Rule #1: Understand who you are and where you are.

It's important to "recognize what's causing you to want to reinvent yourself," says Arthur Day, a licensed marriage and family therapist in California, to see if the problem is perceived or real. "Is it age related, peer pressure, family expectations? Is it a specific developmental stage you're in? Or is it a reaction to something else in your life that you're unhappy with?" The answers will reveal themselves when you take an honest look at what's going on. Get a journal and write down every thought that you have about where your life is now. Are you happy? If not, why not? If you could be doing something different right this second, what would it be? Waiting for everything to be perfect can be a block to getting started.

According to a survey conducted by the Reinvention Institute, the barriers to a successful career reinvention most cited by the 350 respondents were lack of knowledge (26.5%), lack of finances (21.4%), and lack of contacts (18.9%).

The self-discovery process that professional coaching or therapy can support will help you decide the direction in which your life should go. But thoughts about who you are and what you want must be written down to be an effective part of the process. Francine Ward, an achievement coach and author, most recently of 52 Weeks of Esteemable Acts: A Guide to Right Living (Hazelden; $12.95) has clients identify what they do well. "And I stress that they can't do everything and they're not good at everything." To help narrow the field, she asks, "What group of people do you love working with?" and "Whose challenges do you really understand?" If you love working with children, for example, becoming a teacher, therapist, or coach could be the right calling for you.

Rule #2: Explore your gifts and talents.

Tiffany Brown, a 27-year-old author and motivational speaker, was hurled into a new life after a family crisis caused her to back out of running for mayor of Atlanta last year. "After my [ordeal], I experienced some difficulty going on to the next stage of my life and career," she says. Brown's campaign came to a halt when several events, including family members caught in Hurricane Katrina, the pressures of running for mayor, and the disintegration of a long-term relationship, forced her to pull out before she officially could qualify as a candidate.

To restore her life, Brown focused on a physical, mental, and career rejuvenation. To help clarify her career goals, she took personality and self-assessment tests, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which assess how people make decisions, process information, and relate to the world. Many sites offer the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator for various prices, however, the Myers and Briggs Foundation recommends taking the test through the Center for Applications of Psychological Type. The fee is $150 within the United States and $175 internationally.

Test results showed that Brown was great at motivating and helping others, so she explored career choices such as nonprofit management, founding a research think tank, and radio show host. When pursuing your own career reinvention, talk to those who are already doing what you want to do. Ask questions like, "What is it really like on a day-to-day basis?" and "What additional skills do I need to be successful?" Attend a conference, join an association, even intern as a volunteer. "Surround yourself with people and information that creates momentum, that moves you toward what you might be passionate about," says spiritual life coach La Tonia Taylor. "This is your time of exploration."

Rule #3: Fight past the fear.

Around the time of Harris' resolution to change, her business partner, 49-year-old Brashear, was dealing with a lack of resolve. Although he received a degree in Interior Design from Virginia Commonwealth University, and "his work was considered legendary on campus," say Harris, who attended VCU as well, Brashear could not seem to grasp that interior design was his life's calling. He allowed fear to get in his way.

Fear as a self-limitation is not uncommon. "Fear is the primary reason people don't do what they love," says Ward. "We're afraid of failing, afraid of rejection, afraid of what others will think." No one is immune. If we allow fear to keep us from making choices, it will prevent us from attaining our goals. To walk through the fear, explore the perceived obstacles. What's the worst thing that could happen if you leave your job for the one you really love? The only way to find out is to take one step toward making that dream a reality.

Rule #4: Take one step at a time.

In a world of instant money, fame, and power, we want it all, and we want it now. But that's also the quickest way to lose it all. You don't appreciate what you haven't worked for. Therefore, break your goal "down into very small, manageable, baby steps," suggests Ward. Brown, who nearly ran for mayor, restored balance to her life by "completing one task that would make me feel more empowered and in control. This could be as simple as washing the dishes or getting a work-related project out of the way."

Brown also set up a calendar system to keep track of everything that needed to be done. Ward employs a similar strategy with her coaching clients. "To get them from point A to B, I break the goal down into small, manageable, doable steps, so they're not focused just on the end result." For example, Ward tells her clients of her own personal triumphs, like her 10-year journey to becoming a lawyer. "Ten long years of wanting to give up, but not giving up, of just doing one small thing at a time. I actually took just two courses my freshman and sophomore years. Those were my 'baby steps'. And then I ramped it up and increased my course load."

When you embark on your reinvention, don't look farther than where you are. Books like One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way by psychologist Dr. Robert Maurer (Workman Publishing Co.; $16.95) teach the importance of celebrating every pound you lose, every course you take, or every lap you swim. Such mini celebrations positively reinforce your progress. "You don't get to the top of the stairs from the bottom of the stairs without taking the stairs," says Mitchell. "Each step gets you one step closer to reaching your goal."

Rule #5: Create a support team.

"People need support in standing in their own power," says Taylor. That support can come through a teacher, mentor, coach, therapist, or group. When Harris went through her career reinvention to pursue her passion for interior design, she found solace in the strong support of friends. "A friend mailed me a note saying, 'I hope you realize how inspirational you are to those of us that see you working hard trying to make this change. It's encouraged us to do some things that we've always thought of doing.' And I thought that was just beautiful."

Our experts suggest enlisting the help of a coach. The International Coaching Federation offers an online resource for finding a coach tailored to address your specific needs. This Coach Referral Service gives prospective clients the opportunity to choose coaches based on focus, field, price range, location, and even gender. You can also visit http://www.blackcounselors.com for a listing of black counselors or contact the Association of Black Psychologists for the best person to guide and oversee your reinvention. "My clients and I have regular check-ins, which keeps them accountable," says Ward.

Whether they are experts or not, your support group should be made up of trustworthy individuals you respect who have your best interest at heart. "If you're not willing to look at it yourself," Taylor says, "then that's another reason for someone else to do it for you. You have blind spots, so you need objective feedback." 

Rule #6: Allow the transformation to take time.

Life is a series of choices. You can't follow your passion unless your basic needs are being met. "Like Maslow's hierarchy of needs, until you take care of your basic survival needs, you're not going to have room to start following your passion," says Mitchell. For Harris, the clients and the camaraderie at her former salon were important, not the hair. "The people were my passion," she says, "the craft was not necessarily." Instead of waiting for change, she began creating it. For example, Harris scheduled her customers around her interior design classes.

With any transition, you must give yourself time to adjust. Write out weekly, monthly, and yearly goals, so you can see the transformation taking place over time. If you find yourself in a never-ending cycle of actions that don't move your plan forward, then consider retooling your plan. Signs that things are not working might include missed opportunities, the inability to find support, disorganization, or lack of enthusiasm on your part. That's why it's important to remain flexible throughout the process. What you read in a textbook or discuss in class will not always manifest in real life. Therefore, take your time, enjoy the victories, and move beyond the difficulties. Continue to develop your plans in preparation for the coming of greater change.

A should've, could've, would've: are you a sayer or a doer?
As we all know, it's easy to come up with plans but it's the follow-through that matters most. "Sayers talk about what they don't have, why life is unfair, and what they wish they could do; doers are often people who are afraid, but who are willing to feel the fear and do something anyway," says Francine Ward, who coaches in California.

Many would-be reinventors get bogged down just thinking about the tools and resources they'll need. Allowing your mind to wander with reasons why you can't start leads to immobilization, failure, and disappointment. "People have to be willing to be uncomfortable and to move from the familiar," notes spiritual coach La Tonia Taylor.

Pamela Mitchell, of The Reinvention Institute, believes that even in difficult, unpleasant times, you can still make an effort. "You start to carve out, even if it's just a moment, things that fill that passion," she says. And understand that while you're working this job to take care of your kids, your kids won't be kids forever. So it's really a moment in time. You need to make plans along the way, to lay some groundwork." It's important to realize that the rest of your life won't involve your current situation, no matter how extreme.

Be considerate and understanding with your current situation, but let it drive rather than limit you. Do not get discouraged because doing so will slow or halt your progress. Charlotte Scott-Day, a licensed marriage and family therapist, advises changing your mind-set by refusing to think of yourself in terms of labels, for example, as a mother or a wife. Instead, think of yourself as an individual with the potential and desire to accomplish your goals. Working to achieve a long-term goal means working in incremental stages. Execute tasks using a timeline sensitive to your present situation, and seek to learn as much as you can about your intended future. Mitchell says a shift of attitudes will help you see your current situation not as a block, but as the launching pad to your future.

"Right now you may have to spend most of your time on the other stuff and just a little bit of time on your passion, but eventually that mix will shift," she says. "When it [does] you will have a base from which to start making that change."


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