Wearing a baseball cap, sweats, and sunglasses, I set out for the track in New York City’s Central Park. After one lap I noticed my friend Katy up ahead—also in sweats, shades, and a cap. That’s when it hit me: I recognized her from the back! That meant people could recognize me from the back (which I’ve never thought was my best side).
But I’m not talking about fashion. I’m talking about seeing yourself the way others see you. I’ve learned we don’t always know as much about ourselves as we think we do.
Many experts on reinvention agree that before you reinvent yourself, you need to be "reintroduced" to yourself.
I know I did.
About 10 years ago, on the cusp of my 50s, my sister, Ann, suggested an online test to reveal my strengths. While I could have enumerated my weaknesses (with examples!), I was hard put to name one strength. I hadn’t updated my self-image in decades. I was still "Janie," the baby of the family—a delightful little girl.
I took this test (called StrengthsFinder), and I got my results: a list of five very strengthy-sounding words. "This isn’t Jane Pauley," I said out loud, "it’s GI Jane!" But I noticed my sister and my husband exchanging a glance that said, "It nailed her."
As I reviewed the list, a recognizable "me" began to take shape. "Command" summoned a memory of being chosen to lead a girls' club. And I could see I was an "activator," quick to make big decisions. ("Are you sure that’s a strength?" my husband asked.)
When I recognized my “GI Jane–ishness,” I had to bid farewell to "Janie," a self-image I had clearly outgrown.
Recently my sister paid me a compliment that led to another insight: "You have a gift for helping people see themselves in new and powerful ways," she said. I realized that was a good description of the parts of my work I have most enjoyed. I knew that, whatever path my future would take, helping people see themselves differently would have to be a part of it.
Sometimes the things that give the most pleasure, meaning, and purpose to our lives are obvious to everyone but us. So if you’re wondering where you go from here, a little reintroduction may help you see that your hidden self was in plain sight all along.
Award-winning journalist Jane Pauley is AARP’s Your Life Calling ambassador.
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