People often talk about reinventing themselves. On a practical level changing careers, starting a family, retiring, going back to school, and many other common—if life-changing—experiences are forms of reinvention. Women seem especially adept at reinvention. Perhaps it’s just that traditionally women lead lives with many moving parts and the work/career part is periodically in flux? Whatever the reason, I’ve observed that most of my women friends and family have undergone one, two or more reinventions in their work life. I’ve known more than a few men who’ve gone through a purposeful career reinvention, but not a chain of metamorphoses. The one, big change has been a singular life experience.
I’m not sure why this seems so much harder for men? Fiction is full of men chucking their conventional life to run away to become an artist (inn keeper, deep sea diver, wine maker, etc.) only to find that their original career follows them wherever they land. Perhaps I read too many mystery novels with male protagonists who are never entirely free of their pasts as detectives, lawyers, spies, assassins, soldiers, politicians and more?
Or, maybe, the personal identities of men, in both fiction and reality, are tied tight to their career description and it’s harder to shake off one self-image and inhabit the next?
In fiction, the storyteller can set the bar high for a character’s tolerance for change. But when you are aiming for credibility in the form of integrity of character, it’s hard to allow a character’s internal compass to make a radical switch.
Can the loyal family man, longtime bank employee, Sunday school teacher, and soccer coach, transform into the dashing jewel thief with a gorgeous sidekick and a new identity? Sure, but only if the seeds of this crazy life switch are planted in his first incarnation. The double lives of spies in suspense fiction have always fascinated me. The cover life is “too ordinary” and the secret life is often over-the-top. But that’s what we love about spies.
Reinvention has been on my mind for a while. I’ve had a few reinventions in my career as a writer and plan to focus more on fiction going forward. But writing is writing is writing and, alas, I have no talent, ambition, daydream, or skills that would make me anything other than a writer. I guess I just have to incorporate the yen for reinvention into the lives of my characters.