The Importance of Periodic Reinvention
Updated: Feb 27
"I don't like that artist. All their music sounds the same."
Have you ever heard someone say this?
I bet you have.
Well, at one point that same artist was getting so much positive feedback from their fans that they kept following the same formula. At the time, it seemed like a bigger risk to change everything up, then to keep doing exactly what got them there. After too many years of not reinventing themselves they were eventually pegged as an "artist with songs that all sound the same." The biggest risk was not to change things up, the biggest risk was to keep doing the same thing!
I even hear two of my favorite artists get that criticism: Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Yet, fans that actually listen to ALL their music, and not just what's played on radio, know this isn't true.
If some people already think all Dylan's music sounds the same, can you imagine what most people would've say about him if he hadn't gone electric? Can you imagine what people would say about Bruce if he didn't do albums like Nebraska?
Reinventing yourself is the only path to long term success and personal fulfillment
When Dylan finally gained notoriety after years of struggle he did something seemingly crazy at the time. In a move that shocked and even alienated many of his fans and contemporaries, he chose to change his sound up. He added an electric guitar. Rather than exploiting what already worked for more, he did something new.
After becoming what the media called “the spokesman of a generation,” he left behind his old sound so he could continue to explore and grow, even if it meant risking everything.
At the height of Dave Chappelle's success, he gave up everything and moved to Africa. The media said he had gone crazy. Just like with Dylan, many of his fans were beside themselves. Now, he has come back and reinvented himself as a talented standup comic that's making prolific Netflix specials on his own terms. He gets to call the shots and isn't beholden to some Hollywood producer's whims.
What if Dave Chappelle never left his hit Comedy Central show when he did? I bet people would have gotten bored of his same old "schtick" pretty soon. Instead he came back a living legend and is killing it on his own terms!
Taylor Swift has reinvented herself and changed up her look and style many times.
Would Taylor Swift still be dominating Pop Music if she never moved on from her innocent acoustic songs? I doubt it.
Can you make a living not periodically reinventing yourself? Yes. But can you be fulfilled? I don't think so.
The band Kiss played a show in my city the other week, and I thought about how they've dressed up and quite literally have done the same song and dance for decades. They haven't created anything new for decades, but they do have a loyal following that finds them reminiscent of a nostalgic time.
Yes, they make a living. But do you think KISS is truly happy to dress up in the same costumes and sing the same songs every night?
Can you be fulfilled when every day feels like groundhog day?
I love documentaries on bands. The artists that go crazy, like James Brown, are the ones who stop reinventing themselves. They are hanging on to the past. They haven't closed the chapter. Every cell in their body is telling them to explore something else, but instead they follow the comfortable routine of dressing, acting, and singing the same song as they did decades ago. They all go crazy and self destruct.
If reinventing yourself is essential to long-term success, then why is it so hard to do?
1. It's human nature to crave safety and security
When you first reach a higher level of success, it's tempting to keep doing the same thing that got you there in the first place. It's easy to make decisions based off fear: "I have it good right now. What if this isn't right?" "What if I'm giving up everything I've worked for"
The reality is that what you got you there in the first place was probably reinventing yourself, but that can be hard to see in the moment.
2. People close to you also crave safety and security
Some people close to you may think they're helping you by saying things like:
"Don't change too much. We like you JUST the way you are."
"Why would you give up all this security? You have a good thing going"
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it
"You're trying to be someone you're not."
Take an artist for example. They have producers, agents, and other support cast that get paid based off the artists production. Do you think those people are going to be supportive on Chappelle taking off for Africa? No, it means they aren't going to get paid for some amount of time.
Even Will Smith, the king of the abundance mindset, tried to force his daughter Willow into performing "Whip My Hair". Willow talks about how she hated singing the same 7 lyrics over and over, and had a brief falling out with her Dad over making her go on. Will Smith was simply trying to help his daughter.
3. Most people aren't raised with an abundance mindset
Most people raised in the lower, middle and even upper middle classes are taught from an early age to have a fixed mindset. They are taught to be grateful for what they have and conserve everything they've earned. Jumping in the abyss on a hope and a prayer is not something you're taught in school.
You can't wait forever to reinvent yourself.
“If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you’ve done and whoever you were and throw them away." - Steve Jobs
I really like the band Old Dominion. They make awesome summer music, but with lyrics that are more relatable than other country artists. However, on their last single release I noticed all their music is starting to sound the same. Their melodies and metaphorical lyric style have become predictable.
It's time for them to reinvent themselves, and the clock has already started.
They have a window of opportunity to reinvent themselves or they risk spiraling into a has-been, played out band.
Everyone is an artist who needs to periodically reinvent themselves
"He not busy being born is busy dying" - Bob Dylan
I believe everyone is born to create and has a gift to contribute to the world. Reinventing one's self isn't just for crazy musicians and artists. It's just much easier to illustrate my points by talking about people everyone knows.
Once you seem predictable, it's time to shake things up shock everyone.