Rebranding, the New Imperative


“Not easy to reinvent yourself. Takes guts. Constant target for enemies eager to see you fail.”

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A cynical business school chum speaks those words to the heroine of my new novel, None Shall Sleep, after she reveals her grand plan. Nearing forty, Isabella Fabrini longs for more out of life. She decides to follow her passion, hoping that music will give her fulfillment. Isa embarks upon a bold quest, rebranding herself from management consultant to opera singer.

But as anyone who’s stared into the unknown abyss of the future will attest, the prospect of rebranding one’s self is terrifying. Can anyone escape the stumbles, dead-ends and even humiliations that often await us on the untried and uncleared trail? Such a journey is especially hard when the paved path on which we’ve already travelled abounds with accolades. “I’m petrified of failure,” Isa says. To which confession, Isa’s muse, the spirit of Florence Foster Jenkins, replies, “We all are. Successful people are ridiculed as readily as failures. They simply don’t surrender...”

 

I’m facing my own rebranding dilemma: my blog. I launched my blog two years ago, as Brussels Sprouts, the Musings of Two American Expats in Belgium. Over the succeeding twenty-four months, I posted updates of our European life. And really, come on. How easy was that? My predominately American readership loved the posts. I laced my stories with pictures and unique insights of life in Brussels. Recaps of new and unusual food or weekends in such romantic places such as Copenhagen, Lisbon and Stockholm wrote themselves. Add some colorful and fun pictures of an ancient cathedral, a moody castle or a gastronomic feast, and voila, a riveting blog with a captivated audience.

Fast forward two years. After serving up some heartfelt posts brimming with angst over our departure from Brussels, Jim and I find ourselves back in Chicago. No longer living in a charming nineteenth century townhouse complete with a secret garden inside the bustling city center, we returned to the suburbs. Suburb, the word is rich with subtext and innuendo. Playwrights, authors and television writers need only mention suburbia to set a tone or question a character’s open-mindedness. Good friends, suburban refugees themselves, use the term derisively as they appeal to us to move back into the city. However, what the suburbs lack in juicy character, they make up for in convenience, comfort and safety. Besides, Jim and I have a beautiful home that we built together which we adore. But who knows, given the right opportunity and mindset, we could rebrand ourselves as city folk again.

Our changed circumstances, however, do beg a question. What do I now blog about? American readers will need a compelling reason to visit the blog—something unique, unfamiliar—beyond my crisp and scintillating writing that is. Or perhaps the content won’t change, only the audience. But will our European friends be riveted by strip malls, mid-twentieth century architecture and a banquet of fast food presented in styrofoam? We all can guess that answer. So stay tuned to see how I rebrand my blog. And really, isn’t the blog merely a convenient metaphor for my life. Perhaps the real question is how will Jim and I rebrand our lives from expat to suburbanites? Hmmm.

This won’t be the first time, nor do I suspect the last, that we must rebrand ourselves. Take my own bold quest to abandon a steady paycheck and the corporate world for a career in writing where minimum wage represents a hefty pay raise. None Shall Sleep as well as my prior two published novels are tangible products of my reinvention journey. The path from corporate executive to author hasn’t been clear or easy. Although blessed with a loving spouse and a cadre of supportive friends, I still face days of questioning the path I’ve chosen. Yet, I march forward wounded but not scarred by closed doors and setbacks. The following exchange with the Cheshire Cat as Alice arrives at a fork in the road provides a wise lesson.

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

As might be expected from her creator, there’s a lot of me in Isabella Fabrini: fear, anxiety, doubt. But Isabella like her real life inspiration, my dear friend Gia, knows the path she wants to follow. In today’s unforgiving global economy, perhaps there’s a lot of Isabella in all of us. Unlike prior generations who stayed in one career or one role for life, today’s workers are in a state of continual rebranding. Sometimes rebranding is a choice and other times it’s a matter of survival. Millennials will change jobs over 20 times in their careers.  Forbes Magazine on Millennials

My personal reward for stepping off onto the brambled path of reinvention has been satisfaction. Writing gives me great pleasure. Perhaps as Isabella Fabrini and others learn in my novel, her journey produces something greater than her bid to become an opera singer. Well, no spoilers here. You’ll just have to read the novel to find out what that something greater is. Suffice it to say, however, often times the impact of our decisions extends far beyond our individual lives—the ole pebble tossed into water metaphor.

My hope is that my books and blogs not only entertain, but that they also inspire and educate. Perhaps one of my stories, characters, or turns-of-phrase will motivate someone to branch off onto their own incredible journey. I was thrilled upon receiving the following note from a friend who read the final draft of #None_Shall_Sleep:  I realized what it was about the novel that was so compelling; to me, it was the ability of so many of the characters to grow or reinvent themselves, usually in positive ways.

And do we really have any choice in the matter? Once again I turn to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland for sage philosophy:

“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

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