The Role You Play

Did you see the HBO movie The Life and Death of Peter Sellers? Sellers was always transforming himself. The man slipped into a persona as easily as you or I would slip into a pair of gloves.

While watching the movie, I was reminded that, in today’s turbulent and competitive job market, thousands of Americans reinvent themselves every day.

Many do it so they can move up in their careers.

And some have no choice but to reinvent themselves. Due to downsizing within their industry (unemployment, positions outsourced to Third World countries)… they are forced to chuck their old jobs and reinvent themselves into a brand-new career.

In both cases, reinvention gives people the opportunity to shed their skin and prosper — with more purpose and control over their future.

So let’s take a look at what reinvention can do for you.

Why You Want to Reinvent Yourself

Whether you work for someone else or are out on your own as an entrepreneur, reinvention allows you break the mold and change the perception society (your colleagues, bosses, friends, etc) has of you.

Best of all, it gives you a chance to stretch yourself and pursue interests that get you excited.

For close to two decades, I was a stand-up/improv comic, TV audience warm-up, and voice-over commercial actor.

Then, about 10 years ago, I chucked that life (for many reasons) and reinvented myself as a direct-mail copywriter.

Was it hard? Well, like anyone venturing into new territory, I had some doubts and challenges.

But by using the skills I’d acquired in show business to market myself — skills that other copywriters didn’t have — I succeeded quickly in my new career.

And guess what? You can model that success with your own reinvention. You can take your past skills and adapt them to your new career.

I’m talking about skills that are unique to you. Skills that define you and announce to the world: I do this better than anyone else!

The first step is to examine the “roles” you currently play.

Roles? Yes! We all play roles, don’t we? Especially when we want to persuade people to see our point of view… or get them to help us reach our goals.

What Characters Do YOU Play?

Notice the way you act toward your boss, your colleagues, your spouse. You’re always having to “zig then zag” to persuade them to give you what you want — or to accept you.

Notice that when you’re with an old college chum you talk differently than, say, when you’re with your daughter. Your history with people dictates your behavior with them.

Though you’ve certainly changed over the years, your buddy still remembers you as the guy who woke up naked with a hangover on the football field just as the marching band started practicing. (And, no — that never happened to me… ever — not even once. And you can’t prove otherwise!)

But if you are going to reinvent yourself into a new career and new life, you might have to change the roles people now expect you to play.

New Career, New Beginning… or Is It?

Dan Kennedy, a successful marketer and copywriter, points out that we get comfortable in the roles we play every day. And though we might be unhappy with the way our life is going, the fear and trauma of stepping outside and changing our “characters” is worse than the pain of continuing to play them.

In other words: We feel comfortable in our own uncomfortable skin. We continue to look at a bad situation through rose-colored glasses… ’cause it’s easier that way.

Dan says there are four self-defeating roles that people tend to perform to perfection.

The Victim (a.k.a. the Whiner): “Why me? Why is life sooooo unfair?”

The Martyr: “I gave up EVERYTHING for you!”

The Last Angry Man: “I’m mad as hell at everybody and everything!”

The Misunderstood Genius: “No one gets me… they don’t appreciate what I have to offer.”

And I came up with this one…

The Placater: “Oh, this is just temporary. If I keep banging my head against the wall… I’ll either pass out or break through.”

Now do any of those roles fit you? I know they have fit me — and quite well, thank you. Especially in my former profession, show business, I loved playing The Placater.

There’s a novel called The Line of Duty, written by Michael Grant.

In the book, a story is told about a fisherman who bought a new anchor for his boat. As he’s about to tie the anchor line, he falls overboard. Fighting for his life in 15 feet of water, he refuses to let go of that prized anchor. But eventually, he has to release the anchor so he can swim to the surface and survive.

One of the characters in the book uses that story as a metaphor for his life. He says, “The job has been my anchor and I’ve held on to it for 23 years. I also don’t let go, but I’ve run out of breath.”

Well, show business was my anchor. But I was getting older. And though I was just as funny as I ever was (maybe funnier, he says modestly), the venues for earning a living — and the lifestyle I wanted — had dried up like a raisin in the sun. And no amount of hoping, praying, or trying to wait out the blizzard was going to change the situation.

So I had to let go of my anchor and commit to my reinvention. Once I did, a flood of prosperity rushed into my life. I then went on to success as a freelance advertising copywriter/marketing consultant/speaker (Yes, a lot of titles… you should see my business cards.)

What’s your anchor? If you want to really reinvent yourself… you’re going to have to let go of your anchor, recast yourself, and play the role that you were meant to play — with your heart as your acting coach. (Yikes! Another metaphor!) And when you finally do, you’ll smugly smile and say, “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille!”

[Ed. Note: Peter “The Reinvention Guy” Fogel has worked on many TV shows, including Married With Children, Hope and Faith, and Whoopi. He transitioned from a successful stand-up comic to an in-demand freelance advertising copywriter/problem solver. He’s the author of the critically acclaimed book If Not Now… Then When?, Stories and Strategies of People Over 40 Who Have Successfully Reinvented Themselves, and the soon-to-be-released Reboot Your Career: 27 Ways to Reinvent Yourself in the Workplace… If You Still Have a Job! Sign up for his FREE Reinvent This Ezine and get his 4-in-1 Total Success Reinvention Package (a $75 value). Go to

And for even more help in reinventing your life, check out an exclusive free excerpt of Michael Masterson’s new book, The Pledge: Your Master Plan for an Abundant Life. It won’t be published until November.]