“No great thing is created suddenly.”
Cary Grant was a reinvention ace.
Grant’s image is firmly set in our imaginations as elegant, witty, and classy. Humble and down to earth too. For decades, he was the go-to role model for how a gentleman should behave.
And he made it all look so easy.
But the truth is he worked long and hard to create (and recreate) himself. And not just his image, either. He was determined from a young age to better himself, to learn and grow, and contribute something of value.
Reading Cary Grant, A Class Apart, by Graham McCann, got me thinking about reinvention and transformation, and what they really mean in our day-to-day lives.
It’s happening around us and inside us all the time. We all do it – reinvent ourselves, bit by bit. (Think about it. Are you the exact same person you were ten years ago – personally or professionally?)
But the trick is to do it consciously and in alignment with our own values, so we head in our happiest direction, enjoy the process, and make the most of our time on this planet.
In his 2012 Tedx talk Reinventing Yourself, Wesley Goo talks about New Year’s resolutions (aka intended reinventions) and the usual frustrations that tend to go along with them.
He shares his theory on why resolutions fail and are abandoned: “Too many people try to bring the last year’s version of themselves into the new year. But the new year [as we envision it] may require new things of us.”
Grant knew this about creating a better life for himself – though he may not have framed it in quite the same way – and enthusiastically pursued every growth opportunity he could get his hands on.
“I’ve been accused by critics of being myself on-screen,” Grant said, “but being oneself is more difficult than you’d suppose.”
Grant grew up Archie Leach, a poor kid in unhappy family circumstances in Bristol, England. He became entranced by the theater at a young age and became a sponge, absorbing everything he could.
At the age of fourteen, Leach began his career journey by joining Bob Pender’s Knockabout Comedians, “a fairly well-known troupe of acrobatic dancers and stilt-walkers” McCann writes, touring all around England and, eventually, the States.
Over the ensuing years, he moved on to acting in plays, musicals, and films, became Cary Grant, and the rest is history.
But “becoming Cary Grant” was not accomplished with a snap of the fingers. Archie Leach made conscious decisions about who he wanted to be and what he wanted to do with his life, and he actively learned as much as he could in order to get there.
He made a point of observing and learning from everyone he worked or socialized with, and he practiced that learning till he achieved each goal. “I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until I finally became that person. Or he became me”
Grant knew instinctively the magic of practicing (or “pretending”) when it came to making his dreams a reality.
What he really did, as a result of that practice, was grow into himself. He was sort of like a little kid wearing his Dad’s sweater – he grew into it, into himself, over the years.
It took time and it wasn’t always easy, but he was determined and he threw himself into it with gusto, keeping his values front and center (independence and being the master of his own fate among them).
He was the first to acknowledge his imperfections, mistakes, and setbacks along the way, but it becomes clear when reading his story that he grew happier through the years, with the last years of his life among the happiest.
Archie/Cary had a vision and pursued it, despite quite a few bumps along the way, creating joy in the process – in his life and the lives of loved ones and his audience worldwide.
We all have the same (or many more) resources at our disposal than did young Archie Leach. Each time we seek transformation at any level, his recipe for reinvention can remind us of what we are capable of in our lives.
That recipe: Having a vision, learning, learning, learning, putting ourselves in the path of opportunity, determination, practice, and enjoying the process.
James Altucher once wrote: “Every day you reinvent yourself. You’re always in motion. But you decide every day: forward or backward.”
So if we genuinely desire transformation, or at least progress, we can look in the mirror each morning and ask ourselves ‘Which way will it be today?’
Then try to tackle it Cary Grant-style…with gusto and joy.