Evolution vs. Revolution

I’ve heard her say this twice, now:

“I’m tired of this word ‘reinvention.’ It’s so overdone. It’s not what’s going on with me. I’m not starting from scratch. I’m just growing, expanding, evolving.

And so she is.

And so are we all.

Whether we like it or not.

And it got me thinking. What does it mean to reinvent yourself? And how is that qualitatively different from growing or evolving?



Sometimes the pathway forward is through evolution and sometimes through revolution. – Unknown



Sometimes in our lives, there is a big shakeup, a spiritual earthquake, if you will, and at times such as these, it feels like the world has come crashing down around our ears–divorce, death, bankruptcy, a terminal illness. The life we once knew has ceased to exist. The couple has become single. The beloved, bereft. And the rules that once made sense–forever and ever, rocking chairs, grandchildren, a little cottage by the lake–do not apply anymore.

So we have to rethink our lives–who we are and how we want to move forward in the world.

This calls for a reinvention. A complete overhaul of who, what, and why, we were.

Liposuction, not botox.


I suspect we’ve all been there before.


The first time for me was when I left my home for Hong Kong. I was 21, a freshly minted college grad, with dreams of adventure and exactly zero practical experience for how to live on my own. I was the flighty one in my family, the airhead. I had never written a cheque in my life, much less set up all the systems and processes that are called for when you first set out on your own–rent, health insurance, taxes, bills, transportation, bank accounts, and on and on.

But I did it.

Sheltered Tina had to become Independent Tina.

And she did. In spades.

Since then there have been a couple more reinventions–marriage, motherhood, and most recently, stepping away from a career that I had spent 20 years building.



In scientific research, we have two kinds of paradigm shifts–evolutionary and revolutionary.

The revolutionary shift comes when we replace one theory with another, geocentrism with heliocentrism. This calls for a completely new way of thinking about the same sets of facts. The old paradigm does not fit anymore. There is no going back and shaping and massaging and incremental growth. One minute it’s right; and the next it’s wrong. Abrupt. Final.

There’s no point wringing ones hands and going, “Yes, but . . . .” It’s done. the only way out is forward.


Then there are paradigm shifts that are incremental, evolutionary. These do not call for a rejection of what came before, but rather an inclusion and extension of a prior model. (Think Russian nesting dolls.)

The new model emerges out of the old.

Yes, some pieces do not fit anymore. Yes, there are gaps unaccounted for. But the new is an outgrowth of the old. A better, more refined version.

This is the kind of theory-building we do in academic research. The more we know, the better fitting the model.


Progressive, gradual, (often) imperceptible.

Reinvention can be both evolutionary and revolutionary.

When I reinvented myself as “mother,” I did not necessarily shed the skin of “not-mother,” rather I began to make small shifts in my behavior–rising earlier in the morning, buying organic carrots instead of regular, sharing my body with my child, making myself available to her whenever and wherever, and so on.

The behaviors led the change. It’s not as if I decided, okay, this is who I want to be–ready, aim fire! The new me grew out of the old me–essentially the same, but also substantially not. I became this avatar over time–maiden to mother. It was more an expansion of my self–next-level, as the kids would say.

But other kinds of change–death, divorce, the loss of a job–herald a different kind of reinvention–revolution.

They are usually sudden, often traumatic, and require a whole new way of thinking, of being.

When you have spent the last eighteen years as a couple, for example, you have to rethink what it means to be single again. Who am I without my partner? What do I like? Who are my friends? Where shall I go on vacation, or even at the end of a long day? What about Thanksgiving? The children?

It’s endless.

Every moment calls for a decision, a choice. This or that? Blue or pink? Tacos or pizza? No more autopilot. No more default position. Now you really have to figure out who you are and who you want to be. Now.

And that can feel dizzying, destabilizing.

And then of course, there’s the grief.

Not this.

Not this.

Not this.

Not a Director. Not a researcher. Not a staff. Or an expense account. Or a purpose.

No status. No hustle. No glossy business cards.

No Me.

Just space. And if we’re lucky, time. Sometimes, too much time. To ruminate. And go in circles. Looking for a way out.


This kind of reinvention can feel painful, wrenching, raw, like a skinned rabbit.

So first there must be some kind of healing, a closing of the wound. Salve and sun and air.

And this is where my friend was. Last year.

But she does not remember.

Thank God.

Because this is what we have come here to do. Grow.

And we have everything we need to make the transition.

Even if the path is dimly lit.

And the obstacles bruise our knees.

We can find our way.

Though it helps to hold someone’s hand along the way.

So I am grateful.

For you.



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