If there is one theme that has prevailed consistently since March 2020, either in the context of therapy sessions or organisational work, it is what I call repurposing. Over the last two months, when schools and offices have reopened and mask mandates have been eased, clients across age groups and gender have continued to talk about what it means to redefine their identities, relationships, life choices, career choices—and re-examine their pace of life. At the heart of all this is a desire to repurpose their life.
Whether it’s the Great Resignation, moving to freelance work or exploring new careers, a transition to slow living or choices about marriage/parenthood—all these are attempts at repurposing.
What drives this idea is the belief that what gave us a sense of purpose earlier no longer does so. As an idea, repurposing has been around for a long time in relation to developmental stages such as adolescence, a second innings after age 40 or life after 60. It also shows up after an individual, community or nation has dealt with a calamity. The pandemic too has forced a large number of people globally to pay closer attention to their physical and emotional exhaustion, poor mental health, absence of intimate connections, or the emptiness that consumes their life.
Not just that, the pandemic has shocked us into realising how short life can be, while offering a kind of autonomy we never had. The realisation of mortality and experience of freedom has impacted our sense of purpose. As a result, there is a need to develop new perspectives to examine the external world, our internal world, and ask ourselves how our needs and identity have changed in the last two years.
I would define repurposing as a conscious, mindful attempt at examining one’s life in relation to the developmental stage and reassessing what needs to be strengthened, what we need to let go of, and, sometimes, what we need to make room for. This includes an understanding of our responsibilities to the ecosystem we are part of. This process of redefining is an attempt at being authentic, building a life in sync with our values, and understanding what can allow us to lead more satisfied and fulfilling lives.
At the very heart of repurposing lies the question: What is it that I need to build in my life from a long-term perspective that allows my life to feel meaningful, brings vitality and even joy for me? Personally, I have used these two years to ask myself, “What do I need to do so that I feel propelled to move forward and also maintain hope amidst uncertainty?”
It may be important to ask ourselves what is leading us to re-examine our earlier ways of living and working. If the repurposing is a function of what our peers are doing, the trends we see on social media, or a function of fear and fatigue, it can lead to hasty decisions we may regret—and we may end up feeling emptier and more dissatisfied than earlier.
Repurposing requires clarity about where and what we are moving towards, not just an awareness of what we don’t want in our lives. In the same way that sabbaticals require planning, an examination of finances, responsibilities and an understanding of what we would do when we take the time off, repurposing needs this and more so that we have safety nets and can transition gradually to new choices where we hold space for our feelings and mental health while being realistic about the challenges that lie ahead.
Repurposing that’s a product of time spent in making mindful decisions, clarity about one’s values and needs, availability of personal resources—including financial ones—and social support from people who matter can often feel like a reward and the beginning of a renewed identity and life.
Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.