Seek “vuja de”

“Déjà vu” describes the feeling that you’ve been here before even when experiencing something new. “Vuja de” is the opposite. You’re doing something familiar, something you’ve done many times before, but the experience feels brand new. Coined by the late comedian George Carlin, he described vuja de as “the strange feeling that none of this has ever happened before.”

Twelve years ago, my business partner Arun and I wrote the original copy for the “Careers” page of the Collegewise website. We’d just launched our site and our search for new counselors in earnest, so it was all unfamiliar territory for us. We started from scratch and hammered away, trading drafts back and forth until we had a final product we both loved. It was new. It was fresh. It didn’t sound like any other company’s website. Like so much of what we did together at Collegewise back in those days, it was thrilling to do something new for the first time.

Last week, when Arun and I went back and reviewed the copy that had been our reliable default a decade ago, we both experienced the same feeling—what was once fresh now felt dated. We’re proud of our history, but we’re not the same five-person fledgling company we were in 2005. Today, we have offices across the country. We’ve worked with more than 8,000 students. Collegewise has a book. Our counselors speak at conferences. I write this blog every day. We even have our own filmmaker now. Someone who joins Collegewise today is joining a larger, more compelling, and more successful work family than our 2005 text described. It was time to cast aside the default. We didn’t need to edit. We didn’t need to revise. We needed to start over. From scratch. Something we’d seen a hundred times before suddenly looked different to us. It was vuja de at work.

There’s nothing wrong with letting something that works do its thing. But once it becomes routine, it’s easy to go on automatic pilot, to settle into the familiar of what you’ve done and where you’ve been before. You stop looking for ways to get better. You stop noticing what’s not working as well as it used to. You lose access to one of your most powerful tools—the ability to see something for the first time. When that happens, it’s time for some vuja de.

If you want to make your club, organization, team, or even just yourself better, regularly force yourself to take a fresh look at what you’re doing. Consider whether or not the way you’ve always done it is still working. Look for opportunities to improve, to try something new, or to shake things up. Keep looking hard and eventually it will feel like you’re seeing and experiencing the formerly familiar for the first time. And that’s what leads to the new-and-improved.

Arun and I are back to starting our “Careers” page from scratch again. We’re loving the process of envisioning what’s possible, trading ideas and drafts back and forth, and breaking our own new ground just like we did 12 years ago. As recently as two weeks ago, we didn’t see the need to redo the page. Now it’s hard to imagine how we missed it.

Sometimes a fresh look—a little vuja de—is all it takes.