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#002: Beyond the Struggle

Steve Schlafman
Steve Schlafman
5 min read
#002: Beyond the Struggle

Good morning from Stone Ridge, New York. I’m spending the next week upstate surrounded by nature before heading back to the city to prepare for our second child’s arrival on August 30th. There are big and wonderful changes on the horizon for my family and me, and I’m feeling all of the feelings, especially when I think of bringing a child into the world in 2022.

I’ve spent the last few weeks working on an essay on being lost, and ironically I’ve been utterly lost throughout the writing process. In fact, I spent three hours yesterday just staring at the screen, talking to myself, and making small tweaks to a single paragraph. My inner critic had a field day, berating the quality of my work and questioning whether I should continue to invest my time as a writer. With him bearing down on me, I wanted to abandon the ship, admit defeat and curl up into a ball. The experience has been humbling, frustrating and, at times, disorienting.

Towards the end of my writing session yesterday afternoon, I caught myself grunting, dropping f-bombs, and clenching my fists, and I knew it was time to step back, admit that I was lost, zoom out to see the big picture, and ask for help. In that moment, I committed to seeing a new perspective because my current way of being wasn’t compassionate or helping me move forward. I gently shut my computer, stepped away from my desk, went for a walk in nature, and eventually talked to my writing coach, Rachel. That pause was exactly what I needed. By the end of the day, I began to see the situation from a different angle.

From this new vantage point, I realized that not all of my essays will come and flow easily, like the last few have, especially when I’m exploring new concepts and going outside of my comfort zone. Even though I’m pressed up against my edge, feeling uncomfortable and inadequate, I’m choosing to lean into the experience and mine it for golden nuggets of wisdom. What writer or creator hasn’t experienced this at some point? Probably none of the great ones!

I was then reminded of this passage from “The Triggering Town” by poet Richard Hugo:

“If you write often, perhaps every day, you stay in shape and will be better able to receive those good poems, which are finally a matter of luck, and get them down. Lucky accidents seldom happen to writers who don’t work. You will find that you may rewrite and rewrite a poem and it never seems quite right. Then a much better poem may come rather fast and you wonder why you bothered with all of that work on the earlier poem. Actually, the hard work you do on one poem is put in on all poems. The hard work you do on the first poem is responsible for the sudden ease of the second. If you just sit around waiting for the easy ones, nothing will come. Get to work.”

This philosophy applies not only to writing poems but to any creative endeavor or skill that we’re trying to cultivate—coaching, managing, podcasting, running, painting, and meditation. Hugo's prose was the perfect reminder that I needed.

There are going to be moments that test our resolve and we have to see them for what they are—opportunities for growth, change and self-understanding—and lean into them no matter how difficult they are. From that place, we can shed light on our experience. What are my challenges? Why is this hard? What can I learn from this? How is this for me?

And here’s a notion I’ve begun to embrace and appreciate as I progress on my journey as a coach and writer—some things get harder as we get better. The struggle is a signal that we are encountering new problems and challenges, expanding our comfort zone and what we’re capable of. If it stayed easy, we’d stay just where we are, likely lost!

Becoming or creating something new isn’t always a cake walk filled with rainbows, unicorns and lollipops—the path is often littered with darkness, solitude, and inner demons. But waiting for us beyond that shadowy road are new lessons, skills, creations, identities, and capacities, such as empathy and compassion.

I’m improving as a writer not because the words flow more easily, but because I’m showing up every day, putting pen to paper, and leaning into the process even when it’s frustrating and agonizing.

Remember, change and growth are possible when we commit to a process, shine a light on ourselves, internalize and accept what we see, adjust, and try again tomorrow. It’s that simple and that hard.

Where are you struggling? Where are you showing up?

🤝 Community + Links

A special welcome to the 75 new Lightwaves (a.k.a. subscribers) getting this for the first time. I’m glad you’re here.

💭 How Do We Break The Habit Of Excessive Thinking?

I’m a huge fan of Eckhart Tolle’s writing and talks. In fact, after I read his blockbuster The Power of Now, I immediately took up meditation and got sober nine months later. It transformed my life. In this talk, Tolle explores the powerful addiction to thinking, offering a handful of ways to put a stop to thoughts and choose presence instead. I recently shared this with a client who was experiencing excessive thinking while on vacation—it helped him shift his relationship with his thoughts. YouTube. (11 minutes)

🔎 How to Find Out Who You Are

The worst advice you can give to people trying to find themselves is to look within. That presumes a person is like an onion, with layers of social selves to peel off to get closer and closer to the inner core, the true self. The idea is that if you sit in a room with yourself and focus on yourself, you will get in touch with the “real you” or self-actualize the “real you.: People who try this sometimes find there is no “real you,” or they just make up a bunch of stories and poses about who they think themselves to be. That’s because a person is not a closed system that can be studied in isolation. A self exists only in relation to something else, while perceiving something and interacting with the world. David Brooks, The New York Times. (5 minutes)

🚫 How to Say “No” Gracefully and Uncommit

I listen to this episode of The Tim Ferriss Show every few months. It showcases two chapters from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. I frequently recommend this recording to my clients and friends who struggle with saying no. The first chapter explains how to say “no” gracefully (and why most of us have trouble doing this in the first place), and the second one gives us ways to cut our losses and uncommit in the aftermath of a premature “yes.” Tim Ferris. (54 minutes)

🌚 The Essential Guide to Shadow Work

I’ve been diving into “shadow work” for several years to shed a light onto my unconscious. I recently discovered this useful primer from writer, creator and Lightwaves subscriber Conni Biesalski. When we talk about the shadow, we mean all the parts we deny, hide or reject about ourselves. Carl Jung describes the shadow as the hidden part of our human psyche. In essence, the shadow is comprised of unresolved conflicts and problems; un-lived desires and passions, as well as denied needs and wishes, socially unacceptable behavior. Conni Biesalski. (20 minutes)

💪 From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life

This book by Harvard Business School Professor Authur C. Brooks was recommended by my friend and executive coach Sunil Arora after I shared that I was doing more transition coaching. For those entering or in mid-life this is a must read. Many of us assume that the more successful we are, the less susceptible we become to the sense of professional and social irrelevance that often accompanies aging. But the truth is, the greater our achievements and our attachment to them, the more we notice our decline, and the more painful it is when it occurs. From Strength to Strength is the result, a practical roadmap for the rest of your life.


Steve Schlafman Twitter

Exec coach. Writer. Student of Change.


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