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#004: A Symphony of Parts Anticipating Change

Steve Schlafman
Steve Schlafman
8 min read
#004: A Symphony of Parts Anticipating Change

The baby has arrived! On Tuesday night, Florence Ruby Schlafman entered the world and joined our family. Flo and mama are doing great. We’re already sleep deprived but madly in love 💕

When I wrote this earlier in the week, I was still sitting in sitting in the liminal space with anticipation, anxiety, and wonder!

Being in this in-between space has been fertile ground for many of my inner parts to emerge from the depths of my psyche, make their presence known, and vie for my undivided attention. I wrote about parts back in April; for those unfamiliar, Dr. Richard Schwartz, the creator of an evidence-based psychotherapy called Internal Family Systems (IFS), has a great definition:

“A part is not just a temporary emotional state or habitual thought pattern. Instead, it is a discrete and autonomous mental system that has an idiosyncratic range of emotion, style of expression, set of abilities, desires, and view of the world. [It] is as if we each contain a society of people, each of whom is at a different age and has different interests, talents, and temperaments.”

As I wait for the baby to arrive, there’s a symphony of voices in my head, and they’re getting louder and louder as the due date approaches. In fact, most people have 30-50 parts swimming around in their heads. Each part that has surfaced in recent weeks has its own perspective on the baby and the impact she's going to have on my life. It’s like I’m sitting at a large dinner table, with twenty-five different versions of myself, and they all want to talk at the same time and be heard! Oy vey!

Rather than tune out these voices or repress them, I got curious and listened to what each had to say with curiosity and compassion. What I heard over the past few weeks was fascinating, illuminating, and even hilarious.

Here are some of my parts that surfaced and what they had to say:

Scarcity Steve: What the hell are you doing, Steve!?! We can’t take a month off for your precious paternity leave! Who are you kidding? You have to make money to support our family. We have an expensive life in the city and you work for yourself. You’re not on payroll any longer. I don’t care if you planned for paternity leave and saved the cash. Money is scarce and limited. You’re taking a risk.

Responsible Dad: Steven, this is a serious and important moment in your life. Stepping up as a husband and father is your most critical job in life. No questions asked. You have one responsibility right now and that’s to prepare for the baby, and care for your wife and family. Collect yourself and remove everything on your plate so you can focus on what’s truly essential. We can’t have any distractions once the baby is born.

Get Shit Done: Dude, a month off! You’re telling me that we can’t achieve anything until early October? WTF! We’re just starting to get some momentum and you want to pull the plug now? Come on! We even just figured out where we’re going to pour our energy for the next twelve months. We have plans! Do we have to take a full month off? Newborns sleep eighteen hours a day, right? There has to be some downtime to write and plan. Right?

Health Nut: Steve! How are we going to fit in exercise, meditation and sleep? You told me that we have a deal to make full body health a priority. We’re finally in shape physically and mentally, we put in the work this summer to recover from that injury! I don’t care if you have to exercise with your street clothes on or when you’re sleep deprived, we can’t neglect our body!  

All Alone: Hey Steve, are you sure that you want to pause all of your clients while on paternity leave? What if they don’t want to renew when you return from break? What if they realize that they don’t really need you? What if they meet a new coach? You’re going to end up all alone and we’ll be left rebuilding our practice from scratch.

Woke One: Maternity and paternity leave should be a right granted to every mother and father across the land. In fact, we should have universal leave in the United States just like Sweden! Not just one month, but three! Steve, beat the drum and advocate for paternity leave. Use your influence to champion this cause. You have a responsibility to take a leave and share your experience with the world. Don’t stop until this is normalized!

Shamed Steve: Steve, it’s not really going to be that hard. I’m afraid to even say it out loud, but I’m just going to say it—you’re getting a night nurse for four weeks. You have it so easy relative to 99% of humans on this earth. You should feel guilty for outsourcing your childcare and getting help. What does that say about you as a father?

Worry Wart: Steve, you’re walking into a minefield. Get ready. What if something goes terribly wrong with the delivery? What if something happens to the baby? You know, SIDS is a real thing to worry about in the first nine months. Be careful, man. There’s danger everywhere. Keep your eyes open and don’t let down your guard. Anything can happen at any time! Watch out!

Downer: Fuck, there’s no way out of this. Our life as we knew it is over. Completely over, Steve! Oh no. There’s nothing we can do. There’s no going back to the days of stability for at least two years. We might as well curl up into a ball and feel sorry for ourselves.

Dummy: Do you even remember how to change a diaper? Hold and swaddle an infant? Shit, what are we going to do? We don’t remember anything from the first kid. It’s like that was a blur. I have an idea—let’s get on YouTube and binge watch videos on newborns, we don’t know what we’re doing!

Critic: Steve, why the fuck are you sharing all of this now with a bunch of strangers. They’re going to judge the fuck out of you just like I’m doing right now. What are you doing? You should focus on your family right now, yet you’re writing a newsletter about how you’re preparing to focus on your family. Come on! Get your shit together, damn.

Withdrawer: I just want all of this to go away, even if it’s just for a few hours. Where can we go? Where can we hide? Oh, I have an idea. Let’s run a quick errand. Or perhaps we can go for a walk later or maybe we can binge watch YouTube with The Dummy while everyone is sleeping. We need an escape before the madness, Steve! Let’s run away and make this situation disappear even for thirty minutes!

Lovey: We get to love and care for a new human! This is the greatest love! Nothing compares. I can’t wait to meet the baby, kiss her, give her a nickname, and smother her with love. Newborns are magical. We have an unlimited reservoir of love ready to go!

This is what it has been like in my head while waiting for my daughter’s birth! If my grandmother were still alive, there's no doubt she'd think I'm mashugana!

Ultimately, when I look at all these voices scripted out, I see how each one wants to help even though it might not seem that way in the heat of the moment. They all play a role, have a positive intent, and want to be heard!

I also see how change triggers our parts and that leads to confusion, tension, anxiety, and nervous excitement—all natural emotions that emerge in liminal space. Instead of giving power to one of them, I can listen to, appreciate, and respect all of them for how they serve, protect, and motivate me. And then I can rely on the wisdom of the Self to consciously choose how I want to respond and move forward.

From this vantage point, I realize and trust that I have the inner resources to navigate any situation, and life will unfold exactly the way it’s meant to.

🛑 Help Wanted

Lightwaves turns two months young today, and I want to evolve it with your help. What has resonated? What would you like to see more of? Less of? How can it better serve you? Please let me know. I'd love to hear from you.

A special welcome to the 26 new Lightwaves (a.k.a. subscribers) getting this for the first time. I’m glad you’re here.

⛵ Lifestyles

This is one of the best essays I’ve read in a while. “Fifty-four years ago this month, in a push for publicity, The Sunday Times offered £5,000 to whoever could sail solo nonstop around the world the fastest. It was technically a race, but that was an afterthought, as no one had ever completed the feat. There were no qualification requirements and few rules. Nine men joined the race, one of whom had never sailed. Just one man finished, 312 days and 27,000 miles later. But it was two participants who never completed the race that generated the most news. One ended up dead, the other found himself happier than ever. Both outcomes came from decisions made at sea, but neither had anything to do with sailing.” Morgan Housel, Collaborative Fund (8 minutes)

🧠 How Motherhood Changes The Brain

As Eliza and I await the arrival of our daughter, I’m investing some of my extra cycles learning about a typical mother’s postpartum experience. As part of that exploration, I came across this fascinating interview with Chelsea Conaboy, a freelance writer who wrote a powerful piece in The Boston Globe titled, "Motherhood Brings the Most Dramatic Brain Changes of a Woman's Life." “Neurologists have found that having a child is one of the most significant biological events of a woman's life and leads to major physical changes to the brain. Yet doctors often have very little conversation about these changes with women who are pregnant or hoping to become pregnant. This interview looks at what happens to a woman's brain when she becomes a mother, and whether we are providing adequate information and support to deal with those changes.” WBUR Radio Boston (15 minutes)

👵 How to Be an Adult—Kegan’s Theory of Adult Development

When clients and friends approach me for advice about personal growth and development, I often start by giving them a primer on adult development theory. Robert Kegan, a former Harvard psychologist and author of Immunity to Change, posited there are five distinct developmental stages that an adult might pass through in their lifetime. In fact, more than 60% of adults are Stage 3 or lower! Many of us oscillate between stages depending on our environment and who we’re with. For example, I’m certain I’m in Stage 1, the Impulsive mind, when I’m around my twin brother, but Stage 4, the Self-Authoring mind, when I’m working with clients. It’s so important to understand that I believe every college should teach it. If you’d like to dive deeper into Kegan’s theory, this primer is one of the best I’ve come across. Natali Morad, Medium (9 minutes)

🏔️ Big Rocks

One night last week as I was winding down from a long day, I stumbled across an excellent video with Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, after I searched for the term “big rocks.” In this short and highly entertaining talk, Covey demonstrates his “Big Rock Theory,” a productivity concept that stresses focusing on the big tasks over the little ones. Oftentimes, myself included, we focus on the small, urgent tasks and then we wonder why the most important tasks never seem to get done. Covey shows quite skillfully that when we fill our jars up with all the small tasks first, we no longer have room for the big rocks, or the things that really matter. What are your big rocks right now? Franklin Covey (4 minutes)

🤔 How Do People Decide to Make Major Life Changes?

Like so many people in tech and business, I respect Patrick Collison, the CEO of Stripe, not just for what he has built, but also the way he thinks and shares publicly. While I was scouring the web last weekend, I discovered a page on his personal website titled, “Questions,” where he ponders big and interesting questions unrelated to Stripe. Many of them are thought-provoking; this one in particular caught my attention:

“Most days, people don't decide to change their lives in big ways. On a few days, they do. What's special about those days? How much is it about the stimulus versus their own inner state?”

For many clients and myself, major life changes have resulted from a combination of stimulus AND inner state. What about you? Patrick Collison (15 minutes)


Steve Schlafman Twitter

Exec coach. Writer. Student of Change.


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