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#009: Turning Points

Steve Schlafman
Steve Schlafman
9 min read
#009: Turning Points

Hello from Manhattan. Our newborn, Flo, is now smiling, tracking movements, and looking at her hands. I love seeing her consciousness come online and her personality begin to emerge. She’s changing a little bit every day, and I’m grateful that I’m able to witness this transformation and the rhythms of nature.

As I reflect on her growth and day-to-day evolutions, I’m growing more fascinated and obsessed this question: how do adults transform and transition. The older we get, we don't expect change to happen every day, and yet in my experience profound change can happen any time, and in surprising places.

A few weeks ago, a lifelong friend sent me a voice message out of the blue. He knew I’d attended a 10-day meditation retreat in 2017, and wanted to know if that was the catalyst for my personal and professional transformation. I thought about it for a few moments and was surprised by what his question triggered.

All of a sudden, I was transported back to a fateful evening in January 2015 as a series of images flashed into my mind. A packed outdoor concert venue in the middle of downtown Phoenix. Black Thought and the Roots performing on stage fifty yards in front of me. Fans moving their bodies to the beats echoing off the office buildings. Puddles from a late afternoon shower on the ground. A cold aluminum bottle of Bud Light in my left hand, and a fat joint in my right. A long, deep inhale of warm smoke. Fog. Disorientation. I tell my friend I’m going down. Vertigo. I reach for his shoulder to catch my fall. Reality fades away, and I crumble to the ground. I regain consciousness. Cold and damp concrete underneath my body. Paramedics hovering over me taking my vital signs. Where am I? What’s going on? Am I injured? Am I in trouble?  

When the flashback receded, I went back to my buddy’s voice message. No, I replied. It wasn’t a meditation retreat that changed my life. My transformation began at a Roots concert in 2015 when a stranger passed me a joint, and I was slapped awake by paramedics.

As bad as this was, I was ok, and eventually walked out of the venue on my own power—but I was shaken up, especially because I was 2,400 miles from home. My best friend Zac, who made a cameo in that flashback, thought I’d had a heart attack when my complexion turned ghost white and I hit the ground. I could tell by the look on his face that he thought I could have died. For the rest of the weekend, I was afraid and ashamed, and also embarrassed—I was unwilling to discuss or face what had happened. Despite trying my best to suppress that experience, I couldn’t ignore the looping images in my head.

This much I knew—I had an issue with substances, and I was scared because it was getting worse and I was keeping this secret buried in my soul. My usage was finally catching up to me and getting out of control. For years, I thought it was “manageable”— then it wasn’t.

A few days after the concert, I returned home to NYC, but not as the same person. Something shifted inside of me. I couldn’t shake the images of the paramedics hovering over me and the look on the face of my friend. I wanted a different life free from drugs and alcohol, but I didn’t know who to ask for help or where to start. Despite all of my outward success—a prestigious career, plenty of money, a beautiful wife—I was failing and hurting inside. I knew something had to change or I was going to end up dead, get in trouble with the law, or ruin my life somehow.

It took me five more months to ask for help, but that experience was my low point—my turning point. I was finished emotionally, physically and spiritually. On June 6, 2015, I descended into a white walled church basement packed with strangers in midtown Manhattan, and attended my first AA meeting. I’ve been sober ever since. I still love grooving to the Roots, but I’m a radically different person who attended the concert that fateful January evening. Little did I know that hitting that cold ground would mark a major turning point in my life.

A turning point is a pivotal moment that can change the course and trajectory of your life. These can be positive or negative events, but either way they have a significant impact on who you are and your path forward. We all experience them at some point. The death of a loved one, the sting of a particular rejection, a lucky break in a career, the end of a relationship, or any number of other events can cause us to reassess our lives and set out on a new path. Sometimes, the impetus to change course is obvious, but other times it’s more subtle. We may have a sense that something isn’t right or we receive a sign, but we’re not sure what it is or what to do about it.

Napoleon Hill, the author of the classic Think and Grow Rich, wrote, “It is strange, but true, that the most important turning-points of life often come at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected ways.” When I walked into that Roots concert, I had no clue that my life’s trajectory would change shortly after.

I like to think of my turning point as a “Call to Adventure,” the first stage of The Hero’s Journey coined by Joseph Campbell, the legendary author and mythologist.

“The hero’s journey always begins with the call. One way or another, a guide must come to say, ‘Look, you’re in Sleepy Land. Wake. Come on a trip. There is a whole aspect of your consciousness, your being, that’s not been touched. So you’re at home here? Well, there’s not enough of you there.’ And so it starts.”

The call to adventure invites the hero to leave their comfortable and ordinary world behind to embark on a new journey or face a challenge they can’t ignore. The calls we hear might be triggered by a pandemic, endless boredom at work, an illness, aging parents, something you hear on a podcast, a sign walking down the street, the changing seasons, or a villain in your life such as an abusive boss. We can see and hear these mysterious calls but often can’t make sense of them, so we’re left, on a good day, with wonder and curiosity. On a bad day we’re left with anger and fear. What we always have is a question from deep within—do we answer the call?

Sometimes we’re not open to change, but we’re delivered, as author Julia Quinn wrote, “a moment so tremendous, so sharp and clear that one feels as if one’s been hit in the chest, all the breath knocked out, and one knows, absolutely knows without the merest hint of a shadow of a doubt that one’s life will never be the same.”

And other times, the message is delivered so quietly and softly that a part deep in your subconscious grabs it, nurtures it, and gently reveals it to you over time. When its soft whispers and vibrations eventually reach your consciousness, you see an opening emerge, and realize you have a choice to veer off course and make a change.

When we choose to answer the call, no matter how it’s delivered, we embark on a journey and enter a portal to a new life and identity. Sometimes immediately, but sometimes months or years down the road. Regardless of the timeline, these messages from the universe leave an indelible mark on us—they are the seeds of change.

We want to believe that change can happen overnight, but unless you're a newborn baby, it usually doesn't. It’s a complex, non-linear, and gradual process. However, turning points catalyze a transition, and eventually lead to radical transformation and lasting change. That’s why knowing that turning points are possible at any time helps you to be open to seeing and receiving them.

The sooner we realize and appreciate this, the sooner we can meet each day with curiosity and receptivity. We can ask ourselves, 'I wonder if anything will change my life today,’ or, even better, ‘I wonder if I will change my life today.’ Sometimes we wait for a sign to change, but it was already delivered long ago or many times subtly—we know exactly what we want and what to do. Our truth, rather than our fear, becomes the way forward.

We just need to take a deep breath, trust our inner knowing, take a first step, and allow the new path to unfold from there.

🤔 For Contemplation

Here are some prompts to help you make sense of the turning points in your own life and perhaps a transition that's on the horizon.

  • What are the different ways you’ve radically changed? In your thinking? In your way of life? In your understanding of the world? In your relationships
  • What was something that changed your life unexpectedly?
  • What have been the major turning points and transitions in your life?
  • If your life were a book, what would the chapters be?
  • What do you know to be true that you haven’t responded to yet?
  • What signs and signals are telling you that you’re ready for a change?
  • What’s calling for your attention right now that you’ve avoided or haven’t looked at?
  • What big questions are you asking yourself right now that need to be answered?

🚨 Help Wanted

I’m in the early stages of laying the foundation for my own podcast about conscious and radical personal change. I can’t do this alone and I’d like some help! I’m looking for someone who can draft show notes, create social media posts, and help with other odds and ends. The time commitment is likely three hours per week. Ideally, I’d love to collaborate with someone from the Lightwaves community. If you’re interested or know someone excellent who might be, hit reply or forward this email. Many thanks.

🌱 Seeds of Change

Here are five things I’ve been pondering and exploring over the past few weeks. If any resonate, please feel free to forward along to friends.

📻 The Changeup Podcast

A few weeks ago, I was on The Changeup podcast with Keith Hernandez, the Founder of Launch Angle, a boutique brand and creative studio. It’s a podcast about professionals who have quit their jobs to become founders. It was a fun, wide-ranging conversation where we explored my transition from investing to coaching, how I built my coaching practice, what coaching is and isn’t, and why I believe everyone should have a coach at some point in their lives. Listen on Spotify (47 minutes)

🧠 How to Change Your Mind

I’ve been interested in “medicine journeys” as a modality of healing for several years, but haven’t taken the plunge for a number of reasons, including my sobriety. After carefully considering the implications and interviewing a half dozen practitioners over the past year, I finally found a seasoned psychotherapist whom I trust and I’m excited to work with. Given my history with anxiety and the way it manifests in my body, the doctor recommended MDMA over psilocybin. That led me down a rabbit hole to learn about the drug and its therapeutic benefits. When I told my buddy and fellow coach Ryan Vaughn that I was looking for resources, he suggested I check out How to Change Your Mind, a docuseries from Michael Pollan “exploring the history and uses of psychedelics, including LSD, psilocybin, MDMA and mescaline.” A few days ago, I watched the episode on MDMA, and it was informative and illuminating. If you’re curious about psychedelics, this is a solid place to start. Watch on Netflix (52 minutes)

⏳ Tim Urban on Life Paths

I’m a huge fan of Tim Urban of Wait But Why, “a popular long-form, stick-figure-illustrated blog about almost everything.” A few years ago, Tim tweeted something I think about often, and share with my clients who like to play “Monday Morning Quarterback.” We have a tendency to regret all of the decisions and actions we failed to make and take, but ignore the myriad possibilities in front of us. When I sit with Tim’s image, I’m struck and inspired by how much opportunity lies ahead for all of us. We just have to be willing to take a step back and see that our future is “still in our hands.”

👩🏻‍🔬 The Science of Quitting

Over the past month, a number of friends and readers have recommended Quit by professional poker player Annie Duke. I joked to a few of them that I could have written this book based on my tendency to quit things. Since we have a toddler and newborn at home, I don’t have many extra cycles to read these days, so I was excited to discover this episode of the podcast A Slight Change of Plans, where “Annie talks about the science of quitting, and shows us how to get out of our own way and learn to quit when we should.” Knowing when to walk away is just as important as knowing when to lean in. Listen on Spotify (34 minutes)

💁🏽 Martha Nussbaum on Vulnerability

Earlier this week, I began to wonder why all of the philosophers referenced in my media diet are men, and went to Google to learn more about the work of women in philosophy. That’s how I discovered the work of Martha Nussbaum, an American philosopher who has written about social justice, education, emotions, politics, and more. I appreciated some of her musings on vulnerability, especially because I can be self-sufficient to a fault, and many people have a hard time asking for help.

“As human beings, we ought to be vulnerable. We shouldn’t try to say that we can be self-sufficient or do everything that’s necessary for a good life on our own, because we need other people.”
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Steve Schlafman Twitter

Exec coach. Writer. Student of Change.


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