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#012: The Year of No Decisions

Steve Schlafman
Steve Schlafman
13 min read
#012: The Year of No Decisions
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”
–Lao Tzu

Season’s greetings from New York City. It’s hard to believe 2022 is coming to an end. Tomorrow my family and I head upstate to unplug and celebrate the holidays, hopefully this time without COVID infiltrating our home. I haven’t finished my annual review, but I’ve been reflecting on this year, and plotting my goals and initial steps for 2023.

This time last year, I had just walked away from my VC fund, finally let go of my identity as an investor, and discovered that our family was expecting a baby. I was ready and excited to fully embrace my new identity as a full-time coach, writer, and 2x girl dad, but I burnt myself out in 2021, was still lost, and needed a serious change of pace.

And then somthing unexpected happened. I was scrolling through my social media feed when I saw this quote from I Will Not Die an Unlived Life by Dawna Markova, and it stopped me in my tracks. It so perfectly described what I knew I needed and how I felt:

“When we find ourselves devoid of passion and purpose, the first thing we need to do is stop. But that's not easy. The rest of the world is zooming by at full speed."

Instead of jumping into the next thing or trying to scale my coaching practice, I internalized Markova's wisdom, and made a conscious decision to avoid any significant choices or changes in 2022. Instinctively, I knew I had to slow down, become still, go inward and let my path unfold more organically. This was a big adjustment for me because it’s always been my habit to “blow and go,” making big decisions from the gut without much information, leaving my future self to deal with the consequences.

Before the year started, I listened to what I was craving, and committed to a year filled with introspection and stillness. I vowed that I wouldn’t start a new company, launch a course or a podcast, commit to new projects, scale my practice, or find a co-founder. I simply wanted to show up every day and focus on my work, my family and my health. I committed to focus on coaching, writing, and learning. As part of this, I leased a spacious creative studio a few blocks from my apartment, which I affectionately named “the cocoon,” and deliberately walked away from Twitter for more than six months. I committed to slowing down, listening to myself, and being open to what emerged—whatever emerged.

This wasn’t easy. Many times throughout the year, doubt and fear dominated my mind. I felt trapped and lonely. I lost my sense of ambition. I told myself stories that I wasn’t going to have an impact, that I was insignificant, and I’d wither away into obscurity. When I felt this way, I saw myself begin to force things into place, quelling uncertainty by gravitating towards shiny objects, creating busy work, making irrelevant decisions, and networking for the sake of networking—all semblances of solidity to make myself feel safe again. Deep down inside, I wanted something solid that I could grab onto—a definite path—to make me feel safe, secure, comfortable and certain. I realized these self-soothing techniques did little to ease my existential dread—where was I going? Who was I becoming? What would my life be when the cocoon began to melt away and I was ready to fly?

So I leaned into these feelings of unease and angst, and recommitted to introspection and stillness. I committed to my meditation practice. I committed to a daily Morning Pages ritual. I committed to the cocoon. I committed to trusting the process. I committed to feeling all of my feelings no matter how scary and uncomfortable they were. I committed to tracing the steps of my life to reveal how I arrived here. I committed to a mantra—I’m patient, steadfast and steady. I committed to slowing down and listening to myself so I could hear answers to the most important questions I was asking:

What’s the purest expression of who I am? What do I really want? When am I at my best? What gets in the way of me being my best? What am I attracted to? What gives me energy? What depletes me? Where are my attention and energy flowing? Who am I when I believe I am not deficient or lacking? How do I want to spend my time? Who do I want to serve? What do I truly value? What do I want to create? Where do I want to go?

After listening to my soul and not making any major decisions for the balance of the year, my patience has been rewarded with inspiration, clarity and a renewed sense of purpose. Twelve months later, I see how my path is going to unfold in the new year. Most importantly, a new calling and authentic expression of myself is emerging. I can’t wait to take flight and share more with you early next year. The undivided life awaits.

If you’re uncomfortable and in the middle of a transition now or hoping for one in 2023, remember that you’re exactly where you need to be and there’s nothing wrong with you. Feeling this way is natural. Wanting solidity, comfort, safety and approval is what we crave when our lives and our sense of identity become uncertain. We just need to remind ourselves of this. When we commit to introspection and stillness, we can slow down, be with our full experience in the liminal space, and what is calling to us. That way we can move closer towards who we really are rather than what we think we should be based on our conditioning or the expectations of others.

Most times we don’t need to “figure out” anything. We just need to be patient enough to sit still, go inward, and let the path naturally emerge. After all, nature doesn't hurry, yet everything is accomplished.

💎 Gems from 2022

🌱
In place of Seeds of Change this week, I'm sharing some things that have had a big impact on me this past year -- gratitude, readings and learnings, some fun and some tunes. In sharing these, I hope these inspire you to dive in and reflect on what impacted you this year.

🙌🏼 Thank Yous

There are two people I’d like to publicly acknowledge and express my gratitude for.

The first is my wife, Eliza Blank, who is not only a wonderful mother of two amazing girls but also an entrepreneur and CEO. She spent the first half of this year pregnant with morning sickness and the second half nursing our newborn. This is on top of her being a mom and running her company in the most difficult economic environment in more than a decade. This hasn’t been the easiest year for Eliza, but her unwavering love and commitment to our family is deeply inspiring, felt, and appreciated.

The second is my writing coach and editor Rachel Jepsen. Rachel has been with me every step of the way this year. We talk weekly and text most days. There are few people in the world that know me better than she does—she has an unfiltered view into my deepest values, thoughts, tendencies and beliefs. Rachel always pushes me to go deeper, question the world, and discover my own unique voice. I’ve learned so much from her about writing, the creative process, and myself. She has become a close friend, adviser and even therapist. I can’t imagine working with anyone else.

✍🏼 Becoming a Writer

At the beginning of this year, I made a commitment to become a writer. It’s something that I wanted for many years, and I finally made it a part of my identity and being. It hasn’t been an easy road. Some days the words and ideas flowed with ease, and there were many others when I struggled and wanted to quit. Thankfully, I stayed the course and kept typing away even as no one was watching and I was uncertain where this would lead (and I still don't).

When the page turns on 2022, I will have published twenty six pieces and more than a hundred thousand words. It’s incredible and gratifying to see how far my writing has come in less than a year. I feel like I’m still at the trailhead and early in this journey, but I’m excited to double down on my writing in 2023, explore a potential book project, and see what might unfold from that.

Speaking of my writing, here are six pieces that I’m most proud of:

Rethinking Ambition
Acceptance as Change
How Did You End Up Here
The Stranger and the Rolex
The Mountain You’ve Been Climbing Doesn’t Exist
We Are Multiple: Discovering The Many Parts of Yourself

🌊 Self Unfolding vs. Self Improvement

Since July, I’ve been studying under Steve March of Aletheia, a next-generation coaching school with a novel trauma-sensitive developmental coaching method. I’m very bullish on what Steve and his team are creating, and believe it’s going to be a prominent player in the coaching industry for many years to come. The quality and depth of materials and resources are second to none.

Aletheia rejects the notion of “self improvement” in favor of what March calls “self unfoldment,” which is grounded in the core principle of “let it be and let it unfold” and the “fundamental attunement” of “love of truth, beauty, and goodness for its own sake.” A core idea of Aletheia is that we’re not flawed or deficient in any way, and when we slow down we can access multiple depths of our experience—parts, process, presence and absence, and non-duality—to uncover capabilities and resources within us that we never knew we had. It's a paradigm shift in many respects.

I’m almost finished with Level I of the program, and I can say that it’s transforming my knowledge of human development, my perspective of coaching, and the impact that I’m having with clients. Most importantly, it’s transforming the relationship I have with myself. If you’re a coach, “coach curious” or passionate about human development, I highly recommend checking out this great discussion about Aletheia featuring Steve and John Vervaeke. I’m a big believer and very satisfied customer.

🧱 Play with Legos

In my year of “no-decisions,” I wanted to find a new hobby that wasn’t tied to work or personal growth—something I could do for the sake of doing it. I wasn’t sure what was going to captivate my imagination until one snowy afternoon in January when I walked by the Lego Store in Flatiron, and bought the NASA Space Shuttle Discovery on a whim. At first, I was just intrigued by the challenge of putting the pieces together to recreate my childhood dream of being an astronaut. But as I continued to build, I became more and more absorbed in the process. I discovered that I loved the way the colorful bricks clicked into place, and the sense of satisfaction I felt as each piece came together to form a bigger whole.

Before long, I was hooked. I started buying more and more sets, and I spent hours each week sitting on my living room floor, lost in the world of building and creating. It was a form of meditation for me, a way to quiet my mind and focus on something that was both challenging and rewarding. As I continued to build, I found myself drawn to more complex sets, like the Titanic, and I discovered a whole community of Lego fans online who share my passion.

I fell in love with Legos because they allowed me to tap into my creativity and imagination in a way that I hadn't experienced since childhood. Building with them gave me a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, and it allowed me to escape from the stress and worries of everyday life. I’m so glad I discovered this hobby, and I'm grateful to have rediscovered my love for Legos as an adult.

📚 Books That Left an Imprint

Every year, I read a few dozen books but there’s often not a singular theme. However this year was different—my energy and attention was drawn towards transitions and writing. Here were some of the highlights.

The Writing Life, Annie Dillard: A deeply personal exploration of the joys and challenges of the writing process.

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, William Zinsser: A wealth of entertaining advice and guidance for writers looking to improve their craft.

The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron: A step-by-step guide for tapping into one’s creative potential that I come back to year after year.

Quit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away, Annie Duke: The book I wished I had five years ago when I started my transition from investing to coaching.

Start Where You Are, Pema Chodron: a beautiful meditation on embracing the difficulty of our lives and accepting where we are.

Transitions, William Bridges: A timeless classic and arguably the definitive guide to navigating the psychological and emotional aspects of change.

From Strength to Strength, Albert C. Brooks: A practical roadmap for living the second half of life–it made me look forward to my inevitable elderhood.

Let Your Life Speak, Parker J. Palmer: a book about living an undivided life that has more depth and meaning each time I read it.

On Trails, Robert Moor: A highly descriptive adventure that journeys into the wisdom of trails.

👩‍👩‍👧‍👧 We Are Multiple

This year, I went deep into learning and exploring inner parts work. One of the best resources I dove into, especially for beginners, is Greater Than the Sum of Parts, an excellent audio course on Audible from Dr. Richard Schwartz, the creator of Internal Family Systems (IFS). It features lectures, exercises and meditations that help you not only learn about this powerful approach to learning about yourself but also begin to identify and experience your own parts. I also enjoyed this video series on IFS from Dr. Tori Olds. I expect to go much deeper into this philosophy and modality in 2023. Parts work has the potential to heal, improve and transform millions of lives.

🧘🏼‍♀️The Path of Insight

I’ve been a long-time subscriber of the Waking Up app by Sam Harris. This year, I listened to the 25-part series titled The Path of Insight from legendary American meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein. In particular, I enjoyed his lectures on “The Nature of Thought and Emotion,” “The Wisdom of Impermanence,” and “Suffering and Non-Self.” This series is perfect for anyone who is looking to gain a “thorough understanding of the Buddhist path to mindfulness and discover the nature of enlightenment.” As you’ll see, Joseph is a national treasure and a gift to those exploring the dharma.

❓Was 2022 a Year of Questions or Answers?

This quote from Zora Neale Hurston surfaced in my Twitter feed earlier this week:

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

Was 2022 a year of questions or answers? Why?

😬 Where Were Your Parents Stuck?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been going deep into the mind bending work of James Hollis, a respected Jungian Analyst and author. He’s one of the foremost living experts on Carl Jung and the shadow. As part of this exploration, I’ve been watching interviews with him on YouTube, and something he said in one of them hit me upside the head like a lead brick:

I haven’t stopped thinking about this, and even reached out to my siblings to see how they would answer these questions. As my coach, Dr. Josh, said to me after I shared this with him, “It’s deep, deep existential developmental shit. The deeper you dive into this, the more endless the opportunities there will be for your growth as a coach and human being.”

🔮 If You Knew You Could Succeed…

Over the summer and almost by accident, I stumbled across an old episode of The Tim Ferriss Show with Debbie Millman, a respected writer, designer and host of the hit podcast Design Matters. Towards the end of the conversation, Millman described a life changing exercise that she learned from Milton Glaser, the legendary designer, co-founder of New York Mag, and her former professor at SVA. For more than forty years, Glaser captivated the imaginations of his students by asking them to write an essay answering the following question:

What would your life look like in five years if you knew for certain you would succeed at whatever you tried?

Millman expanded it: What does your day look like? What do you do? Where do you live and work? Who are you with? What’s your environment like? What do you wear? What are you learning? Etc.

Glaser’s prompt captivated me because my senses were open and my consciousness was ready to explore my future possibilities. If you want to see your future self and life in high definition, I recommend carving out an hour and answering the question. It had a profound impact on me and where I’m heading.

🎵 My 2022 Rewind Playlist

According to Spotify, I listened to more than 60,000 minutes of music this year. If you can believe it, that’s nearly 1,000 hours or 40 days of music. While I love and crave solitude, I also enjoy writing and working to music playing softly in the background. For the first time, I compiled a playlist of all the songs that were on heavy rotation and inspired me this year. It includes a mix of genres including classical, folk, pop, Disney, and more. Enjoy.

🕊️ No Hard Feelings

Last week, as I was driving back to the city from the Catskills, “No Hard Feelings” by the Avett Brothers began to play and it touched me like no song ever has. By the second verse, I was overcome with sadness and hope, and began crying uncontrollably. I had to pull the car over on the side of the road—a first for me.

As I replayed the song in the days that have followed, it helped me realize and appreciate that you can end things—a life, a relationship, a career—in peace and unburdened. It’s a powerful reminder to let go of any bitterness or resentment and focus instead on the good memories and look to the future with optimism. Its message of forgiveness and hope is something we all could embrace as 2022 comes to an end and 2023 is just around the corner.

When my body won't hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Will I be ready?
When my feet won't walk another mile
And my lips give their last kiss goodbye
Will my hands be steady when I lay down my fears, my hopes, and my doubts?
The rings on my fingers, and the keys to my house
With no hard feelings

When the sun hangs low in the west
And the light in my chest won't be kept held at bay any longer
When the jealousy fades away
And it's ash and dust for cash and lust
And it's just hallelujah
And love in thought, love in the words
Love in the songs they sing in the church
And no hard feelings

Lord knows, they haven't done much good for anyone
Kept me afraid and cold
With so much to have and hold
Mmm, hmm

When my body won't hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Where will I go?
Will the trade winds take me south through Georgia grain?
Or tropical rain?
Or snow from the heavens?

Will I join with the ocean blue?
Or run into a savior true?
And shake hands laughing
And walk through the night, straight to the light
Holding the love I've known in my life
And no hard feelings

Lord knows, they haven't done much good for anyone
Kept me afraid and cold
With so much to have and hold

Under the curving sky
I'm finally learning why
It matters for me and you
To say it and mean it too
For life and its loveliness
And all of its ugliness
Good as it's been to me

I have no enemies
I have no enemies
I have no enemies
I have no enemies
Year End2022transition

Steve Schlafman Twitter

Exec coach. Writer. Student of Change.

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