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#013: Where the Road Bends

Steve Schlafman
Steve Schlafman
29 min read
#013: Where the Road Bends

When I launched Lightwaves, my bi-weekly newsletter, just six months ago, I wrote:

“For the last seven years, I’ve been focused on my own development, immersed in learning about change, transformation, consciousness, mindfulness, coaching, psychology, human development, philosophy, spirituality, and writing. Though I’m regularly writing longer essays about many of these themes, much of what I learn, think about, and write never sees the light of day. A while back, I realized I could be sharing more of what I’m learning, be more open about my own evolution, and to help those who want to change along with me.”

From the first day, the purpose of the newsletter has been to examine how we can develop an expansive understanding of ourselves, navigate career and life transitions, and embrace our own evolution and unfolding. The goal has also remained consistent: to help you cultivate self-awareness, make conscious changes in life and work, and foster compassion for yourself regardless of where you are in your journey.

As I was just starting out, I viewed it as an experiment to play with the newsletter format, publish more consistently, and begin to create a dialogue with you, my readers. Six months later, it’s clear the experiment has been a resounding success on a number of levels. Since launch, I published twelve issues, grew subscribers 10x from 500 to more than 5,000, and heard from hundreds of you that it’s having a meaningful impact in your lives. I also discovered that I love and look forward to writing this newsletter—it feels like a vocation rather than work.

And in the new year, none of this is changing—it’s only growing. I’m launching a podcast this month and bringing it together with this newsletter under one name: Where the Road Bends (WTRB). The newsletter will continue to be delivered bi-weekly on Fridays, and, starting on January 27th, you’ll receive the podcast on the alternate weeks. This means that you'll get a newsletter one week, followed by a podcast the next week, and so on. Let me tell you more about it!

If you really knew me you’d know I spent more than a month trying to come up with the perfect name for this podcast and new venture, so I wanted to share the inspiration behind the name. After weeks of brainstorm sessions, pursuing dead-end possibilities on Spotify, and countless conversations with friends asking them for ideas, I was finally inspired when I wasn’t efforting or looking—on a lazy Sunday afternoon while I was watching the hit movie Vivo with my four year old daughter. Midway through the film, the song “Keep the Beat” began to play and a single line grabbed my attention:

All I can do when the road bends is lean into the curve…

I thought, what is the bend in the road? It’s the great unknown sandwiched between an ending and a new beginning. Beyond the bend, you might encounter a different perspective, a different set of challenges and obstacles, a different identity, or even a dramatically different life. You might encounter nothing at all and feel no different. You just don’t know, and that can be disorienting and downright scary. I know this from my own transitions and evolutions. Staring into the unknown, we’re often filled with grief, doubts and questions. How can I move forward? How am I going to navigate this? Do I have what it takes? Who am I going to become? What will I have to leave behind? What will my life look like on the other side? What if this isn’t what I want? What if I crash and burn?

Therein lies an opportunity. When approaching a bend, we’re often taken out of our comfort zones. There’s adversity to face and our personal limits are tested. From this place, there’s an opportunity to meet ourselves right where we are, learn about ourselves—desires, needs, values, triggers, habits—and discover who we really are deep down inside. And when we know ourselves, what’s most important, and what we want, we can consciously and compassionately meet whatever bend we choose to create or is thrown our way, no matter how scary or painful it might be. Because beyond the bend may be a new identity, a new challenge, a new beginning—and it guarantees a new perspective.

The bend in the road isn’t just a place where we can meet our true selves. Often, we feel we need to travel on this road alone, but we don’t have to. We need each other’s stories, maps, wisdom, and tools to safely navigate our own bends, and so in times of personal evolution and transition we need more conversation with others, and more community. That’s why I’m starting and excited to share WRTB with the world.

WTRB is a place to explore personal evolutions and life transitions. I’ll be joined by a diverse range of guests on their own stories of radical change, as well as practitioners who study change and guide others through their own transitions. Through these conversations and my writing, I aim to provide you with tools, stories and wisdom to navigate your own transformation, and discover who you are in the process. Whether you're longing for something new, going through a big change yourself, or simply curious about how people evolve, WTRB is exactly where you need to be.

To get future issues and episodes delivered to your inbox, you can sign up here:

All that said, I hope to create a gathering place, a place where people from all walks of life can come together to help each other prepare for and understand how to say goodbye, move through the unknown, and embrace a new beginning.

Finally, I want to share an aspiration I have. I’d like to begin to build a community in 2023. I don’t know what that looks like or even what that means. But here is my request to you—please don’t hesitate to reach out with feedback or questions, share your stories, recommend resources, or suggest guests for the podcast. Even though I’m a solopreneur, I very much view this as a co-creation with all of you. Please say hi if the thought crosses your mind.

Farewell Lightwaves, and welcome Where the Road Bends!

🤔 For Contemplation

This year, I’ve decided that I don’t want to change all that much, but instead double down on what worked for me in 2022.

As such, I’ve been sitting with these questions, and I invite you to do the same:

What do you want to double down on this year? What would that look like in practice?

🌱 Seeds of Change

Here are six things I’ve been contemplating and investigating over the past few weeks. If any resonate, feel free to forward along to friends.

⏪ Advice to My Former Self

Before I became a coach, I was an institutional investor at some of the top early-stage VC firms in NYC. I left the profession in 2019 because I longed for deeper relationships and conversations with founders that were centered on their growth and evolution as humans and leaders. In the years that have followed, I largely disowned that part of me because I told myself that chapter was over, most investors were evil, and it was time to move on from that identity. Over the holidays, I was reflecting on my investing years fondly, and I began to jot down many of the lessons I learned. On a whim, I turned what I wrote into a thread, and it went semi-viral in the venture community.

This exercise, which I recommend doing, formed an entirely new perspective on my time as a VC and what it meant to me. For the first time, I began to deeply appreciate that phase of my life, what I learned, and many of the friendships I made in those years. This experience of reflecting back was unexpectedly cathartic and provided much needed closure to that chapter in my life.

🪞Projection (Understanding the Psychology of Projecting)

Right now, I’m captivated by the work of Carl Jung and modern Jungian Analysts such as James Hollis. These psychoanalysts have inspired me to go much deeper into studying the shadow and shining a light on my own to the best of my ability. If we want to illuminate and understand our shadow, we must be willing to look at our projections, a defense mechanism in which we attribute our own thoughts, feelings, or motivations to someone or something else. Projection can also involve attributing our own unacceptable or unwanted thoughts or emotions to someone else, rather than acknowledging them in ourselves. By consciously seeing what we loathe and love in others, we’re able to discover hidden parts within ourselves, reclaim them as our own, and begin to appreciate them. Here’s an excellent primer by Teal Swan on how we form projections, what we can learn from them, and what to do about it. Before sharing the link, I'd like to add one caveatsome of Teal's work is controversial, but I made the call to share this particular resource because it was one of the clearest explanations I discovered. Watch on YouTube (19 minutes)

🛣️The Middle Passage

Speaking of Dr. James Hollis, I read one of his classics while on break, The Middle Passage, an exploration of “the midlife crisis” from the perspective of psychological development and the psyche. The core idea is how do we begin to awaken to our inner voice, shed the armor and conditioning that we acquired earlier in life, and make the passage from our first adulthood into our second. The Middle Passage is “an invitation to become conscious, accept responsibility for the rest of your life, and risk the largeness of life to which we are summoned.” I can’t recommend this book enough especially if you’re encountering midlife, or are generally interested in understanding what happens psychologically, especially from a Jungian perspective, as we step into the second half of life. As I was reading it, I was surprised how much came up for me, including old memories, well-worn behavior patterns, and limiting beliefs that were handed down to me through socialization. The Middle Passage is mind bending, illuminating, and fascinating. Purchase on Thriftbooks

💡What is the Single Insight that Most Changed Your Life?

My friend and fellow solopreneur Justin Welsh recently shared a thread packed with the best things he read, saw, or listened to in 2022.

As I was skimming his list, one of the items caught my eye—a Quora thread answering the question, What is the Single Insight that Most Changed Your Life?

The top response by Marshall Karp, a former ad writer turned bestselling author, is easily one of the more inspiring and entertaining musings I’ve come across this month.  

“At the age of 39 I had it all. A loving wife, two fantastic kids, an apartment in New York City, a house in the country, new car, nice vacations and a high paying job as Creative Director of a hot creative advertising agency.

Everyone wanted to be me.

Except me.”

Read on Quora (5 minutes)

💧From Triggered to Tranquil

Over the holiday break, I discovered a great talk by Dr. Susan Campbell, who recently published From Triggered to Tranquil, “a no-blame approach to conflicts and misunderstandings, empowering us to explore triggers and trauma responses and use these as portals to growth and self-compassion.” In this talk, she explains how to identify our triggers and do “inner work” when you get emotionally upset, reactive, or shut down. She describes her five-step process of trigger work and then guides participants in a powerful exercise from the book. As I’ve gone deeper into Susan’s work, I’ve begun to appreciate her approach and philosophy. Our triggers and reactions to myriad situations are a powerful gateway to understanding what drives us, identifying and appreciating the many parts of ourselves, and cultivating self-compassion for ourselves in times of distress. The result? We become more whole, resilient, courageous and compassionate. Watch on YouTube (1 hour)

🗣️Inner Voice and Identity

A few years ago, I read CHATTER: The Voice in Our Head, Why it Matters and How to Harness It, by Ethan Kross, a professor at the University of Michigan and an expert on the conscious mind. It was so excellent that I’m reading it again, especially because I’m going deeper into my study of “parts work” and it’s packed with useful research about the chatter in our heads and the role it plays in our lives. I’m also deeply interested in how we form and evolve our identities. It turns out that the voice in our head plays an important role in shaping who we are and how we view ourselves. This passage caught my attention last night:

“Our verbal stream plays an indispensable role in the creation of our selves. The brain constructs meaningful narratives through autobiographical reasoning. In other words, we use our minds to write the story of our lives, with us as the main character. Doing so helps us mature, figure out our values and desires, and weather change and adversity by keeping us rooted in a continuous identity. Language is integral to this process because it smooths the jagged and seemingly unconnected fragments of daily life into a cohesive through line. It helps us ‘storify’ life. The words of the mind sculpt the past, and thus set up a narrative for us to follow into the future. By fitting back and forth between different memories, our internal monologues weave a neural narrative of recollections. It sews the past into the seams of our brain's construction of our identity.”
2023podcastnew beginning

Steve Schlafman Twitter

Exec coach. Writer. Student of Change.


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