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#014: Moving from Anger to Appreciation

Steve Schlafman
Steve Schlafman
9 min read
#014: Moving from Anger to Appreciation
Photo by Toby McGuire

Hello from my picturesque hometown of Swampscott, Massachusetts, one of the most special places in the world. I’m here visiting my parents for the weekend because my mother celebrated her birthday earlier this week and I haven’t seen my father in nine months.

A wave of guilt and sadness washes over me as I gaze out the window and stare into the dark ocean in the distance. My father has an aggressive and advanced form of dementia and has been living in a memory care unit not even a mile from the house I grew up in. His decline was precipitous—he was working and highly active before COVID, and within eighteen months he was a shell of his former self, unable to talk, care for himself, or comprehend much. Even though he still recognizes my face and voice, I find it difficult and heartbreaking to visit him. I’m lucky if I get more than ten minutes of quality time with him before he wanders off. Dementia is a hideous disease.

This time last year, I wrote my father a letter to express how I felt about him and our relationship. I held nothing back—it was gut-wrenching yet cathartic.

If you really knew me you would know that I’m at peace with you not being in my life anymore. You would also know that I believe things will be easier for me when you’re no longer here. It’s difficult and painful to write these words because you’re my father and I’ve never fully expressed myself to you. Even though you’re still here, I’ve begun to grieve your inevitable death and the relationship I wanted but never had. I’m tired. I’m resentful. I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m done. I want to focus on my family, my health, and my career. It’s time for me to move on.

Even though I knew he would never read these words, I poured myself into the letter and it unexpectedly kick-started the grieving process. As I was writing, I began to understand intellectually and emotionally that I’ll never have the father and the relationship I always wanted and craved, especially as a boy and teenager.

The more I expressed myself and opened up, the more anger and resentment began to rise to the surface like lava climbing up the conduit of a dormant volcano. I could feel the heat on the surface of my body and tears welling up in my eyes. I was ready to blow. Through my writing, it occurred to me that I had been holding these acrid and painful feelings deep in my psyche and body for decades. It was time to acknowledge these thoughts and feelings, allow them to move through me, and accept them, no matter how difficult and painful they were. I could no longer ignore or suppress them. In the months that followed, my anger, resentment, and sadness continued to ooze out of the wound I had opened up through my writing.

And then something shifted when I least expected it. A few months after I wrote that letter, I visited my father when he was admitted to a geriatric psychiatric ward for aggressive and hostile behavior. When I walked into his room, I barely recognized him. He was disheveled. He was gaunt. He had grayed. He had a beard. He had sores on his lips. He had stains all over his sweatsuit. This was a man who had his wits and was impeccably dressed and groomed not even two years earlier. As soon as he saw me, his face lit up with a huge smile, and he let out an audible gasp. He recognized me.

That night, I fed my father the same way I feed my toddler, carefully placing the food in his mouth and catching any debris that missed the mark. We sat together, staring deeply into each other's eyes and not saying much. Time stood still. I didn’t want that moment to end because I was scared it would be the last time I’d see him. I opened all of my senses to savor every second despite how decrepit he looked. For the first time ever, I could see myself in him and him in me. I felt closer to him at that moment than at any other point in my life.

Here I was staring at my father, who had great health and vitality for decades, but was now so utterly ill and helpless. I couldn’t believe what I saw in front of me—the wounded body and soul of the most important man in my life. As my protector parts tried to fight back tears, I realized that my father is just a human being, like all of us, with imperfections, desires, feelings, needs and regrets. At that moment, I felt the resentment and anger begin to melt away, and love and appreciation taking their place. While the wound lingered for months, something profound shifted deep inside of me on that cold winter night.

As awful as this situation has been for my family and me, I’ve found a silver lining in it with the benefit of time and distance—I’ve been able to grieve and celebrate him and our relationship well before he’s gone. Not everyone has that opportunity and is so lucky. It has also helped shift from resentment to appreciation as I’ve come to realize two things—yes, he’s human, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without all of him, including his best and worst qualities. In fact, a number of my best qualities are from him—intelligence, curiosity, charm, sense of humor, and, of course, good looks. I also recognize and appreciate all the ways in which he was there for me over the years, especially when I became an adult.

This experience has also taught me the importance of cherishing the present and making the most of the time we have with our loved ones. It has reminded me to appreciate the small things and not take any moment for granted. After all, we’re all caught in the natural cycle of life, the great mystery between birth and death.

In just a few hours, I’ll be with my father, and hopefully, we’ll make a new memory together. Despite his condition and this bend in the road, I believe there are still moments of joy and beauty left to be experienced with him. I don’t know what that might look like and how many more of these moments we have left, but I just can’t wait to see him and tell him how much I love him.


🎙️ WTRB Podcast Launches Next Week


As I shared in the last issue, my podcast launches next Friday, January 27th.

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 transformational change, as well as practitioners who study change and guide others through their own transitions. Through these conversations, I aim to provide you with tools, stories, and wisdom to navigate your own evolution, and discover who you are in the process.

Our first conversation is with Jerry Colonna, the legendary CEO coach and author of Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up. Like me, he transitioned from the world of investing to the world of executive coaching. I can’t wait for you to hear it.

Here’s a short teaser episode that I created with more details about the show.

If this sounds like something you don’t want to miss, don’t forget to subscribe on Spotify, iTunes or whatever podcast app you use.

And if you’d like to learn more, sponsor the show, or suggest future guests, just go to wheretheroadbends.fm or send me a message.


🤔 For Contemplation


Last month, I published a long-form essay on resistance titled, “Why Is It So Hard to Change?” Anyone who read that piece knows that I fundamentally believe that if you want to evolve, you need to understand and appreciate your inner resistors that are holding you back.

That’s why I perked up when I discovered and listened to this powerful talk on inner resistance by Hale Dwoskin, the creator of The Sedona Method. He views resistance as evidence that we are resisting reality and not accepting what is.

In the talk, Hale shared these useful prompts to help us uncover what we’re resisting and not accepting in our lives:

  • Where have you been saying no?
  • Where have you been pushing back?
  • Where have you been holding on?
  • Where have you been moving forward with the breaks on?
  • Where have you been trying to fix or change what is?

When we identify what we’re resisting, we can start to investigate whether we’re willing to accept whatever is present and begin to shift and let go.


🌱 Seeds of Change

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

🔮 Meditations to Manifest Abundance & Vision

I’m currently working on a long-form essay on the power of visioning and manifesting. That has led me down a rabbit hole to watch, listen and read just about anything I can on those topics. As part of the creative and writing process, I’ve been listening to two short meditations every day from Jessica Heslop—one in the morning on abundance and attraction and another before bed on manifesting vision. I’m five days into this routine, and it’s already having a significant effect on how I’m showing up in the world—I feel lighter, more receptive, more trusting and more patient. It’s wonderful. I also find that I’m thinking about my vision throughout the day, which is leading to new connections, ideas and inspiration. So far, I’m a believer. I can’t wait to see where this takes me and share with you. Watch on YouTube.

👨‍👨‍👧‍👦 Breaking Cycles & Reparenting Yourself

Earlier this month, I shared this tweet about reparenting myself:

One of my followers recommended an episode of We Can Do Hard Things with Dr. Becky Kennedy, a clinical psychologist and founder of Good Inside, an online platform that “helps you become the parent you want to be.” In this conversation, she talks about a variety of topics, including “how to break family cycles by rewiring the way we were raised” and “how to use internal family systems to heal ourselves.” Reparenting is the act of learning how to give yourself the support you may not have received as a child. While this typically involves working with a therapist, it’s possible for an individual to take steps towards self-reparenting. This might involve developing a better understanding of one's own needs and emotions, setting boundaries, and learning how to care for oneself in a healthy way. I believe the notion of “reparenting” is powerful, and it’s a topic I’ll likely dive into in the future. Listen on Spotify (1 hour, 10 minutes)

🧘🏽‍♀️How Meditation Works & Science-Based Effective Meditations

Long-time readers and followers of my work know that I’m a huge proponent of meditation because it’s had a profound impact on my life. Shortly after I began my practice in the summer of 2014, I got sober and eventually left the world of finance. Meditation has helped me slow down, understand the chatter in my head, reunite with my emotions and body, cultivate resilience, and more. That’s why I was excited when Dr. Andrew Huberman published this deep dive into meditation, including the biological mechanisms that occur during meditation, key meditation techniques principles, and long-term changes in the brain and body. This episode is relevant for novices and experienced meditators. If you’re meditation curious or looking to deepen your understanding of meditation, I can’t recommend this enough. Watch on YouTube or Listen on Spotify (2 hours, 26 minutes)

👩🏽‍🎨 The Relationship Between Doing Nothing and Creativity

There’s a prevailing belief, especially in tech, that we need to constantly be active and working in order to be creative and effective. This tweet thread from Billy Oppenheimer debunks that notion. It turns out that researchers observed “a brain that was actively connecting thoughts and experiences” while in deep rest. In other words, doing nothing and resting promotes creativity and imagination. The Default Mode Network is a beautiful feature of the human brain.

🚶🏽‍♂️How to Quit Your Job

Matt Yao, a former product manager at Uber and Cash App, recently quit his job and wrote about his experience detailing the process and the decision. Over the past year, he kept track of every book, article, tweet, podcast, he consumed that helped him navigate this decision and his relationship with work. He turned this into a useful and comprehensive Notion guide packed with resources and advice. There are at least a dozen articles and essays he shared that I’m excited to dive into this year. If you’re considering a job change, this is a great place to start, especially if you’re lost. Warning—there are a ton of resources in the guide, so proceed with caution and go at your own pace. Read on Notion

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Steve Schlafman Twitter

Exec coach. Writer. Student of Change.

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