2021 Year in Review

2021 was quite a year. Let’s start this review post by listing off a few significant events in my priority areas of family and coaching:

  • Our second child was born in the spring. She exhibits intense curiosity, with a desire to be where the action is – she has serious FOMO! Meanwhile, our first child is now a full-fledged toddler/”threenager”, talking a mile a minute and asking “Why?” hundreds of times a day, with the occasional tantrum or random act of rebellion.
  • My mother passed away unexpectedly in September, which was particularly sad after my parents had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary earlier in the year, and after she was so happy to celebrate the birth of another grandchild. A friend had shared earlier in the year to keep my relationships current in these uncertain times, and I was glad that I followed that advice with my mom, spending lots of time together as a family this year, including having my parents stay with us to help for several weeks around the birth.
  • I am thankful we had extensive family support to help out this year. In addition to my parents being local, my wife’s parents stayed with us for a few months to help out with watching the baby, cooking, and chasing the toddler. Having that family support (plus the financial means to pay for other support) made these trying times much more manageable.
  • My coaching business continued to grow throughout the year, and I am at my desired client load for now. I also nearly hit my stretch revenue goal for 2021 while devoting 10% of my coaching hours to pro bono coaching and mentoring of leaders from historically excluded populations. My clients do amazing things, and I love reading their LinkedIn recommendations describing how I helped them.
  • I also gave a couple talks this year, including one at the Chief of Staff summit on Finding Your Way as a Chief of Staff, which you can watch here.
  • Those of you who follow me on Instagram know that we continued to travel this year, with several trips to Lake Tahoe and California wine country, as well as family bonding trips in September to France (including the Champagne region vineyard pictured below) and Germany, and in December to Mexico. The latter two trips were a chance for me to experiment with working remotely, which opens up new possibilities for future travels.

So my life is pretty good! I run my own business which is adding value for people, I spend time with my loving family including going on awesome trips together, and I have all the privilege. I have no right to complain.

And yet I struggled from a personal development perspective to live into my aspirational mantra for 2021 to Enjoy the Moment. Too much of this year felt like a self-imposed slog, where I did things because I felt I “had” to do them, rather than because I chose to do them. Compare “I have to watch the kids” to “I get to play with the kids” – same activity, different framing that turns it into a slog.

I am starting to recognize that my default framing is to think of everything as responsibilities I have to deliver on. To be specific, I try to earn love, safety and belonging (as Jerry Colonna describes three fundamental human needs) by always exceeding expectations, and preferably never making a mistake. In a well-defined context such as school or work, I could come close enough for that strategy to seem viable, but as a person in relationship with others, and especially as a parent, I can’t meet that standard. Parenting is tough, and I constantly make mistakes! More frustratingly, this strategy turns parenting into a job to resent, rather than a choice I made to bring more love into the world.

I understand cognitively that I deserve love and am perfect just as I am. But emotionally I still feel I need to earn my right to exist in every interaction I have, and that hypervigilance is exhausting. In fact, I sometimes prefer to be alone so I can just be me without (the completely self-imposed burden of) trying to keep everybody around me happy. This pattern is not healthy, as I am less able to enjoy time with my family because I struggle with the pressure of living up to (my own unreasonable) expectations. It’s not even an effective parenting strategy, as the hypervigilant exhaustion makes me more likely to make mistakes, not less.

And sadly, this is the exact same pattern I identified in last year’s review post, where I wrote: “because my lack of self-care left me ungrounded, I fell back into old stories of feeling worthless. So I put more pressure on myself to do everything on my to-do list so I could “earn” my value.” This pattern was exacerbated this year by having a newborn who wasn’t sleeping through the night for much of the year, as I more easily fell back into my default patterns of insecurity due to the lack of consistent sleep.

This leads to my 2022 addition of a new priority beyond family and coaching, which is self-care. My family and clients both benefit when I take care of myself, as I serve them better when I’m well-resourced. And yet I consistently fall into the downward spiral I shared above because I sacrifice my own well-being to (theoretically) serve others.

This sacrificial attitude arises in part from a zero-sum scarcity mindset. Part of me feels like I must choose between either taking care of my self or taking care of others, and that part has been trained to always choose others. And yet, one of my coaching precepts is that either-or choices often aren’t, and to look for a “both and” possibility.

In this case, taking care of myself _is_ choosing to take care of my family and clients. I am the instrument through which such care will happen, so caring for that instrument is critical. Amusingly, I’ve made this point in a webinar on resilience, but as usual, what I tell others is often what I most need to hear myself. When I can take the abundance mindset that there is “enough” of me for everybody, I can invest in my self-care _and_ care for others.

Furthermore, self-care is also about choosing to treat myself as valuable. As I read a Mark Manson article about Kant over the weekend, I was reminded of the ethics of treating each person (including myself) as an end in themselves, rather than a means to accomplish something else. In other words, I do not exist only to take care of others, but have inherent value in and of myself, and I should start treating myself that way.

This renewed focus on investing in myself will take several forms beyond a re-commitment to the basics of sleep, exercise, meditation, journaling and reading:

  • Don’t take things personally (with a hat tip to Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements). I tend to be an internalizer, blaming myself for everything that goes wrong in my vicinity. And it’s not always my fault. Of course, I can always do more, or do better, but that doesn’t mean I should feel bad or ashamed when something doesn’t go well. When I take things personally, I create more problems because now I (and those around me) have to soothe my ego on top of dealing with whatever went wrong.
  • Set better boundaries for myself, and give myself permission to say no, even to my family or clients. If I’m exhausted, I want to break the pattern of resentfully pushing through and destroying myself. Instead, I will choose to take a break, and do the work when I have more capacity. I also want to improve at recognizing when I’m overwhelmed or overstimulated, and step away rather than overloading my system by doing yet more.
  • Feel all of my feelings. Be courageously present to all that is arising in me in each moment, rather than avoiding certain emotions. As context, there’s a part of me that doesn’t think it’s okay to be angry (especially at family), but if I don’t express the anger, then it either builds up and explodes, or turns into a slow burn resentment, neither of which is great. There’s a part of me that doesn’t accept being tired when there’s “work” to do, so I keep pushing until I’m exhausted and falling apart. Practicing being present to everything in me will help me stay present and take care of myself, rather than subjugating my needs to others.
  • Write consistently. I keep thinking writing is hard and putting it off until I feel like I have something to say, or until I’m “in the mood”. And yet I’ve written two LinkedIn posts a week for two years now, and consistently sent out a biweekly newsletter for over a year. I’ve proven I can find things to say if I hold myself accountable and make a commitment to ship. Ideally, writing consistently will lead to completing a book in 2022, but the bigger commitment is to developing my self-identity as a writer.

So to answer my LinkedIn provocation of “What is your intention for 2022? What would you have to do differently to be the person who would fulfill that intention?”, my intention is that I will invest in myself as much as I do in my family and my clients. The person I would have to be to fulfill that intention is somebody that believes deeply in my own intrinsic value, such that investing in myself has great ROI, and I will start acting as if that belief were true to bring it into existence.

Who do you want to be as you exit 2022? And what actions will you take this week to start becoming that person?

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