Another year is wrapping up, and that means it’s time for another year in review post where I look back at the highlights of the last year, and set my intention for the year ahead.
My 2023 intention was to connect with courage and vulnerability, which I applied across every aspect of my life.
I wrote a book! Designed to help when working harder isn’t working, the book shares the lessons and mindsets I share with my coaching clients, and that I wish I had known before I burned out at Google. I described the publication process in this post, but writing the book required courage to ask for help from beta readers while editing, from clients and friends while launching, and from role models while looking for blurbs. It also required vulnerability to accept critical feedback from my editors and beta readers, and to put this creation of mine into the world to see how it would be received. While it’s not a bestseller, it’s received 40+ 5-star Amazon reviews so far, and many readers have shared how it has helped them navigate a situation they are facing. I want the book to help more people so please write a review, or recommend it to somebody who is facing a crossroads.
Podcasts: I experimented with guesting on podcasts this fall as a way to promote the book and my coaching business. It took a little courage to get started as I had to reach out to podcast hosts to pitch myself to be on their show, and mostly got ignored or rejected. But several said yes! That led to new connections with fellow travelers on similar journeys, and gave me the opportunity to share stories and mindsets I find helpful with different audiences. I recorded nearly 20 podcast interviews in 2023, and you can check out the released episodes on this Spotify playlist.
Coaching: My coaching business took a significant step back this year, in both revenue and number of coaching sessions. I believe this was primarily due to the uncertainty in the tech sector, with continuing layoffs and the Silicon Valley Bank meltdown, as I didn’t change anything in my control – I was still regularly posting to LinkedIn and my newsletter, I actually had more intro chats than the previous year, and prospects were converting into paying clients at similar rates. But my clients weren’t as engaged, and often skipped or rescheduled sessions, due to being overwhelmed and exhausted (understandably so!). Going forward, I want to position my coaching in such times as supportive help for clients to create stability from chaos, rather than as a demand for transformation, so that it doesn’t feel like yet one more commitment.
But even in a down year, I made enough to meet my needs, and the upside of coaching being slower was that I had time to invest in the book and in podcasts, both of which will hopefully contribute to growing the business. And I still find the craft of coaching meaningful and energizing; I connect with my clients deeply as they confront previously successful mindsets and behaviors that are no longer serving them, and encourage them to experiment with new possibilities that move them towards their goals. I am delighted when I see them showing up in new ways and responding effectively to challenges that once stymied them, which leads to getting different (and often better) results.
I also started to focus on helping leaders transition from being a technical domain expert, where they succeed by knowing the right answer and solving problems themselves, to becoming an executive, where they seek out impactful problems and delegate them to the experts on their teams. The former runs towards the fires, the latter steps back to consider how to prioritize resource allocation across fires and problems. The challenge of being the technical domain expert is that it doesn’t scale – if you’re the “indispensable” problem solver, then you become the bottleneck. To keep growing your scope, you have to shift your focus to creating other problem solvers like yourself, and eventually organizations of problem solvers. That’s the executive mindset shift, as I describe in this presentation that was a test run for a class I plan to offer next year. I realized the potential of coaching this mindset shift when one potential client asked me how many CFOs I had coached, and looking at my LinkedIn recommendations reminded me that I had coached CEOs, CTOs, CFOs, CMOs, sales VPs, etc.; clearly I was coaching something more generalizable than domain expertise!
Family: My kids continue to grow up (5 and almost 3), and I intend to stay connected with them as they grow and change into themselves more with each passing year. As a family, we traveled to new places (Baja California and New York City) and old favorites (Bulgaria, Playa del Carmen, Guerneville, Tahoe) to create memories and experiences and connection as a family. My wife and I also invested in our own connection with weekly date nights, and even managed our first couples weekends without the kids this year.
Books: I love connecting with ideas (I read way too many newsletters), and read 45 books in 2023 (tracked on Goodreads), of which 20 were nonfiction. Notable books were the ones I already wrote up for the blog (The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee, Us: Getting Past You and Me by Terrence Real, A Thousand Brains by Jeff Hawkins, The Courage to be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi And Fumitake Koga) and a few I wrote up elsewhere (Scaling People by Claire Hughes Johnson, Bones of Belonging: Finding Wholeness in a White World by Annahid Dashtgard, and Power: A User’s Guide by Julie Diamond (who I learned of via Dashtgard’s podcast)).
Fiction I enjoyed included Abby Jimenez (romantic comedy novels that are fun and engaging, but also address serious topics like emotional abuse, anxiety disorders, and grappling with terminal diseases), The Villains’ Code series by Drew Hayes (I have reread each book multiple times already to spend more time with these entertaining and relatable supervillain characters), and The Scholomance series by Naomi Novik (I cackled out loud at several moments throughout these magical high school books, which I describe as Harry Potter with a lot more death and angst).
Self: Connecting with myself continues to be a challenge. I didn’t feel like I had time to do things that I know are good for me and would even enjoy (regular exercise, meditation, social connection), in part because I had some sleep challenges. That exhaustion makes it hard for me to even figure out what I would enjoy doing, so I often fall back into habits like scrolling on my phone or reading escapist fiction or watching TV that let me check out rather than be present.
I also tend to disconnect from my own needs until they become emergencies, which means I go from seemingly fine to completely falling apart in seconds. One new tactic my therapist suggested was to give my wife and family “weather reports” of my current status so that they know when I’m nearing my limits, rather than white-knuckling and hoping I can hold on. That has helped, as not only does it mean I get breaks before I need them, but my wife can see when I’m approaching a meltdown and proactively suggest I walk away or get a snack. I have learned that I should listen to her instead of saying “I’m fine! I can handle it!”, as is typically my first impulse. I’m also learning to trust that I’m not indispensable and that my kids and my wife will be fine if I take time for myself; I even went to play board games on a Saturday afternoon last month!
Community: I manifested my commitment to connection in a variety of ways this year.
- I was more proactive in reaching out to people to set up chats or calls; if I thought of somebody, I would send them a quick email or note. The book also helped with this, as I contacted hundreds of people from my life as part of the launch. As a result, I reconnected with people I hadn’t talked to in years, and reminded myself that almost everybody loves to connect. If somebody doesn’t respond, it’s not a reflection on me, but generally on their own overwhelm.
- I volunteered as a mentor guide for the New Ventures West Professional Coaching Course, and enjoyed getting to know these students exploring the path of coaching.
- I volunteered as a member of the Mountain View Library Board of Trustees. This may sound impressive, but it just means that five residents meet with the library director and staff once a month to review their plans. I enjoyed the opportunity to participate in my community and contribute in a small way.
- I also volunteered as part of the Silicon Valley Social Venture fund (SV2). In addition to donating, I participated in several sessions helping to brainstorm possibilities with the organizations we support, and engaged in a four-session DEI workshop with other members to examine our own biases and contributions to systemic inequities.
Now that I read that list, and everything else I listed above, it’s easy to see why I felt a little overwhelmed at times this year – that’s a lot of commitments!
2024 intentions: I will take my mantra of connecting with courage and vulnerability into next year. Those of you who read the last chapter of my book know that I’ve committed to connection as an aspiration, a lofty commitment that I know I won’t reach but will orient me towards my intended self. How will that show in my life?
- Family: Connect with my kids and wife every day. Never hesitate when it comes to experiences that will create memories (we plan to see the total eclipse in Austin, TX in April), but look for moments of connection in routine interactions at home as well.
- Coaching: Connect with my clients. Be present with them, validate their perspective and provide encouragement while also challenging them to see how they are holding themselves back.
- Book/brand promotion: Continue to help the book reach its intended audience by reaching out to connect with more people, including potential reviewers, podcasters, anybody who has an audience that can benefit from reading the book.
- Classes: My professional experiment of 2024 will be to build group classes so I can connect with more people than I can help via 1:1 coaching. I already have scheduled a class based on the book (Design Your 2024), and am considering a group coaching class to develop an executive mindset. Plus, I’m dreaming about organizing a walking workshop, like what Kevin Kelly did in Thailand or what David Whyte offers. Contact me if you’d be interested in any of those possibilities.
- Self: Recommit to self-care, particularly strength training to connect with my body. I’m turning 50 in 2024 (?!), so I need to be proactive to get ahead of the potential physical decline if I want to stay healthy as my kids grow up.
- Social: Find a couple more close friends, preferably local. My social network is broad but shallow and scattered – I have lots of meaningful interactions with lots of people around the world, but rarely more than a couple per year with any one person. I’d like to shift that towards deeper committed connections, inspired by this Penelope Trunk post.
- Personal development: I signed up for the Trauma-Informed Certificate Program led by Thomas Hübl and Amy Elizabeth Fox. This will push me in new directions as a coach and a person with the emphasis on presence and mindfulness to connect with others more deeply, and give me the tools to witness and support their healing from trauma. Hopefully it will also provide the accountability I need to restart my meditation practice, and help me find new friends and fellow travelers who are walking this path.
My temptation will be to treat this as a list of everything I have to do to be “enough” to be valued or loved. Instead, I will try to remember my value of connection – life is a miracle, and being present and grateful is a way to connect with that miracle in each moment. I can experience that connection with myself, with nature, with family, with friends, with clients, or with random people I see by exchanging a smile.
In my coaching program, James Flaherty said that the coaching way of being was being present in each moment; coaching was not just structured conversations with clients, but could be a moment of connection with the grocery clerk as you check out if you are really present with them. That is how I want to measure myself in 2024: not in accomplishments or in checking things off my list, but in moments of connection.