This year I finally stopped being busy when my mom died out of the blue. One year ago, I wrote, “the theme for 2021 was Focus and Alignment. I achieved that at the expense of my own creativity and to some extent free will. I was lost in being busy.” If 2021 was about losing my sense of who I was, 2022 would be about finding it again while losing my mom.
My intention for 2022, as I sat down to write like this exactly one year ago, was to reconnect. My theme for the year was Reconnecting and Finding Flow. I set out with ambitious goals and brand-new notebooks filled with cutout photographs to visualize what I truly wanted in life. I had the best intentions. Clear-eyed and curiously naive. Bold and blind to what life had in store for me. A journey lay ahead that would teach me lessons few of us, mercifully, have to learn at a relatively young age.
A Quick Look At The Scoreboard
- Revenue growth: 81% (last year: 252% – the base is getting bigger)
- Team growth: from 12 humans to 15 now.
- Personal growth: developed deeper skills in marketing, sales, and business development; developed new skills in nervous system mastery and driving trucks. Learned more about the true meaning of life.
- Vacation days taken: 50 (last year: 0)
This is the story of my year in review.
The Story Behind The Numbers
The results look impressive. We grew our business despite taking a ton of time off and without expanding the team in unmanageable ways. But as always, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
The first quarter was a tale of two halves, starting with discipline and descending into decadence. There is nothing inherently wrong with either, but for their extremes. The meta lesson for me was balance. Both were good and noble pursuits at the time, but the key to a sustainable life where everything feels right all the time lies in moderation and balance.
I found focus in my work by letting go of the online course I was clinging and wringing my hands to will into happening. The Learning Culture Experience consumed a lot of time, as did C3 and Course of Action, and letting these run their course (so to speak) finally, belatedly, was the tap I needed to focus on what I was passionate about: developing people to their full potential through cultures of continuous learning. Three 6-figure projects quickly turned the tap into a slap, and we were off and running, building an impressive internal culture of our own while at it.
Despite three big projects, I recognized early the need to improve business development, something my team would, to a person, remind me of after my sabbatical. I got into LinkedIn early in the year and grew a following of almost 10,000 people at the time of writing. I studied copywriting books from ad legends and capped the year off with a live workshop on business development by Mo Bunnell. Lots of work lies ahead, but with an accountability group now, I’m confident I can first find and then systematize an approach that works for us by the end of the year.
We capped it off with a trip to South Africa for Leo to meet his grandparents for the first time after nearly three years of life. This is where decadence danced its way back into our lives. And boy, did we have fun, exactly what Granny would’ve wanted for her first and last time meeting my boy.
Bright and hazy, light and lazy, we meandered into the second quarter without a care in the world. I fell into a small LinkedIn rabbit hole I would later climb out of with lessons that would serve me well at the end of the year. I realized I was building an audience for the sake of having an audience. The Learning Culture narrative I developed at the start of the year was even losing its luster for me a little. Luckily, my podcast’s first sales enabler interview, with Brett Childs, was recorded right around this time. More on that later.
I hired two business consultants, David Baker and Stephanie Ashby. From both of them, we got validation that our team culture was on another level. The spirit of collaboration and knowledge sharing is one of our biggest strengths and something I’m insanely proud of. From Stephanie we also learned that we have unsophisticated systems for knowledge management, which I addressed before the end of the year by stumbling across and purchasing immediately a perfect-fit-for-us creation called HiveMind by the talented team at Optemization. From David, we learned that we were a little immature for a company of our size and lacked a few key roles, most notably account management. He taught me how to map out a path for clients to follow to work with us, which I’ve continued to work on in the form of the Learning Culture Scorecard. He also gave us useful financial benchmarks for building a scoreboard that made sense for our own great game of business. Finally, David was the right man at the right time to help me refine and sharpen our positioning. This is when sales enablement entered the picture in full frame, and when we dropped the notion of “content production” from our offer. This was also around the time I formalized a new framework, The Learning Culture Lotus (h/t to Andrew Tvardzik for coining the term after he saw me on stage at the Small Giants Summit and to Justin Mikolay and James Baird for shepherding the idea out of me in the form of a flagship essay in their excellent online writing course.)
My work with David Baker concluded with a spark of what to aspire to in the future in the form of a decline to meet with me from his previous client, with this guy writing that his firm “is chugging along nicely now with little effort on my part. I’m enjoying the freedom and not looking to dial up anything new for now.” Hell yeah. That became my new personal mission.
I designed a test for the value of my investment in hiring those consultants. I planned a six-week sabbatical for the remainder of the summer. If I got back and everything ran smoothly, the ROI would be confirmed: positive. I had absolutely no idea how quickly my life would turn upside down.
I started my sabbatical by hiring a therapist to replicate the success on myself that I’d had with coaches for my business. What started as a personal growth mission became a critical aid in navigating the unspeakable. Three weeks after my first therapy session, my mom had a seizure. We were shocked but hopeful for her recovery. She’s always been so strong, we told ourselves. I flew to South Africa to be with her in her coma.
Turns out I was really there for my dad and my brother and the rushed goodbye we thought would never come. My mom never woke up from her coma. The blood had invaded too much of her brain and oxygen wasn’t reaching her organs. And so passed the body of a beautiful soul who always made you, even if she’d just met you, made you feel like you belonged. She was growing old with great humor, getting to know her gregarious grandsons, and she was taken from us at only 71. My entire world came crashing down.
Who was I without her? Who was I now? Who was I?
A relentless curiosity for self-discovery I first indulged with Buddhist textbooks in the bedroom of my childhood home 25 years ago suddenly became urgent for me again. A priority amplified by grief. But that point took a while to reach. First, I turned to distraction. Enough to put off feeling the deepest feelings. My guys and I followed the same escape routine for the next few months. We took turns in initiating it. We tried to make the best of it as we could. We weren’t prepared for it. No one is.
We’re still coming to terms with life without her. I miss her every single day. I regret not telling her more about my life. I am eternally grateful though, for the once-in-a-lifetime four weeks we spent together having fun in the Cape Town sun. My mom is always with me now, reminding me to have fun and not take everything seriously all the time.
I turned 40, 19 days after she passed away. It was a party that would’ve made her proud. Our backyard was filled with friends from New York to Pennsylvania, Massachusetts to Georgia. Kids and adults roamed around a festival playground of jumping castles and swimming pools, BBQ food, outdoor bars, music from sunny afternoon ice-cream trucks, and summer-night-fires sitting in Adirondacks.
With one foot in front of the other, I began walking the path of self-discovery again in the year’s final quarter. I took an excellent course called Nervous System Mastery by Jonny Miller, which was a literal grounding in the importance of being here, now, as often as possible, present, and fully in your body. There is much work ahead to keep on this foot-tap rhythm of fully expressed creativity in the face of uncertain outcomes. I balance this now with a renewed connection to my son Leo and wife Jill and an expanding business with solid foundations and latent interest in the market ripe for capture to serve well. Journaling is helping. So is the therapy. We passed mid-6 figures on a single contract for the first time to close the year. Validation. Thank you. We’re clearly onto something, and my job now is nothing less than figuring out what “it” is 🙂
The Detailed Breakdown
The way I like to do this is to make lists of a few important things: what I’m proud of, what I’m grateful for, and what lessons I learned.
- My relationship with my family after weathering one of life’s wildest storms.
- The foundation we’re building in our internal team culture at Curious Lion.
- My team for how they operated the business during my sabbatical.
- A growing business.
- Buying a truck.
- My family.
- My mom, for 71 years of life, well-lived, for the unconditional love you showed me and your enduring reminder to stop taking life too seriously.
- My wife for being the only person I can be truly vulnerable with in my grief. I’m working on being more open with others, but it’s a testament to how well she knows me and how much I trust and love her.
- All the amazing humans in my life who responded with real-life love like a big-deal orchestra when news of my mom reached them.
- My son for being endlessly curious and relentlessly optimistic while pushing boundaries over like dominoes.
- My team for how they operated the business during my sabbatical.
- Myself, for stopping to listen.
- Set objectives that match your wildest dreams, but resist clinging to goals as if the outcome is what really matters.
- Do mundane, rote things if they are helpful for the business, but be careful of getting sucked into them for too long before building a system around them.
- I’m not great at expressing my emotions, especially vulnerable ones, in front of others. But e-motions are simply energy in motion, and letting go and feeling them more fully is probably the single most important thing we can do to become the full expression of who we want to be
- You can never tell people enough how much you love them. This is what grief is: Unexpressed Love. But you can never stop trying, either.
- Become an expert noticer. Body sensations, feelings, things external that “happen to” me. Slow down to notice more.
- There’s a moment we all reach where we must stick to one thing and go really deep on it, as if our life depended on it.
- Let creativity rip in your writing and go with the flow if you want to connect with anyone reading it and make sure you’re only ever writing for one person.
- Never underestimate the power of reflection. Schedule regular reviews to allow yourself to let rip in between them.
- The key to a sustainable life where everything feels right all the time lies in moderation and balance.
Redirection Before Reconnection
This time last year, I reflected on how I’d lost my own vision while pursuing someone else’s at On Deck, how that affected my relationships, how I sometimes resented spotty Zoom calls on sketchy connections with my mom and dad, how I lost touch with some of my friends, how I lost touch with what I cared about.
It will never cease to amaze me how much can change in a year.
First, the market gave me a tap on the cheek. We closed consecutive contracts bigger than any we’d signed before while building an internal culture that far exceeds that in value. It excites me to continue building Curious Lion with the people I get to do it with daily. This year I bonded with my son more than ever, learning his quirks and quips and how to play with him. I love him with all my being. This year I bonded with my dad more than ever, taking turns to play the part of guardian in our relationship for the first time since he raised me.
But 2022 shook me. Changed me. Forever. 2022 was a Redirection before Reconnecting and Finding Flow. 2022 was the viewfinder I needed to make out that faint shape of what I really want in life, just a little more clearly now. Now I see the pillars. The ground foundations that root everything worth growing in this world. I’ve got five of them.
I hope they spring me towards my dream for 2023: a journey of self-discovery, connection and creativity, attracting those doing good in the world and serving them to the best of our ability in a way they walk away feeling like they got more than we did. A journey that buys freedom through time. Freedom to do the things I love with those I love. It always comes back to love.
This year was a lot of work. I still have years of work ahead to process everything. I lost my mother. I lost myself. I began the journey of finding both of them again. I know that my mom raised a kind boy with a big heart he oftentimes hides and enough smarts to make something of himself. The rest is to be discovered.
Was this year worth it?
It was. It just wasn’t what I thought it would be. Funny how life works like that.