Year in Review: 2023

A wider view of a vast valley with towering peaks, emphasizing the scale relative to the explorer who is equipped with a hat and goggles, with a muse-like figure guiding him through the fog.
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I felt it in my face first. Panic is an oddly warm sensation on the surface, but underneath, it’s cold. It started slowly when I first read the email in early September. It was from our biggest client— pausing all remaining work for the year with us. New leadership, uncertainty, indecision. 2023 was a year of that.

Thanks to a solid client base, we were doing fine, but we had signed no new business. We weren’t growing like before, but who was in 2023? The email, however, was the first sign that the solid base could crack— it was frightening.

I rushed to tell Jill. We’d discovered in June she was pregnant with our second. We couldn’t believe our luck and can’t wait to meet our baby girl. But after the news from our client, her pending arrival added to our panic.

What happened next surprised me.

Something shifted. A year of inertia and fog lifted. I saw what I needed to do. To be more accurate, I saw that I needed to do. What I needed to do wasn’t crystal clear yet, but I felt a primal urge for motion. For action. That’s when things started to change around me.

The panic blasted through my inertia like adrenaline, but my year didn’t start like that. Like the thick fog blanketing New Jersey in late December, the way through wasn’t clear for most of the year.

Into the Mist of Uncertainty: Accepting Loss

The fog was thickest twice this year— early Spring and the Summer— but I was only aware of it the second time.

The image captures the explorer, consistent in appearance and theme, now lost and looking around in the mist of a valley.
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Stumbling out of 2022 after losing my Mother, I retreated within. My relationship with alcohol was one of those forbidden ones where you keep it clean during the week, staying away from each other through sheer discipline, only to let it rip on the weekends until the rails come off. Mondays were slow and stodgy. I was searching but completely unable to grasp what I was searching for.

But I did a lot of ‘work’ on myself this year— therapy, courses, journaling, meditating, weightlifting. This helped me confront my loss, passing through the stages of grief to accept that my Mom is no longer here. While our family dynamic has changed forever, our family and life continue stronger because of her presence while she was here.

Reaching this point of acceptance took much longer than I expected, but in a recurring theme of this review, growth waited on the other side. In early Summer, we found out our family was growing— we happily await a baby girl in Feb 2024, and we couldn’t be more grateful.

More than ever now, I appreciate how life is a series of peaks and valleys. The peaks are few and far between. Most of life happens in the spaces between the peaks and valleys. Climbing. Descending. Moving forward, forever in motion.

Sound the Alarm: Awakening to Change

If 2021 was the year I discovered my ‘personal brand,’ this year, for the first time, I began to understand Curious Lion’s brand and how it related to mine. I worked more on my business than in my business this year, but I couldn’t understand why I felt so confused about our positioning and value prop. The fog had me.

I had an intuitive understanding that Curious Lion needed to evolve to survive. A sharper positioning in a tighter niche felt like the right direction. However, I embarked on a creative process without understanding how creativity worked and, crucially, without thought partners to help me shape the vision. Just like I had done emotionally, I retreated within to figure out my business strategy, with almost dire consequences.

The image depicts the explorer receiving a wake-up call in the form of a signal or alarm, ready to respond amidst the fog and terrain of the mysterious valley.
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The wake-up call came in September. As the summer ended, people began to make moves in an otherwise stagnant year of indecision, and the first moves were to cut. One of our biggest clients paused the remaining work on our contract. I was devastated. Jill was scared— our relationship tested like never before. I had the most difficult conversations I’ve ever had with my team. I had to adapt or risk not surviving.

But I had just lived through one of life’s biggest traumas. I knew that life went on. You emerge, against all odds, from the depths of the deepest valleys if you just put one foot in front of the other and tell the truth. The truth means being honest with yourself and saying what you mean. The truth is how you move forward and affect change.

So, I sprang into action. I still can’t explain this very well, but it was like a switch went off for me. I stopped worrying about the perfect thing to do and instead did something. I told my team what was happening (you can read about that here).

I reached out for help, continued to take fearless action, and trusted myself to handle the consequences. My trust grew stronger the more I told the truth. This is a key point: always tell the truth, no matter how painful. Beauty follows truth.

As if activated, I began to see how the story we tell ourselves about what happened is more important than what happened. I started to see the power of stories everywhere— the stories I tell myself have the power to be my limiting beliefs; the stories I believe about how the world works were created by human beings, no different to me or you.

And that’s when I finally realized it: I had the power to tell my own stories.

The Journey Ahead: Embracing Change

Things fell into place in the final quarter. Daily habits I had to track so I’d remember to do them became second nature— waking up at 5 am, lifting weights, meditating, drinking less.

I conquered a big fear by speaking in front of two audiences of 100+ people. I saw traction with an idea called Adaptive Intelligence (after this year, I also know what traction doesn’t look like). I became closer to my son than ever before, prioritizing time with him over virtually everything else.

I care less about what others think, but I’m more interested in what I can learn from them. I’m not afraid to ask for help, and I’ve come to appreciate how much others have helped me this year. Quiet time with my family grounds me and helps me show up at my best in other areas of life. I have my zone of genius, and that differs from Curious Lion’s.

I also have an aim now. I always thought I had an aim, but I realize now I used to set goals like trophies to be won and displayed on an infinite shelf as if achieving them meant the work was done.

But now I realize this:

The work is never done. It’s always evolving. It’s always changing. Now, I aim for a peak so far away I can barely see it. But I don’t need to see it clearly. I simply need to live each day fully aligned with that aim, guided by my values and truth, and learn to let go and wait. The most adapted always win through.

The image shows the explorer from behind, looking down a long path that stretches into the horizon through the misty valley.
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The wisest person could ask no more of Fate

Than to be simple, modest, brave, and true

Safe from the Many, honored by the Few

To count as naught in World, or Church, or State

But, inwardly, in secret, to be great

To feel mysterious Nature ever new

To touch, if not to grasp, its endless clue,

And learn by each discovery how to wait

— James Russell Lowell

Looking back, I give myself a lot of grace— you were hurting, you did your best, you’ve always done your best. You’re enough. You always were.

Looking ahead, I aim to build a generational leadership development company. To realize that dream, I’ve got some short-term goals (one of them is to become a great storyteller this year) and a good sense of who I need around me.

A wider view of a vast valley with towering peaks, emphasizing the scale relative to the explorer who is equipped with a hat and goggles, with a muse-like figure guiding him through the fog.
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If you’ve read this far, thank you. You followed your curiosity, and you were curious about me. I appreciate you. May our paths cross in 2024. Until then, I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite lists from 2023 in case they’re useful to you.

Fun realizations about how the world works

  1. Life consists of peaks of happiness and valleys of suffering, and you spend very little time on the peaks.
  2. The key to a good life is to accept that happiness is fleeting and learn to bear your suffering by taking responsibility for it.
  3. Taking responsibility for your suffering means acting to change the only thing you can control— you.
  4. To change yourself, you need a purpose.
  5. Following a purpose and taking responsibility leads to more happiness, but the dots only connect when looking back.
  6. Trust that your purpose, values, and truth will keep you moving forward in the right direction.
  7. We don’t see reality for what it is— we see it as we are and ascribe meaning to it through stories.
  8. Stories matter. Language matters. Language, stories… communication— this is what changes the world around you.
  9. If you follow your purpose, values, and truth, you’re free to create your own stories, knowing that what you create never has to reflect what “is.” All it ever has to reflect, thank God, is you.
  10. Existence is relative – we are because of those around us. To have any meaningful existence, it must be shared. Choose wisely who you share it with.
  11. The most adapted wins through.

Fun realizations about how to be in the world

  1. Resist making big decisions in a valley— the peak will come.
  2. Trust your gut, but consider as many perspectives on the problem as possible before deciding.
  3. Take decisive action and trust that you will see obstacles as the way.
  4. Do hard things, even and especially when you think you can’t, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  5. To change the world, first, change yourself.
  6. To love others, first, love yourself.
  7. To learn how to love and be loved, let go of judging and being judged.
  8. Suspend judgment by realizing everything is a work in progress rather than the finished article— nothing is ever “done.” It’s always changing, always evolving.
  9. Have a 10X aim, but live the day fully.
  10. Commit and focus in one direction.
  11. Have the courage to tell your truth in spite of what others may think.
  12. You rarely need to rush – very few things you must do can’t be done later.
  13. Active rest after sprinting or stress.

Fun realizations about relationships

  1. Surround yourself with people who make you want to rise higher.
  2. Relationships are hard work— it starts with listening and then stepping fully into the world of another with one foot so you also remain rooted in yours.
  3. Best intentions always fail; create a mechanism that makes it ridiculously easy to keep in touch with people.

Fun realizations about entrepreneurship

  1. If you want a business to be useful, you must treat it as a financial asset. If you want a business to use you, treat it as an extension of your identity.
  2. To be an effective leader, externalize your thinking and decision-making for people you trust to scrutinize and share different perspectives.
  3. Our positioning underwent a year-long evolution and final shift to click into place this year:
    1. Curious Lion’s Positioning Evolution
      1. Sales Enablement as a Service → Sales Team Performance → Manager Training → Adaptive Intelligence → Adaptive Intelligence + Learning Culture → Transformational Leadership Development
    2. Curious Lion’s Positioning Shift
      1. From → Learning Production Company with a POV on Leadership
      2. To → Leadership Development Company with an Unfair Advantage: we’re also a Learning Production Company.

Prior annual reviews

  • 2022 – the year my Mom died and my business grew
  • 2021 – the year I discovered my brand and burnout
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