2018 personal review: lessons, losses, and victories

Excerpted from an email to a friend, Oct 2018: Most of this year was exceptionally difficult. I was blindsided by a breakup, a project I spent years on failed, someone threatened to sue me over a deceptively complicated copyright issue (I was in the wrong and fixed it), and I kept running around in circles trying to navigate a career change.

A mentor told me that I was struggling because I was out of integrity; instead of being true to myself, I was acting like someone else. Though I knew he was right, I didn’t really want to accept it (I also wanted to punch him). So instead of taking time to come back to myself, I travelled, dated, took on more clients, and started raising capital for a new business that I would later stop pursuing

Eventually I decided to just be on my own. I scaled down at work, stopped running around the city, stopped dating, stopped traveling, and just sat with it all.

The first month was hard, but then I started feeling good. Really good. I felt like myself again. I hadn’t been this calm or happy since sometime in 2017. I’m going back to school in January to become a psychotherapist and meditation teacher. It’s weird to leave a successful career at the top of my game, but fuck it, it feels exactly right. For now, a lot of my time is spent managing the few clients I’ve kept and trying to learn ukulele.


When I think of 2018, I think of bitter, bitter medicine. My mistakes and failures seemed to collide with one another until they became so significant that I could no longer ignore them. I needed to stop everything and do the hard work of getting back to myself. Paul McCartney’s “I don’t know” got me through many tough days.

Though most of the year sucked, I suspect that I’ll look back at 2018 as a year that ended one chapter and began another.

As always, I’ll end our year with a personal review of what I learned, what went poorly, and what went well in 2018. You can find the reviews from 2016 here and from 2017 here.

The lessons

Lean on your friends like your life depends on it. For most of my life I was afraid to be needy. I feared that if I asked for help, comfort, or care, people would dismiss me as being more effort than I’m worth.

Today, I behave very differently. I try to reach out for help well before I break, and when I do break, I let other people nurse me back to health. I’ve started discussing my fears and insecurities with people I trust, along with the victories. Allowing myself to lean on loved ones is one of the few things that made this year manageable.

Next time you’re going through something intense, please reach out to the people you trust and love. Open up to them. The more you let good people in, the better your life will go. I know it can be terrifying at first. My hand shook the first time I called a friend to talk, but it was so worth it.

When nothing else works, slow way down.  It was April when my mentor told me I needed to get back in touch with myself, but I didn’t actually attempt to do that until July.  

From July through late October my life became more boring than it’s ever been. I didn’t step on a jet, go on a date, have a drink, take on a client, begin a new project, or do anything beyond what was necessary for months. I instead upped the amount of time I spent reading and meditating and tried to trust that I would find clarity within the clam.

At first it was extremely difficult. I was restless, distracted, anxious, and filled with doubt. After a while though, a switch seemed to flip, and I woke up happy and clear. I knew that I wanted to go back to grad school to become a psychotherapist. I realized that it was time to let go of the part of my life defined by travel, speaking, consulting, parties, etc. and start something new.

But the calm didn’t just provide clarity. It was also deeply restorative. My physical and mental health is better than it’s ever been. If you’ve been dealing with some form of persistent problem, and you haven’t meaningfully shifted into a lower gear, I urge you to do so. More here.

As far as business goes, if you do good work and keep good relationships, you won’t need to waste your time with marketing BS. At the end of 2017 I changed how I operate my consultancy. Instead of actively marketing myself at conferences, networking events, industry publications, or social media, I shifted to a referral-only strategy. In other words, my consultancy currently runs 100% by word of mouth.

Here’s a list of things I don’t have:

  • A website explaining my offerings or “unique selling position”
  • A PDF with prices and descriptions of the services I offer
  • Proposals
  • Secret strategies that no one knows about (I explain all of the strategies I use during the sales call and routinely teach them to my competitors)
  • Sales funnels or any other sort of elaborate scheme to get people to say yes

Here’s what I do have:

  • An extremely strong reputation in a niche industry
  • A willingness to respect the limits of my ability and explain them to clients before they sign on

Shifting to a referral-only model was a calculated move. I spent my first couple years marketing myself, doing the best work I could, and charging less than the competition. This helped me build a reputation as a great provider. In 2018, I was able to stop spending time on marketing and instead focus all of my efforts on doing great work.

Where I messed up

I made more stupid mistakes in 2018 than I have in ages. Instead of chronicling them all, I’ve chose two that will hopefully serve as a lesson to other people.

You know that digital course on professional speaking I released? It didn’t do well, and not for lack of effort or care. In a world where many creators boast about making an online course in a day, I spent over two years writing, testing, refining, and polishing my course. And to this day, I’m really proud of it. More importantly, the speakers who enrolled and followed along are getting gigs.  

I also spent eight months working on the marketing of the course. I shot multiple trailers, wrote and rewrote the sales copy, and spent weeks working to get the price point just right. Then, with a team of 13 people, brought the course to market, and… we fell short of projections by over 60%.

But it’s not the fact that the course didn’t generate a ton of revenue that makes it a mistake. It’s that my motivation was wrong. I don’t love digital marketing or digital products. Working on one – even one that I ended up very proud of – wasn’t the best way for me to spend my time or energy. At the risk of being overly idealistic, I’m going to do my best to work primarily on projects I fall in love with going forward.

I continuously tried to rush the future when I really should have chilled the F out. I have a tendency of crashing head first into the future and attempting to solve problems as quickly as I can. There are times when this works extremely well. But then, there are times when the “solution” just ends up creating additional problems.

I’ve learned that in some cases, the best solution is to sit with the problem. At the emotional and spiritual level, this allows us to feel whatever we’ve been avoiding, and in doing so, become equipped to deal with it. At the creative and rational level, moving slowly and giving ourselves space allow us to come up with better solutions.

What went well

One thing I’m working on is remembering that even in the most difficult life moments, there will come a time when I would trade everything to return to that moment. More than that, there are billions of people who would happily trade places with me. And if you’re reading this on any sort of a digital device – and if you have the time, energy, and education to do so – there’s a good chance that many would trade places with you too. Remembering this helps me understand just how fortunate I am. Here are the four things that stand out for going well in 2018.  

I ended up better off for all the difficulty. Life is much more about getting back up than getting knocked down. Though the first eight months of the year kicked my ass, the last four have been some of the best of my life. More than that, the hard times inspired me to close one chapter and begin anew. I can’t begin to tell you how wildly excited I am to become a therapist and open my own boutique practice upon graduation.

On a related note, I managed to find a stable sense of calm and happiness. I started meditating a decade ago and spent two years in therapy. As I mentioned earlier, I dedicated three months of 2018 to the essentials. Giving myself time to recover let all the spiritual and emotional work set in. While I still wrestle with darkness from time to time, I no longer lose myself within it. Now, my default mode is playful and energetic.  

I got a 50 pound personal record on my deadlift! Earlier this month, I pulled 355 pounds for the first time. This felt amazing because my previous pr was 305. I also added 20 pounds to my clean for a solid 185.

Years ago one of the coaches at my gym, said, “Look, when you lift heavy you have to walk up to the bar and know that you can lift it. Eliminate any trace of doubt from your mind and pick the damn bar up.”

While I’m not sure that the mind or body always works like that, I’ve noticed that I can lift more when I pause to minimize doubt and emphasize confidence. Is this just confirmation bias? Possibly, but either way, I’m pretty psyched about these PRs.

I got involved with local politics. When Trump was elected I promised myself (and my readers) that I would get involved with politics. So, I found a local candidate here in Denver, Alex Valdez, who I believed in and volunteered on his campaign (which he won! congrats again, Alex!). I learned a lot. If you too are concerned about the state of your country or community, I urge you to take action.

If you don’t work shape a better world, who will?

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