A Year of Taylor Swift, Divorces, Job Search, Losing To Screens, and Lifting Lighter Weights.
In 2023, I stumbled upon a discovery that threw my fitness routine into chaos. For over a decade, I had followed a strict workout regimen, but a three-week hiatus this year taught me more about my body than all those years of exercise. I had forgotten what a well-rested body felt like–I felt more energetic than ever before. The absence of pain and tension surprised me greatly. To be honest, I’m not entirely convinced that my body is supposed to feel this way. I probably should rest more and not work as hard. Since then, I’ve scaled things down a notch or two. Do I feel better overall? I’m not sure. On one hand, I don’t feel as stiff and painful as I used to. On the other hand, I’m still wrestling with the guilt that comes from not feeling the pain and tiredness.
My daughter’s summer class at Berklee was another memorable part of the year. She thrived and tried things we never thought she would. She said the anonymity of being unknown and her teachers’ encouragement convinced her to “just do it.”
I am also very grateful for the time and attention I’ve been fortunate enough to invest in her upbringing. My midlife semi-sabbatical afforded me the time and headspace to delve into every aspect of our kids’ lives. We were able to go to Boston with her and be alongside her during the summer camp. These moments with them have been priceless.
These priceless moments with my family have really made me think about the problems associated with excessive screen time. A number of longitudinal studies released in 2023 have shown how the combination of social media and mobile phones can be harmful. I know it might sound like I’m becoming a Luddite, but every time I read one of these findings, it becomes increasingly difficult to believe in the myth of balancing screen time, especially for our kids. I am becoming more convinced that the odds of us winning the battle between screens and mental health are much lower than we think.
The year wasn’t without its somber moments, however. There were a few deaths in my social circle. Regular conversations with a friend mourning his wife’s passing gave me a firsthand look at the disorienting nature of loss. Divorces and tarnished marriages became more common. Likewise, taking my mom to the hospital more frequently brought me face-to-face with the stark realities of aging. These experiences with death and deterioration were tough, filling me with a mix of fear, guilt, and regret as I confronted the inevitability of time and decay.
On the work front, it has been wonderful. It’s been four years since I went solo as a leadership coach. I now have quite a few clients with whom I’ve spent a long time. This year, several of them successfully transitioned to better jobs. Some of my founder clients emerged from troughs and began their redemption journeys. Perhaps the most rewarding part of this journey has been the opportunity to develop relationships with them that go beyond just work. We’ve talked about marriages, parenthood, and the brightest and darkest thoughts and moments in between.
Another significant experience in my professional life was exploring opportunities to return to the workplace. These interviews and offers challenged me to think through my priorities. They forced me to confront how I wanted to spend my time. I realized I was still more confused than I preferred. In the end, I gained more clarity on what’s important to me. Choosing isn’t easy, but I’m glad I had these “crossroads” to stress test my values and dreams. I’m glad I had to confront what I thought I wanted, the unfulfilled accolades I yearned for, what I thought the world wanted me to do, and what I thought I was supposed to do.
The world of art and entertainment also left an impact on me this year. My daughter’s fascination with Taylor Swift opened my eyes to the singer’s incredible journey and wide-reaching influence. (And yes, I’m proud to have become a Swiftie!) Swift and my daughter have taught me a lot about their worlds.
Geeking out on the works of filmmakers like Makoto Shinkai and contrasting that with Hayao Miyazaki’s latest movie, I gained an appreciation for the ever-changing cycles of trends and art. They also gave me a deeper appreciation of these directors’ attempts to express themselves. In the case of Miyazaki, even after everything he has created, even at the age of almost 90, he is still trying to articulate his deepest struggles. It’s both comforting and concerning at the same time. After all he has created and accomplished, he’s still trying to answer the question, both to us the audience and to himself, “How do you live?”
Finally, the remake of “Slam Dunk” wrapped everything up for me neatly, at least for now. Life is a constant back and forth between the past and the future. Every moment adds to this dialogue. All these artists, from Swift to Shinkai to Takehiko Inoue, are all trying in their own ways to narrate life’s moments.
As I try to narrate my own 2023, as I try to make sense of the present that is fast becoming the past, in the midst of this dialogue sits nostalgia and anxiety. I know. I know. I need to learn to tame my melancholic tendencies. Yet, I also recognize that this yearning and wonderment about “what ifs” is something I will continue to grapple with.
And so, nostalgia, for me, at least at this moment, serves as a mechanism to make sense of the past in order to move forward. It is my way of wrapping up experiences, putting them in their right places, and using whatever insights I can gather from them to prepare for the future. Nostalgia isn’t just dwelling on the past. It’s like a signal that we’re about to really understand something, something we’ve experienced but didn’t fully grasp back then. It’s not about wanting to go back in time; it’s realizing that those experiences meant more than we thought.
Nostalgia tells me that my old way of seeing the past is about to change. It’s not about being stuck in what was, but understanding it in a new way and moving forward. It is a process that helps me turn all experiences into evidence, in order to convince myself that whatever the future unfolds, will be okay.