It is an understatement to say that the calendar year 2020 was a challenging one for most of us. The presence of COVID-19 has hung a pretty menacing cloud. For many, COVID’s spread has meant financial uncertainty, added stress in our home lives, and generated a constant hum of anxiety. For me, 2020 has been a year of significant change and intense emotions. I went through more than a number of life-changing events, including a neck surgery, graduating with my master’s degree in sport psychology, starting a full-time mental performance coaching business, finalizing a divorce, and moving not once, but twice. I could easily complain about the stress and strain that this year has brought me, but I am truly grateful for the learning and growth that has occurred during 2020.
My 2020 started out with me being in excruciating physical and emotional pain. I ruptured the C7-T1 in my spine. I was in the worst pain of my life and I had lost feeling and function in my left pinky and ring fingers. The pain was crippling. I would go to work with my high school basketball team every day standing up for two hour practices. The pain was so bad at times that I thought I was going to blackout. I’ve always had a very high pain tolerance, but this was on another level. I spent my evenings prior to my surgery in a chair icing my neck and drinking vodka to numb the pain.
At the same time, I was just about two months removed from the decision to end my marriage of over 12 years. I won’t get into the events that led up to this decision, but needless to say the physical pain was simply a kick in the balls on top of the inevitable result of divorce. I was sleeping in the guest bed in our family home, which I hated. I had little to no interaction with my soon-to-be-ex. I never regretted our decision to end the marriage. It was the best decision for me. However, the timing was really terrible. Luckily, I had the opportunity to remain in our family home with my children, who are my best friends.
At the end of January, I finally had my second cervical fusion surgery. The first surgery, which took place in 2017, was much more significant. Ironically, I was not in pain for the first surgery. I was so relieved to have this second surgery. I was confident that the pain would be removed immediately upon completion. Further, I knew exactly what to expect this time around. What I didn’t know is whether I had anyone who would help me through the recovery. I was literally unsure if my soon-to-be ex would be willing to pick me up from the hospital and do anything for me when I returned home. I wasn’t overly stressed about this because I knew I could take care of myself if absolutely necessary. However, it would have been much more difficult to recover on my own. To my ex-wife’s credit, she brought the kids to the hospital to see me and take me home when I was discharged. This meant a lot to me. I am grateful for her help.
In March, as we all know too well, COVID struck and we became relegated to our homes in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Around the same time, I officially graduated from my master’s degree program and put myself in a position to start-up my full-time mental performance coaching practice. But who the hell was going to invest in my services during a pandemic? This confluence of events forced me to become creative. I reached out to a local high school soccer coach offering my services for free for the remainder of the 2020 school year. I thought this might be a good way to build relationships and also be of service to my community. My decision has paid off. I acquired four coaching clients, who are all great people. They are smart, easy to talk to, and most importantly, desire to get better. It has been a blessing to know them and their very supportive families.
Despite this early success, dealing with the side effects of the COVID quarantine were very challenging. My ex-wife and I were unable to sell our family home as we had planned because of the negative impacts on the housing market. This made the logistics of our physical separation much more challenging. I became frustrated at times because so much was out of my control. I did not have the financial means to move out of the home. I was not making very much money at all. My ex-wife ultimately chose to refinance the home and remain there after our divorce. The refinance process dragged on, at least that’s how it felt. The tension in the home started to build. It was a seemingly terrible situation. However, as I have learned to do later in my life, I took control of what I could. I started to explore financial options that would allow me to exit what had become a very uncomfortable situation.
Finally in June, I was able to cobble together enough money to move out. This was a tremendous relief. I needed to start over. On June 1st, I moved to a temporary rental apartment for the summer. Having the conversation with my children about moving out was extremely difficult. We all knew it was coming, but broaching the subject was like ripping the band-aid off stitches way too early. The kids cried. We reassured them that they would be okay (which they are now). It was time for me to move on and start this new chapter in my life.
I’ll fast forward through my summer because it was kind of a blur, honestly. I was able to have some fun, but in retrospect I was kind of out of it. My motivation suffered as I was still recovering from moving out. I dedicated over 20 years of my working life to purchasing the home I just vacated. I left with a comfortable sum of money, but in some sense all the time and energy seemed to be wasted. Leaving was humbling. Knowing that my ex-wife got to keep the house made me angry on some level, but not enough to let it stop me from moving forward. During the summer, I also realized that I needed to be physically closer to my old home. I moved almost 30 minutes away from my ex-wife’s home. It felt right to have that buffer for the summer, but I quickly realized being so far away would have a negative impact on my children. Within 6 or 8 weeks, I started looking for a permanent home much closer to my ex-wife and kids.
On September 1st, I moved out of my temporary apartment and into my permanent home just five minutes away from my kids and their mother. I officially started my new life. The move allowed me to refocus on what is most important to me – my kids, my business, refocusing on growth and improvement. The physical transition has been pretty seamless. My children like my home and seem very comfortable with the new living arrangements. They go to the same school. They play on the same teams. They see all of their friends. Humbly, I will say that they love to be with their dad. However, the transition back to real life has remained challenging for me.
In the last few months, since I’ve moved to my new home, I have struggled with my routines. I miss the structure and accountability that I had in married life. I had clear expectations and responsibilities. I had less free time. I miss this structure. However, I also love the freedom that comes with living on my own. I have not been as disciplined about building my business as I might have preferred, but I’m also tending to my human needs. I am aware of my deficiencies at this point. I am moving toward change, albeit slowly and not in a straight line. My life has been a bit of two steps forward and one step back recently, but net net I’m still one step forward.
I started my own podcast just a couple of months ago. In that time, I have recorded 12 episodes and conducted 11 fascinating interviews. The podcast experience has been incredible. I am an avid podcast listener. I am uber-curious. I love to be creative. The podcast has allowed me the opportunity to express myself in a way that I never have before. More importantly, I’ve gotten to know some very special people much better in just an hour conversation. I have invested a lot of time, energy, and money into this podcast. I am not sure what type of return it will yield in terms of cultivating followership, new clients, or new revenue. However, I have certainly enjoyed the process enough already to consider it a success regardless of the outcomes.
In addition to creating a podcast, I have probably acquired five new coaching clients. My practice is growing steadily. I feel as though I am helping my clients and more importantly, I feel as though I demonstrate a genuine interest in helping them be better. Helping my clients is my goal every time I meet with them. Helping comes in many different forms. I must remind myself that I can’t do the work for my clients. I give them all of my attention while we are with each other and work in between sessions to help them to find their optimal results. Nevertheless, I can’t control what they do outside of our coaching sessions, just as I can’t control my other people or COVID.
I just spent my first holiday season in my new home. I had to decorate for Christmas, shop for presents, host dinners, and cope with an unusual amount of quiet time. It has been challenging at times, but I feel as though it has suited me. I have enjoyed the autonomy associated with running my own home. I have been motivated by the responsibility to care for others without a net. I was able to do things on my own terms. Perhaps most importantly, I got the chance to enjoy my quiet time. I am an introvert by nature, something many people who know me will dispute. However, I know this to be true. I have never loved the holidays. They have always been stressful for me. Holidays weren’t stressful because I had to buy gifts or set up decorations. Holidays were stressful for me because of all the people and expectations that come with “performing” during the holidays. This year I didn’t have to perform. I could just be myself. For this, I am very grateful.
So what will I take away from this very challenging year? There are three things:
- I can deal with a lot of shit. Surgery, divorce, pandemic, financial insolvency, all of it. Today, I am very proud of having the mental and emotional tools to cope in times of significant life stress. Humans can endure a lot more pain that we even realize. I give myself a lot of credit for making it out the other side of 2020 and will do my best to remember my pain tolerance when the shit hits the fan in the future.
- I am grateful for what I have. It would have been very easy for me to feel sorry for myself during 2020 and frankly, I did in some moments. However, I did not let self-pity take over. I reminded myself that I always had a choice to take control of my situation, to take action when I felt hopeless. I am grateful for the challenges that have presented themselves as opportunities in 2020.
- I trust my instincts. I have made many major decisions in 2020. I wouldn’t change a thing. I spent most of my life trying to be a mind-reader and please other people. I always second-guessed myself, but not anymore. I am at a place in my life where I have learned to make decisions with the information that I have at my disposal and trust that they will work out for the best even if I don’t get the results that I envisioned before making the decision. I am truly enjoying my journey for the first time in my life.