Every year, I write a review of the previous year, but I don’t always publish them. I’ve come to the conclusion I should. I’ve learned over time there is always someone who finds encouragement from what I share.
What I recall of Sunday school was that the more difficult something became, the more rewarding it was in the end.Ed Bloom, Big Fish
If that is the case, then 2023 will be remembered as a truly rewarding year. I don’t yet see it that way, but I know in time, I could.
Books I Read
- Reality Based Leadership
- My Life in Full (re-read)
- Impact Players
- Multipliers (re-read again)
- The 2-Hour Cocktail Party
- The University of Success (reading now, VERY slowly)
- Radical Candor (reading now)
- Unreasonable Hospitality
- The Great CEO Within
- Retention Point
- Never Lose a Customer Again
- Engineering Management for the Rest of Us
- Extreme Revenue Growth
- I try to re-read this on the plane to and from Meetups every year as a refresher. This time, the part about Distribution Networks caught my attention.
Books I bought but haven’t read yet
Podcasts I loved
- Lenny’s Podcast
- My First Million
- I think I’m way late to finding my way to this podcast given how many episodes they have already. In particular, I’ve enjoyed any episode with Dharmesh Shah from Hubspot, and of course, the episode with Syed Balkhi, Founder of Awesome Motive, where I work. Syed is a very private person, and I’m glad others got to see a side of him we get to see regularly.
- Misc: Engineering Managment: Interviews and Hiring with Dave Resin (Former Eng. Dir. at Google).
This year was truly a hazy blur. The first half of the year happened so fast, and the last half only that much faster.
In January, mom was cleared of lung cancer. We celebrated with this cake that read, “Cancer: 0, Mo: 4” to mark the FOURTH cancer she had beaten.
We’d find out soon enough we were wrong.
Ted Lasso came to live with us. ♥️
Growing up, I was never one to want “frivilous” things. My family didn’t really have the money for them, and, we moved so much that it wasn’t wise to get attached to physical things. I’ve carried that into adulthood with very little affection for “things.”
But when Build-A-Bear announced a Ted Lasso collab, I ordered him right away. He’s BY FAR my best purchase of 2023. He joins me in my office every day, quietly reminding me to both BELIEVE, and to be a goldfish.
Ted was joined later in the year by FunkoPop Roy Kent, too.
A few weeks later, I flew to Orlando to meet with the partners and other General Managers at Awesome Motive and its Growth Fund.
I’ve been with Awesome Motive for 8 years now. I was employee #9, starting in Technical Support. For the past three years, I’ve been General Manager of OptinMonster and TrustPulse (and a few others I can’t speak of publicly just yet). Even after all these years, I still love my job and the people I work with. I’m still learning new things and still being presented with amazing new opportunities.
Just a few days after I returned from the Meetup, I was back in the hospital with mom. She was having stomach pain, which ended being a UTI. She got treatment and was discharged three days later.
Just a few days after mom got out of the hospital, I left for Spring Break with Nila and her friend, Kyra, to northern California.
We’d planned to stay in Santa Cruz and split our time between SC, Monterey Bay, and San Fransisco. Unfortunately, flooding preventing us from visiting Monterey Bay at all, or going a whale watching trip we’d planned, but we filled our time in lovely Santa Cruz, then drove up Highway 1 on the last day to see a bit of San Fransisco.
Without question, northern California is now my Roman Empire. I must have read NatGeo books about it when I was a young child and burned it deep into my brain, because it was like stepping into a dream I’ve had a million times. I didn’t think anything could beat the San Diego area, but I was wrong. I’m now looking for an opportunity to go back as soon as I can, as often as I can.
Plus, these girls are just the best kids a mom could ask for and getting to spend a week with them was so much fun. Kyra isn’t ours, of course, but we love her like she is.
On the next to last day of the trip, I got a call from my brother, Luke, in Virginia. My dad had suffered a massive heart attack and was undergoing emergency quadruple bypass surgery. The doctors were hopeful, but cautious.
The flooding that prevented us from going to Monterey closed the highway back to SF and impacted flights for the following day, too. The soonest I could get us home ended up being the same day we’d already planned on leaving. So, I told Luke I’d see him and dad in two days.
We flew home two days later. I quickly unpacked and re-packed my bags, caught a few hours sleep then headed to the airport again for a flight to Norfolk, VA to see dad.
Unfortunately, Luke texted me just as I was taxing out on my connecting flight at LaGuardia to tell me dad had passed.
I cried quietly on the plane by myself, trying not to make a scene. I spent the rest of that day with Luke, then flew back home the next evening.
Again, just a few days after I returned from being with Luke, Mom was sick enough to warrant a visit to the ER. And again, with stomach pain… We were in the hospital for a full week before they confirmed that her cancer had returned and spread very aggressively throughout her lungs and liver. I couldn’t believe it – just a few weeks earlier all her tests were clear. It was crushing news, and I knew right away that it wouldn’t it be treatable.
The worst part was that she couldn’t remember anything by that point. The cancer was causing her brain to swell, and she couldn’t consistently remember that she had cancer, what cancer she had, that it wasn’t treatable, or that she was going to die.
So every day, frequently throughout the day, like the darkest version of Groundhog Day imaginable, I had to tell my mom that she was dying and watch her experience all the shock and sadness, over and over again. It was truly awful.
Mom passed just a few weeks later in April on a sunny afternoon here at our house with hospice guiding us through the experience. I’m still incredibly sad she’s gone, but the joy I feel that she’s no longer in pain far outweighs that sadness, even now.
I was 21 and she was 42 when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer, then experienced a recurrence two years later. I quit my job then to move to Texas and take care of her. By 45, she’d been diagnosed with a painful rare autoimmune disease that would require weekly IVIG treatments. By 60, she’d beaten yet another recurrence of her breast cancer. And just a few short years later, thought she’d beat lung cancer before it ultimately took her life.
A lifetime of sickness and pain, truly… and I’m glad for her sake that it’s over.
A week later, I left for the Awesome Motive company meetup in Mexico. This is a time for all of the Awesome Motive team members, from every product, to come together, learn from one another, and to simply enjoy each other’s company.
I love remote work and culture, but there is something magical about when our teams get together for this time each year.
After the meetup, I was home for a few weeks before heading back out to North Carolina for annual planning with Thomas, Justin (our Product Dev Team Manager) and Christine (our Technical PM).
During Annual Planning, we refresh the VTOs for each product for the coming year and set down ideas for three years. This was the first year I got to craft a VTO for a brand new product that’s in development (soon to be announced), which I enjoyed very much.
Fortunately, after that, things started to slow down. I felt like I’d spent the entire first half of the year going from one life changing event to an airport to another life changing event and back to the airport with barely a chance to breathe in between. I was glad to be home.
Bob and Nila, however, were just getting in to the swing of summer and were ready to go! They visited Detroit and Pittsburg several times to attend concerts and podcasts. In the process, Nila fell in love with the renaissance happening in Detroit and has set her eyes on living there after high school somehow.
Bob assures me it’s not the same Detroit I remember as a kid…
The rest of the fall went by so quickly.
Nila started 11th grade, and we spent most of our weekday evenings in August and September at her tennis matches.
We have just a little time with her left at home and still so much to teach her before she launches out on her own, but I’m so pleased with who she has become as she grows more into herself.
We didn’t travel far from home in September, but we did go on an expedition.
Ohio’s state fruit is the Paw Paw. It’s not a papaya, but it’s in the same family. Even though I was born in Ohio, and have lived in Ohio for 35 of my 44 years, until this September I’d never seen one!
They’re only ripe for about three weeks of the year, and they only grow in very specific places like ravines near water. Armed with maps from fallingfruit.org and posts from Reddits containing cryptic notes about where they could be found, we set out each weekend to find them in the wild.
We never did find ripe pawpaws in the wild, but we did find a woman selling some on Facebook. We finally gave up and forked over $20 for a basket of ripe fruit.
In case you want to know, they have the consistency of a thick pudding, with a flavor closer to that of a mango and coconut mushed together. I can’t say I cared for them, but they also weren’t bad.
Later in the month, Bob and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary at the Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s Planets. I don’t know how I could have gotten through the past few years without him. He deserves the world.
The following week I headed back to Florida for the fall Awesome Motive Growth Fund Meetup. I’m particularly thankful for the “iron sharpening iron” talks with Jared from WPForms, Ben from All in One SEO, and Chris, Awesome Motive’s CTO.
If you’re a software business owner and don’t have colleagues who can help you be the best version of you, you need to find your way to Awesome Motive.
I got pretty sick the week after returning home from the Meetup, but not with COVID, thankfully. I was in bed for almost a week with several days of a high fever and awful cough. Towards the start of October, I started feeling better, just in time for a little road trip.
In October, we took Nila on her her first official college visit to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston Salem, NC. We loved the school, but, Winston Salem doesn’t hold a candle to Detroit in Nila’s eyes, so I’m not sure UNCSA ever had a chance.
She seems to be learning towards art school, or psychology with an interest in how psychedelics can be used to treat neurological disorders and diseases.
The drive to NC is so lovely in the fall.
This next bit is mostly for my female readers :-). I’ve been working to let my natural grey color grow out for about two years. In November, I finished that long process. I’m sure many people will say it makes me look older than I am. I’m comfortable with that. I’m much happier not having to worry about my roots growing out or if my blonde highlights are turning brassy, and the color matches my skin tone better now, too. 10/10 would recommend.
I got sick again in mid December, just a few days before my 44th birthday. I was agan in bed for a week with a high fever and cough, again, not COVID. It seemed like EVERYONE in Ohio was sick in December with something that was not COVID or the flu! The worst part was that the cough hung around well into January.
That meant my birthday was kind of a non-starter this year. We’d planned a trip with our entire family to Castle Noelle in northern Ohio, which is no small feat considering everyone’s holiday schedules. Since we’d already purchased tickets, the family still went while I stayed home.
I missed a lot of our holiday traditions last year because Mom was in the middle of chemotherapy and too sick to go, so I stayed home with her. I was looking forward to a full season this year, and a bit bummed that being sick myself cut those plans short.
And with that, the 2023 season came to an end.
What I Learned
Here are some of my primary takeaways from 2023.
Being a caretaker is hard.
This is particularly true if you’re in the Sandwich Gen where you’re caring for a parent, and raising a child. With distance, it’s easier to see exactly how hard it was.
- I can sleep through the night now. Mom used to wake up every night at 2:15AM and shuffle around downstairs. I must have been hearing her and waking up, too, because now I’m sleeping through the night most nights.
- I have so much more time now. In 2022, we spent 3 entire months in the hospital and again in 2023. And that’s not counting the endless Dr. appointments…nearly two-a-week every week for the past few years. The amount of time and context switching it took to manage that was exhausting for me, and for mom.
- My blood pressure dropped nearly 30 points within a few months of her passing. I think that tells you everything you need to know about how truly challenging it is to care for someone with complex, terminal diseases.
If you’re in the middle of caring for a parent, hang in there. Remember that God promised when we honor our mother and father, our days will be long in the land that the Lord our God has given us. That investment in honoring them for the season they need you will be returned to you. It’s not selfish to think of it that way. It’s the only commandment with a promise for a reason.
Your health is everything.
After mom passed, I realized that *I* had so many doctor appointments I’d put off because I knew I wouldn’t have time to deal with the consequences. Within a month of her passing, I started to clear things up.
- I had a pre-cancerous mole removed from my stomach that had grown back after a previous biopsy. That’s what I get for being in the generation whose parents slathered us in baby oil and sat us on the beach all day to cook. ☀️ 👶 🧴 🍳 😩
- At the end of 2019, I discovered I have a genetic kidney disease called Polycystic Kidney Disease. It causes large cysts to grow uncontrollably on my kidneys and drives up my blood pressure dramatically. There’s no cure for PKD; treatment ultimately ends in dialysis or a kidney transplant. Fortunately, I’m at least a decade away from that, but I did re-engage with my kidney doctor about options for further reducing my blood pressure and improving my kidney health.
- I’ll soon be starting the only medicine available for PKD, Tolvaptan. It will make me very thirsty and then force my kidneys to flush more often than they can by themselves (read: it will make me go pee every half hour 🤣 ).
- We’re also investigating if some of the largest cysts can be drained. While not a permanent fix, it could relieve some constant pain caused by my enlarged kidneys pushing on other organs.
- The stress of the past few years, coupled with perimenopause, has caused me to gain so much weight. My doctors assure me losing it naturally can be done by reducing and managing stress, eating more regularly, walking, and lifting weights. It’s not uncommon for me to forget to eat breakfast, then get busy working and miss lunch. And while I actually enjoy walking and lifting both, I have to force myself to make time for it instead of doing other more urgent things. I now need to apply the same focus and dedication to myself that I’ve given to others over the years.
BONUS: If you’re also a business leader caring for your family, especially a women, I HIGHLY recommend reading My Life In Full by Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo. I first listened to it as an audiobook last year on the drive to our OptinMonster annual planning meetup. At one point, I had to pull over on the side of the road in the middle of the mountains in WV to wipe the tears. I read the book this year and would love for you to read it and share your thoughts.
Remote, distributed, flexible work is the future.
It’s the KEY to maintaining a career while also managing a sandwiched family. And even with that, you STILL have to have an extremely compassionate boss and team to make it work (which I do). I’m passionate about remote work for this reason, and am working on a side project to help foster remote work and culture (details coming very soon).
I need to re-establish IRL relationships.
I see a very common theme emerging amongst people my age these days: a need to rebuild in-person community.
Community is an easy thing to let slip away through the life changes that often happen in your late 30s and early 40s.
- Jobs change and people move to accommodate them…
- Kids change schools or graduate and so you move on from the naturally established family groups you’ve known for years…
- The introduction of caretaking eats up precious time and energy, and often restricts spontaneity.
- And just to spice it up a bit, a global pandemic could force you to stay home for years!
It’s easy to see how we can end up in a disconnected state. I know I certainly have.
I also know that during the period when that disconnectedness happened, I changed, and I’d like my relationships to nurture those changes.
This year, I’ll be taking Mel Robbin’s advice to put myself in a place where the people I want to be around are, and to “go first.” I might even take Nick’s advice and throw a 2-Hour Cocktail Party, or host a Second Degree Dinner.
Growth begins and ends with me.
The distance between number one and number two is always a constant. If you want to improve the organization, you have to improve yourself and the organization gets pulled up with you. That is a big lesson. I cannot just expect the organization to improve if I don’t improve myself and lift the organization, because that distance is a constant. (Indra Nooyi)
If I want to affect change, I must first change myself.
I frequently re-read my Enneagram results. As a 7, when I’m at my healthiest, I’m calm, quiet and focused. When I’m able to tune out the noise of what COULD be or MIGHT be to focus on what is happening right now and what my instincts say are the next best steps, I find myself in that calm, quiet place where I’m a more effective leader.
I have to give myself permission to focus on the NOW, and to trust that if I do, opportunities in the future will take care of themselves as the results of NOW compound.
To close, I’ll leave you with this song, “Seven.” It represents well my feelings about 2023, and my hopes for 2024. I’m ready for whatever comes next.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my review this year. I’d love to know if any of this resonates with you, and to hear about YOUR 2023!
Are you ready for what comes next?