Momentum Podcast: 566
I'm Back, Notes on My Sabbatical
by Alex Charfen
You read the title right; I’m back. You’ve probably noticed that in the last five weeks, I haven’t recorded a single podcast episode. If you don’t follow me on social media or subscribe to our emails, you probably don’t know this, but just recently I took over three weeks off from work. If you’re wondering why here it is…I needed time and space to process after my mom, and good friend Sean Stephenson passed away. After a big realization, I stepped out of my business and took time off social media. In such a short few weeks, I learned a ton, and I’m finally ready to share my experience with you.
Man, it feels so good to be back, but I have to admit it’s been hard to pick up the mic and record. In this episode, I want to share with you why you haven’t heard from me directly and what’s been going on in my life. After the passing of my mom, I had two weeks of work scheduled that I had to push through. Shortly after, I noticed I was reacting and regressing in ways I haven’t in a long time. Listen in as I get real and vulnerable with you on my experience with grief, loss, and what my time off taught me.
I share this at the end of the episode, but I thought it was important to put in the show notes too…Every day we have an opportunity, and each day is a gift. Please never forget that.
Full Audio Transcript
This is The Momentum Podcast. In just over two years, I've recorded over 500 podcasts. This has been a discipline I've had every week for over 120 weeks. In the last five weeks, I haven't recorded one. I actually took over three weeks off from work, completely no social, no nothing. I had a sabbatical. I learned a ton. I can't wait to share this and what's been going on with you.
I'm Alex Charfen, and this is The Momentum Podcast, made for empire builders, game changers, trailblazers, shot takers, record breakers, world makers and creators of all kinds, those among us who can't turn it off and don't know why anyone would want to. We challenge complacency, destroy apathy, and we are obsessed with creating momentum so we can roll over bureaucracy and make our greatest contribution. Sure, we pay attention to their rules, but only so that we can bend them, break them, then rewrite them around our own will. We don't accept our destiny. We define it. We don't understand defeat because you only lose if you stop, and we don't know how.
While the rest of the world strives for average and clings desperately to the status quo, we are the minority, the few who are willing to hallucinate there could be a better future. Instead of just daydreaming of what could be, we endure the vulnerability and exposure it takes to make it real. We are the evolutionary hunters, clearly the most important people in the world because entrepreneurs are the only source of consistent, positive human evolution, and we always will be.
It feels so good to be back recording this podcast, but honestly, it's been hard to pick up the microphone and record. I just want to share with you why you haven't heard from me directly, why I haven't been here for weeks. A few weeks ago, both my mom and a really close friend of mine, Sean Stephenson, passed away in the same week, and I have not dealt with a lot of loss in my life. It was overwhelming and disorienting in a way that I never have experienced before. When my mom passed away, I had two weeks of work scheduled that I had to keep just pushing through and go get it done. Before her memorial, in between her passing away and her memorial, I had to teach one of our courses here in Austin. I had about a hundred people here and then I had to go out to an event for Nick Nanton in LA.
During that second week of being at Nick's event, I noticed two things about myself. I noticed, one, I was reacting in a way that I hadn't in a long time and overreacting and I was triggered and reactive a lot of the time. I also noticed I was regressing. I was having thought patterns that I hadn't had since I was in my 20s. In fact, I'll just get really real and somewhat vulnerable. On the second day of Nick's event, I knew something was going on because I was speaking but I was agitated. I didn't really want to be there. I felt just reactive the whole day, almost like I was having an allergic reaction to life, but I really wasn't. There was just this baseline reactivity and just hyper triggered feeling.
I walked down the hallway, and somebody bumped into me, and I turned around like we were going to get into confrontation in the middle of an event in the middle of a hallway. We were both wearing exhibitor attendee badges, and it was only a split second and the feeling passed, but I had to check myself. Hey, wait a second, say wait a second. I just had a regressive thought process that I haven't had since I was in my late teens and early 20s. Something seriously going wrong here and something seriously needs attention.
I talked to Katie. I talked to my team. At the end of that event with Nick, I completely checked out of my business 100%. I had very little contact with my team, a few text messages here and there. I wasn't in any planning meetings. I took all social media off of my phone and I just detoxed. I did nothing. I got up. I did my morning routine most mornings. I would go on walks. I spent a lot of time with myself. I spent a lot of time with my kids, but I wanted to get the space so I could process this because I have not had a lot of loss in my life. Sean was incredibly important to me, and my mom was probably the most important person in the world to me. I love my father. He's still alive and he's right there with her, but I was much closer with my mom growing up than I was with my dad. I remember a lot more memories of spending time with her. I worked with my dad, but I spent a lot of time with my mom.
In the past three or four weeks that I haven't been working, what I've started to realize is just how many of the characteristics I have today of who I am, how much of who I am today is made up of the time I spent with my mom and who she was. I grew up in a women's support group allegedly. It's a women's breastfeeding support group. As a kid, when we moved to the states, I was five or six years old, every week, I was in multiple women support group meetings. Being in those rooms, that was the education of my childhood.
I remember watching women get together and support each other and answer questions for each other and create this community and battle the world outside of the room because in the '70s, breastfeeding was not an accepted practice. In fact, a lot of people thought it was disgusting. It was criticized. People didn't want it in public. My mom was an absolute revolutionary and went out and campaigned for women to be able to breastfeed and did whatever she had to do to make sure that women could do what they needed to do that was best for their kids. Today, I have a coaching program where we work with people that all of them are over six figures, most are over seven, and over half of the people in our group are women. I am incredibly proud of that. When I was a kid, I remember people saying things like women are the fairer sex and criticism of women. I remember locker room talk where guys would say things about women, and it would always shock me and then surprise me. I would think if only they knew, if only they knew how women were behind closed doors when they talked to each other. If only they knew the strength and the courage it took to do something like be a stay at home mom and breastfeed and get criticized by the people around you. I heard even some women that were criticized by their husbands, but they did what they felt was best. That experience as a child shaped so much of my belief systems and who I am as an adult and how I look at the world as an adult.
I'm so grateful that my mom was my mom. I think in so many ways, she intuitively and miraculously saved my life. As a kid, I had trouble ... I didn't have trouble with the alphabet, but I was learning really early. Before I was supposed to be learning the alphabet, I started looking at cards with letters. I don't know how my mom knew to do this, but she had me write letters in a salt tray. She filled up a cookie sheet with salt, and I would write in the salt. Today that's used as a treatment for dyslexia. While I was diagnosed as dyslexic in my adult life, I never knew I was as a kid, but my mom taught me the alphabet using tools to help dyslexic kids. It was amazing how intuitive she was and how she was able to do things like that throughout my entire childhood.
I miss her like crazy. In fact, anybody who knows me knows I have a passion for cars. I love buying cars and customizing them and making them exactly how I want. After my mom passed away, I had the realization that's from her. My dad is not really a car guy. He doesn't really care. He drives utilitarian cars. When I was a kid, my mom would talk about cars and driving and the freedom and how she loved to get in a car and drive at night and look out the moon roof over a car and see the stars and be free and feel the feeling of being able to accelerate. She loved driving fast cars. She had four kids, but she would always drive sports cars. So much of that is the exact same for me. I look out at my garages. I have three sports coupes that I choose to drive on any given day, and that comes from that passion, that need to have that physiological feeling of acceleration is so much of what my mom shared with me as a kid.
It's been an incredible time period. It's been so difficult and so overwhelming. I will not pretend to even understand the slightest thing about grief because this is all new to me. In moments in between the overwhelming waves of grief, there has been these moments of realization and these moments of connection and these moments of memory that have been an incredible gift. While I'm certainly not going to say that this has been a positive overall for me or I've learned all the lessons yet, even in this tragic time in such a difficult time for me, I have been able to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel and like my mom reinforced my entire life. No matter what happens to you, it happens for a reason and there's a gift in everything.
I remember in 2007 when Katie and I were going bankrupt. That theory of my mom's, that belief system she instilled in us was so tested. Today when I look back at 2007 and losing all of our money and having to figure out how to buy groceries and having our entire financial lives reset and having to declare publicly and legally we were complete failures, today I know that is one of the most important, most formative things that ever happened to me and Katie as a couple to our family, to our ability to make money, to our ability to live financially, independently. It changed how we treated everything.
In the timeframe of the bankruptcy, I would have never believed it was a gift, so I'm choosing to leave open the possibility that even in this tragedy, there are gifts and there will continue to be. In no way do I want anyone listening to this to think that I'm over it or I'm okay or I'm not grieving anymore. I don't know how long this process takes, but I want to be very transparent and real with anybody who's gone through it or will go through it. It is the most difficult thing I've ever been through.
A few weeks ago as I was going through this and when I decided to unplug, I decided that I was going to make some intentional changes. The first one was for the three weeks I am plugged, no more social media. I just want to share some of what happened in the first few days after I got off social media. On the first day, I realized I went to my phone over 20 times looking for the apps even though normally I wouldn't have gone that many times, but here's what happened. When I would go and the apps weren't there, I wasn't getting that dopamine, that serotonin hit, that purposeful chemical reaction that social media companies have psychological engineers. They have engineers working on their programs, social engineers working on their programs, psychologists working on their programs to make them infinitely more addictive, to make their apps more addictive.
I realized almost immediately that I was in a negative spiral with social media. After a few days when I finally got off of it, I realized, one, that it was a chemical addiction, and it is a chemical addiction that I don't think any of us have full control over or full understanding of.
Second, so much what I was doing in my life revolved around social media that when I gave it up, I realized I didn't have this thought process anymore. What am I going to put on Facebook? What am I going to put on Instagram? What am I going to do on social?
Here's the third thing. This is the biggest realization. My anxiety levels are at probably a five to 10-year low right now. Here's what's so weird. I just lost my mom, a close friend. There's been a ton of changes in my life. My anxiety levels are probably at a ... I can't remember when they were this low. If I think back to when I picked up social media, here's what happens to all of us. We get caught in this very short term, very reactive, very reflexive dopamine loop where we pick up the phone, look for a red dot, and we get that dopamine loop, and that is controlling so much of what we do today.
I've decided I'm not going back. I'm not putting social back on my phones. I'm going to change my habits around it. I allow myself very little time in the morning to check in and just see what's going on and make sure that I get back to anybody who needs to, but no more obsession around social media.
Here's what I realized by going through this, and I think this can help you or anybody else who's going through a major transition. Here's what I know about us as entrepreneurs. We are in a constant state of transition, always transitioning from one thing to the other. Those transitions in our lives create a definitive before and after. For me, my mom passing away created a before and after. She was here before and after I had my mom, and I knew that this period was going to create a transition, but rather than just ride the transition, rather than just accept what came out of the transition, this time I decided to make it completely and totally deliberate and to define what my before and after would be. I'll share a few of them with you.
Before, I set up everything so I could work harder and longer to get a result. After, my new perspective, the way that I'm going to approach things from now on is I'm going to set up everything to get the maximum result with minimum work for me because then I can make a much bigger impact if I continue to think that way.
Before all of this happened, I was setting up my life so I could have as much time for my business. After, I want to see how little time I can have in the business and how much time I can have to explore, to be creative, to do the next thing so that we can grow our company and our team can get the results we all want.
Before, I was obsessively watching everything in our business and if I'm honest, I was occasionally making strategic changes from the sidelines. I'm not going to do that anymore. I got some time away from the business. The after is going to be I'm now going to be appropriate looking at numbers and tools so I can lead growth rather than trying to watch everything from the sidelines and make changes. I think every CEO does this.
Here's a big one. Before this transition, social media was almost completely and totally driven by me. I was on social every day. I was making it happen. We're transitioning as a team right now to our social media is going to be driven by processes and a team, and I'll still be involved, but we'll get similar exposure without me having to be obsessed with it every day because here's what I realized. One of the biggest lessons going through this transition, this loss, this overwhelming period of my life, is that there is no second chances and life is fleeting. Life is short.
I had no anticipation that this would happen with my mom or with Sean. I remember just a few weeks ago talking to Sean and talking about a new brand he and Mindie had and the new podcast they were releasing and how he had just had a record year for his first year in his life. He had a massive income year and had tons of things going on and all these new projects, and then he fell out of his wheelchair, hit his head and he's gone.
My mom, we were planning to have my mom and dad come out here and spend time with us at our house and spend time with the kids, and there are things I wanted to ask her and it was conversations I planned on having. There was things that we wanted to do together, and now it's gone. It's over.
It's brought this realization to me that every day we have an opportunity and every day is such a gift. For anyone listening, if you have unresolved things to say with somebody that you love, somebody from your family, if you are thinking of someone right now as I say this, if a name or a face popped into your head, reach out to them today. Connect with them. Listen to their voice. I wish I could call my mom or Sean and do exactly that. Life is an absolute gift. Thank you for sharing it with me. Thank you for being a listener of The Momentum Podcast. Here's to your momentum.