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Written by Jason Montoya on . Posted in My Life.

2023 Reflections — Leveling Up and System Improvements For Embracing Challenges & Maximizing Opportunities

It’s the time of year when I reflect on the year, before entering my annual blogging break. This annual reflection point blog post is my last post for 2022. I'll take a break from posting new content for at least a month. Visit the blog archives or past podcast episodes to hold you over during my upcoming Christmas break.

Wow. It seems like only moments ago I was publishing my 2022 annual reflection point. This year has flown by for me.

If you’ve not been following along here for the last few years, let me bring you along about why I do these annual reflection points.

One of the best ways to continue leveling up is by reflecting on the past. By reviewing and learning from our past, we continue growing. This is the driving force.

While you don’t have to do so publicly, as I do, I’d recommend you at least do it privately. If you’ve not done compiled your entire life story yet, consider writing down your full history too!

As I think about this year, I’m reminded of a past Noodlehead Marketing. The gist of that story is that Noodlehead Marketing’s VP of Operations was leaving for South Africa for a month and that meant all the things she would normally do would fall on me, as the owner, and the team. I imagined a storm coming and we needed to pile up the sandbags for the ocean surge to come.

The surge of her absence did not rise above the level of our preparation (the sandbags) and things went smoothly. There was no crisis and things went along without any issues.

In several ways, 2023 seems like a sandbag-stacking type of year.

What’s interesting about this approach is that it’s a strategically shrewd move for two reasons.

First, it helps prevent an impending crisis and allows us to endure what comes our way. And second, it provides us with the foundation to take advantage of the opportunities. If we’re trained and ready to execute, when the opportunity arises, we can maximize the headwinds toward the goal.

"A crisis reveals character because in the moments of crisis we do what we have been practicing. We display what we have habituated. We demonstrate what or who we live in obedience to...” - Diane Langberg, Suffering and the Heart of God

What we’ve been feeding ourselves is what will permeate and come out of us when emotions and conflict arise. If we’re feeding ourselves lies, we’ll embrace and propagate lies. If we are feeding ourselves the truth, we’ll become more aligned with and learn how to distinguish it from falsity. And ultimately, we’ll come to know more intimately, the source of truth.


This reflection point is jam-packed so here’s an outline so you can skip around to the parts that would be most insightful and inspirational for you.

From the Garden to the Cross

I’ve been writing my book for at least three years now! I estimate that I’m 75% of the way done with it as I slowly work through the toughest part of the process; integrating my notes and quotes.

I've got around 250 of these notes and quotes remaining. I’ve probably worked through 800 or more of them so far. The manuscript is currently 110k words. Once I’m done integrating, I’ll be 80% finished. Then, I need to work through the manuscript to get it in a good draft reading flow while also filling any gaps. The editing process is my favorite part of the journey so I think that will go much faster than this stuck layer I've been trudging through slowly.

In working on the back cover text with a friend, he encouraged me to remember that I’ve been on a journey that has taken me to conclusions. But most people have not been on that journey so to tell them what I found at the end of the journey is difficult for them to understand and accept, so I must bring them along.

I’m now using the back of the book (see above) to share the catalyzing moments that drove me to write the book and to invite them to join me on the same journey I trekked.

That's been helpful advice, not just for the book, but for life and work as a whole. Sharing our stories is a powerful way to communicate the lessons we’ve learned and allows people to learn through our experiences to accelerate theirs. It’s another reminder of my mission, to share life, and the concluding idea in the Island Story.

The following quote from Mark Vernon, in his article about Denying Darkness, is something I resonate with deeply.

“…the person who can return hatred with love is in the vanguard of changing the world. Again, this happens not because love seeks to impose its view on others. Rather, it seeks the transformation of all by holding out for a different dynamic to break in. When that happens, this-worldly power structures are suspended.” - Mark Vernon, Defying Darkness: Love’s Radical Rebellion Against Global Discord

rioters and fire, at night, outdoors

Talking to the Angry Mob On The Street

“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.” Hannah Arendt, the Origins of Totalitarianism

I've been writing multiple essays about society.

In my most recent article, I reflect on the aftermath of the Capitol riot on January 6th, 2021, expressing concern about the need for responsible leadership within the Republican party (of which I'm registered).

I explore my commitment to engage with fellow citizens and discuss the value of writing as a tool for understanding complex issues. I emphasize the importance of "model thinking" and cognitive empathy in anticipating and addressing societal challenges.

I also share my regrets for not speaking up before the Capitol insurrection and encourage non-crazies to engage in open dialogue to navigate the complexities of the political landscape in the coming months.

This is a driver of the many essays that I've been publishing. And writing them helps give me clarity of the message and themes that matter most. Ideally, they also help affect change positively.

Additional Societal Essays I've Written To Date

Here are the other essays I've written this year, in the past several months exploring what’s wrong with society, how Republicans have alienated me, what’s unfolding, and how we move forward.

Because I don’t earn an income from writing, I have to pace what I write and publish, but if you believe in the mission of the work I’m doing, I’d be able to allocate more time if you consider supporting me. 

path of the freelancer

Freelancing Work

An Update To My Freelancing Mindset

I’ve been freelancing since 2014, but in some ways, I’m still seeing some things in pre-freelancing era ways. I’ve had to update my mental model to the reality I'm now living inside.

I’m continually surprised by the amount of freelancing work I steadily get. And earlier this year, I realized something. In the early years of Noodlehead, there was a wild swing of feast and famine. It was a roller coaster. Path of the Freelancer is a blueprint of the systems that mitigate these dynamics but I hadn’t fully updated my mental operating system to reflect reality today.

As a freelancer, my income has not swung from 0 to 100% but rather it swings from 80% - 120%. So my stress and anxiety are based on the first expected swing, not the current more accurate one. This year, I had to recognize that truth and shift my understanding.

Another layer here is that part of me is attached to that mindset because I fear letting it go will be what drops me back into that reality I want to avoid. There may be some truth to that, but that’s part of what the system is about. And, I'm a different person with different dynamics now.

If that hostile reality is something that unfolds later on, I can adjust my mindset again. There is no value in maintaining an understanding of reality that is no longer accurate. That perception, I've attached to, needs to be let go of. It's a hard thing to do, especially since it has served me well. And other alternative mindsets for achieving.

Daily Clarity on the Goal

When I started freelancing, I had a Google spreadsheet, which was my business dashboard. I've included some snapshots from 2015 above.

A business is a vehicle to accomplish a goal. Where are we going? What's our vision? The dashboard is our window, instrument panel indications, our GPS, etc... As an entrepreneur, I want instant visibility on where I am right now in a way that tells me exactly how to act today.

Why did I start with a spreadsheet? It's easier to start simple & a spreadsheet can be easily shaped into what I need. We get distracted by tools as shiny objects.

Figure it out in a basic way to get what you want, & then be on the lookout for the tool that does it that way.

I've since moved to Airtable. This was the tool that allowed me to supercharge my Path of the Freelancer dashboard; what I was doing simply in a spreadsheet. You can explore my dashboard template here.

Why am I revisiting my 2014-15 spreadsheet when I've got a superior version of my freelancing dashboard in Airtable? Outside of nostalgia, I've realized I lost a few elements in the transition that are worth revisiting and integrating into the new system.

I remembered that I was able to accomplish certain levels of focus and motivation that I've sometimes been lacking in 2023 and recent years. I began wondering what system dynamics I lost along the way that would be worth recovering in my business dashboard. 

When I transitioned to Airtable in 2015/6, I didn't retain a few elements. Last year, I added an equivalent. It's called PACING. I logged my hours as the month unfolded, and I could see how far behind or ahead I was compared to the monthly goal. It also recalculates daily how many hours I need to make up for a loss or gain.

I've finalized a new tab for daily tracking which takes this pacing idea to a deeper level giving me daily visibility that rolls up into a visual dashboard of tallies. How many times do I hit each of the milestones? And how far below or above am I compared to the goal?

If you don't bill hourly, you could also consider using this type of system but with a word count instead (for writers).

When I face business & personal problems, I build systems to overcome them and my weaknesses. That's why I think of myself more like Iron Man than Thor. I don't have many superpowers, but I build things that give me superpowers.

In the latest episode of BuiltOnAir, I share a glimpse of the new freelancing tracking system in Airtable, how it helps me stay focused, and how it works. The conversation starts around 38 minutes.

Montoya’s SEO School & My Content Marketing Model

My freelancing specialty is reviving existing content libraries to amplify their influence and increase the number of visitors to their websites.

Once the machine is operating well, it’s highly effective and only requires minimal effort (relative to building it).

Working with clients all these years has helped me to figure out how best to revive and maintain the machine for maximizing results.

Each client and project adds new layers of refinement and insight to the strategic model. It’s also something I embody on my site here.

This approach has helped me effectively grow influence and traffic for my clients but it’s limited to the amount of time I have to serve them.

I want to earn more of my income from scalable products than logging my time, so I’ve launched the beta version of Montoya’s SEO school to provide training on how to do the things I’m doing. I’m building it organically adding pieces of the puzzle along the way.

I’ll be experimenting with this over the next year.

You can sign up for the online course here.

toy rocket launch in front of yellow background, indoors

Honduras Mission Trip With My Eldest Daughter & Son

One aspect of my parenting vision is to take each of my kids on a mission trip before they depart home as adults. In 2022, I took my eldest daughter to Mexico. This year, I took her and my eldest son to Honduras!

It was a new adventure with some old friends who went to Mexico with us last year and some new friends who joined the mission.

Few types of experiences develop and cultivate great friendships, but Mission trips are one of them.

Rapid Fire Journal Notes, Lessons Learned, & Revelations

As the year has progressed, I've made and shared notes and lessons learned throughout the year so I could reflect on and share them at the year's end.

Check out some of them below!

  • January 16th 2023
    From The Garden to the Cross

    Still processing and thinking about it, but I think my stuckness on the book was related to a broader stuckness. I feel more equipped to express myself across the board... or perhaps I feel more compelled to get further out of my bubble.

  • April 10th 2023
    Neck Injury Recovery

    I can operate at a high level, in part, because of the systems I use. But with my neck issues, I have to operate differently and that means shedding some of those systems. To rework the systems is a lot of work, so the limbo time between states makes it challenging to change and operate at that high level. I kinda have to just wait. Iron Man 2 comes to mind, regarding the storyline with his heart/power source.

  • April 13th 2023

    I joined a weekly group of marketers. There are 5 of us. Anyway, we went through the process of figuring out where we wanted to go with the group, and that also led to getting clarity on our offering. In this process, I discovered a word that surmises what I do: Amplify. But, I think that idea pervades my being and my way of life even outside of just work.

  • May 19th, 2023
    Love of Learning

    I love to learn and intentionally learn a lot of things to grow. But I’ve also learned many things providentially. I realized that I often take it for granted and think that people will learn many things that I’ve learned when no reason that a growth mindset will automatically happen.

  • July 25th 2023
    Experimenting With Social Media as a Drafting Space

    In Apollo 13, they went further away from Earth to get back to it by using the moon's gravity to slingshot them back. That's something I'm experimenting with moving my book forward.

    I'm at a point where processing content from my notes to the book is a big lift. So, I've been connected with a social media / content curation site called Upcarta. I'm working through some of the content I'm wanting to process into the book publicly. That mission is helping motivate me towards moving the project forward.

    One of the challenges with writing a book is that its a hidden thing... by making it more communal, it helps a ton, particularly with parts that are heavy lifts. Now, I at least get to share that heavy lift with others, and make it easier for them. 

    Upcarta is my holding pen and Facebook has become my main broadcast channel.

  • August 24th, 2023
    Choosing to Lose?

    At our church, our pastor is going through a message series about the cross. One of his calls to action is to ask ourselves, what would it look like if we chose to lose? What if we chose to lose that debate? Asking that question is interesting because of how it reframes how I respond in situations where choosing to personally lose means we collectively can win.

  • October 13th, 2023
    Upgrading My Writing Systems

    I'm in the process of migrating my From the Garden to the Cross notes from Evernote into the manuscript, but it's a beast because it's one giant pile. If I had it organized into smaller piles, that would have been much easier. So, I've updated my Evernote to have those piles (each chapter). Now, I was able to quickly move notes from my computer or phone into their respective chapters. Which helps organize it and make it less overwhelming.

    I've also started to do this with one of my next books. The Glass Box.

    Part of how I figured this out was because I've been posting more about society and our country. After all, things are in a rough place and I want to help make it better. But, I was not set up to easily organize and process these ideas. My writing system had to level up. And so it has! Now I can easily organize and find things to move them forward.

library row of shelves

Worthwhile Resources

I consume and share a large amount of content across topics and mediums. If you want to follow up with me in real time, join me on Upcarta.

If you'd like to see the books I read in 2023, click here.

Below are some noteworthy shares.

Amanda Knox: The Life I Refused to Surrender

"In prison, I longed for the future I was meant to live. But it wasn’t until I accepted my fate that I found the strength to carry on."

I discovered this year how much I value and am changed by revelations. Discovering new insights and deeper levels of understanding.

I came across this article about Amanda Knox and it hit upon several of these relatable dynamics. 

"I didn’t know what an epiphany should feel like, but it was. . . cold. Like a clear breeze blowing in and brushing the back of your neck, making your hair stand up. I knew something deep down that I hadn’t known before, and I spent the next several months peering into that epiphany, trying to consider all of its implications, like watching the ripples spreading out from a drop in a pool of water.


The epiphany itself didn’t feel good or bad. It just was. If there was a feeling, it was the feeling of clarity: my life was sad.


I was alone with my epiphany."

Thinking about Thinking...

Thinking About That...

One of the things I've been reflecting on of late is my own unconscious insincerity and the illusions I suffer from. As I work on my book, carry the cross, and move towards the crucifixion, I recognize deeper layers of this, of which I was unaware.

Oswald Chambers describes sincerity when "appearance" and the "reality" are exactly the same.

On the illusion side of things, I've been thinking about WandaVision. And how she created her vision as an illusion to cope with the tragic loss of Vision and the future she could have had if she had not experienced that tragedy.

In 2014, my vision shattered into many pieces. And since then I've been having to contend with reality as it is, not just as I want it to be. But those fragments are tempting to pick back up.

I'm reminded of the following linked clip from Rocky Balboa, where he's speaking to his son about the harshness of life.

Taming the Mammoth: Why You Should Stop Caring What Other People Think

By Tim Urban

This essay has many great insights about the social dynamics holding us back. This is one of the numerous insights that also stuck with me.

"Sometimes, a mammoth’s focus isn’t on wider society as much as it’s on winning the approval of a Puppet Master in your life. A Puppet Master is a person or group of people whose opinion matters so much to you that they’re essentially running your life. A Puppet Master is often a parent, or maybe your significant other, or sometimes an alpha member of your group of friends. A Puppet Master can be a person you look up to who you don’t know very well—maybe even a celebrity you’ve never met—or a group of people you hold in especially high regard.

We crave the Puppet Master’s approval more than anyone’s, and we’re so horrified at the thought of upsetting the Puppet Master or feeling their nonacceptance or ridicule that we’ll do anything to avoid it. When we get to this toxic state in our relationship with a Puppet Master, that person’s presence hangs over our entire decision-making process and pulls the strings of our opinions and our moral voice."

create sign

Created Content

The Share Life Podcast Treks Onward

This year, I added 19 more episodes to the podcast. There are now 93 episodes in total!

While I've not yet fully committed to the podcast and consider it in Beta mode, it's continued to be a great outlet to capture and share stories and systems.

Below are some of the most popular 2023 episodes.

6 Most Popular 2023 Podcast Episodes

Additional Blog Posts

In addition to the blog posts on society that I mentioned above, I've also written some other blog posts on other topics. You can explore them below.

Guest Interviews

As usual, I had several opportunities to share my insights as a guest on other podcasts. You can explore them below.

My Wall of Consulting Client Gratitude

I would not be successful without my many wonderful clients.

Thank you all for choosing to work with me!

  1. Bob Grant & Relationship HQ
  2. Sobem Nwoko and the EBP Society
  3. Richard Bembas & Curtis Gibbs of Ecotech Machine Tool
  4. MLT Creative
  5. Taxonomy Strategies
  6. Deenie McKeever of McKeever's First Ride
  7. JW Outfitters
  8. Terry Green of eSports Insurance
  9. Barrett Sherrill & Fred Lemon & Associates
  10. Dr. Donald Capoferri & Precision Pain Relief Center
  11. Rick Davenport & Roofing Atlanta Inc.
  12. David Wittenberg of Wittenberg Law LLC.
  13. Riada Equipment
  14. SSS Pharmaceuticals
  15. The Johns Creek Chorale
  16. Glenn Shelhamer of the Shelhamer Real Estate Group & Silver Lake Blog
  17. Mark Noar of 3CPM
  18. Steve Gardner of Alpine Sign Studio
  19. Jim Hampton of CityWatch LA
  20. Allison Miller of Destined for Glory
  21. Craig Haynie of Millwood Holdings and Corner-Stone Church
  22. Blessing Jonas of Dominion Revenue Services
  23. Jessica Lalley of Voices to Connect
If you'd like to join this list of clients and work with me next year, contact me here.

montoya family  annual photo

Closing Thoughts

Someone once told me a story of a couple who went skydiving.

When they first committed to the experience, the wife was completely calm and unphased by the decision while the husband panicked as the emotions of his decision overwhelmed him. He immediately faced the fear and anxiety that came with jumping out of an airplane miles into the sky for the first time. But he worked through the emotions and was resolved about his decision when it was time to board the plane. But, once the couple got into the airplane, the emotions hit the wife, and she experienced the emotions of the decision she had not yet processed.

The lesson is that we are emotional animals and as much as we may procrastinate processing the emotions to a later time, it’s often helpful to feel them and process in real-time so we don’t end up in situations like the wife, or worse, situations like my nervous breakdown where years of emotions that have built up now suddenly and completely erupt from us.

I’ve learned and prepared a great deal this year across the layers of my life and I hope that’s prepared me for the wild year that’s likely to unfold in 2024. Ideally, it’s prepared me to navigate what’s to come while helping others to do the same.

For example, my wild and intense 2013-2014 season prepared me for the wild pandemic and year of unrest in 2020.

All of this has been part of my journey, which has helped me continue working on my book, From the Garden to the Cross. The crucifixion story and its application, which can often be an abstract symbol or event for Christians, is something that has personally unfolded for me these past several years. And I look forward to sharing that journey as it continues to unfold.

montoya family  annual photo

Family photos courtesy of Colleen Hight Photography

Created on November 30, 2023.
Last updated on November 30, 2023.