By Gino Borges
As investors, it’s second nature for us to take stock of our financial portfolios. We look at performance, return profiles, impact, risk, etc., and decide whether an investment still makes sense.
But what about our “well-being portfolios”? How often are we checking in with ourselves to make sure that the way we’re living on a daily basis is giving us a good return on our vital energy? (Cuz ultimately, this is the most valuable currency we have.)
Ever since I found myself falling asleep at my desk when I was 23 and working in traditional finance, I’ve been on a journey to discover what fuels my inner fire. Physical energy is part of it, but at a deeper level it’s about feeling whole. Expanding beyond one-dimensionality. Showing up with a sense of wonder and investing in my sense of purpose and personal happiness as much as in solving the big problems of the world.
Just like a financial portfolio, a well-being portfolio helps us take action. Are we getting the results we want? And if not, where can we make small tweaks or big shifts?
This edition of my “well-being portfolio” focuses on attunement. In it I explore…
- the discomfort of being thrust out of my regular context and feeling isolated
- how I stay sharp with new experiences that keep me a bit off balance
- the impact of design in my home and other physical spaces
- the relational nature of my reality, and how I attune to my wife and son
My hope is that after reading, you’ll reach out and let me know what resonated with you. Because what I know for sure is that when we share our personal practices and individual experiences, we get to leverage the wisdom of the collective to create profound well-being now, as well as for future generations.
Just kind of floating
This spring I did a lot of traveling, and I experienced some profound discomfort. (That gave way to some profound insights.)
My wife, my son, and I spent three weeks in Germany, my wife’s homeland. And the trip really put my inner well-being to the test.
First there was the gloom. We barely saw any sun the whole time we were there.
Then, there was the fact that being away from home knocked me out of my regular routines.
Forget about jumping out of bed and straight into my ice bath. Or vigorous exercise. Instead, I found myself starting the day staring out the window of a coffee shop for an hour. People watching, daydreaming. Just kind of floating.
But the real kicker is that my wife and my son speak fluent German. I, on the other hand, am lucky if I don’t mix up the words for “love” and “ladder.” Yes, lots of folks in Germany speak English. And they were really accommodating and would speak English to me. But… of course, they speak to one another in German.
So everywhere I went I felt like I was lurking outside of life.
Not speaking the language turned me into an intense witness. I had this overwhelming sense I was hanging out with myself and only myself. A lumbering feeling. It really brought me face to face with my individuation. Language is the tool we use to transcend our individuality, and as far as my German is a tool, well, it’s like having a nail file when you need to cut down a tree.
Usually my family unit is where I would turn to not feel alone. But the kicker is that Helma and my son both speak German fluently. So they were talking up a storm. And I was the only schlub sitting there wondering what was going on. As you can imagine, this really increased my feeling of isolation.
I kept longing for home. Thinking about how I’ve designed my life so there’s really low friction for me to feel good. An ice bath in my backyard. Regular sessions with my mixed-martial arts instructor. My favorite coffee shops where I see people I know and we just strike up interesting conversations without having to plan our meet-ups.
But these thoughts and feelings didn’t help. They actually did the opposite.
As long as I was holding onto the context of home, I was suffering.
Because I was resisting what was.
Finally something clicked. I realized I was making the situation too much about me. Instead, I needed to be in support of Helma who hadn’t been in her homeland in 7 years. That’s a big deal. I realized I was seeing a whole different woman. She slipped right in and was picking up with old friends. That made me happy.
As I shifted perspective, I also realized how proud I am of my son for being able to speak another language fluently. And how grateful I am to Helma for making the investment in our son being bilingual. It takes a lot of effort and patience.
Once I was able to change my perspective and see it wasn’t about me, it was easier to surrender. I stopped resisting — wishing I were home — and allowed the situation.
When I’d been making it all about me, I couldn’t attune to my wife and my son. I was stuck at the border of my own flesh. Once I attuned to them, it was easy to let go. (Man, I’m definitely tucking that lesson away to save for later!)
For sure, rituals, rhythms, and routines are important. But no matter how much you’ve designed your life, sometimes ya just gotta surrender. And the sooner you do, the less bruised and battered you get from resisting.
Something else top of mind for me right now is growth.
How do we sustain, maintain, or expand our creative energy as we dive into new ventures?
Right now, I’m expanding partnerships in my investment work.
I’m also growing Poetry of Impact in a beautiful way. We’ve expanded the team, and we’re laying the groundwork for some new community experiences. (Stay tuned for more on this — I’m looking forward to sharing these new opportunities with you.)
This growth is asking me to show up in new and innovative ways. So, naturally I’m asking myself, “What fuels my creative energy?”
Turns out I don’t have to think about this long. The immediate answer — for me — is social design. I find when I’m genuinely engaged with people and getting to experience their perspectives and passions, my creativity fires on all cylinders.
But it took me years to figure this out.
See, early on in my life, I had a hard time engaging socially. I felt a bit like Holden Caulfield. Just wanting to pull down my hat and live in my own little world. I was socially detached. And my default position was isolation. It took so much effort to go out and be social.
I would fall into these uncomfortable extremes.
Either I would totally isolate myself and end up miserable — like I was on my recent trip to Germany where I was isolated due to the language barrier.
Or, to try and combat isolation, I would force myself to go and do social things. But in that case, I’d end up feeling totally drained.
Where was the happy medium between these two extremes?
This is why a portfolio of well-being is so valuable. I can take stock of what’s not working and start asking better questions. Like, “What kinds of social interaction fuel my creativity?”
This helped me get to the root of my social discomfort. It turns out my extremes weren’t because I don’t like people. It was because, like Holden, I’m allergic to phoniness.
What I was missing was a way to spend time socially that felt really organic.
You know that feeling when you’re in college and you don’t have to plan social time? You’re just kind of hanging out in a group. And someone says they’re hungry, so you go get a pizza. Then you realize there’s live music playing at the bar next door, so you all go to listen. Then you wind up in someone’s backyard, sitting around a fire and talking deep into the night.
This was my first breakthrough insight in what I would call social design: I wanted a way to spend time with people that had this kind of flow. To nudge me out of isolation. But not into social performance.
So I brought this intention to my work relationships. I figured out how to be with my colleagues in a way that feels energizing so it fuels the work we’re doing together. Like we’re back in college and just hanging out and following the energy of the group without a plan. Enjoying what unfolds. And what unfolds is our outer work in the world.
Once I was designing more of this kind of social interaction into my life, I realized there was one more crucial aspect to it: something I call my 80/20 standard.
I’ve learned that I need about 20% of my life to exist in humbling contexts. Spaces where I risk embarrassment and am pretty likely to make mistakes. And even where I feel fear — which is a great way to feel alert.
This is what keeps me adaptive in the long run. To spend roughly 20% of my time in a beginner’s mind — like when you do a new exercise and feel embarrassingly sore afterward, even though you exercise a lot. Because you’re using different muscles.
Being in 100% confidence makes me dull. Without that little kick of existential confusion, I underperform.
On the flip side, if the feeling of being inept creeps up past 20% — let’s say to 50% or 80% — I become non-functional. (Oh hey there, crippling self-doubt.)
I find that a really simple way I keep that 80/20 standard is by spending time with people from different generations.
Hanging out with 30-year-olds who relate to technology in a totally different way. And with people in their 70s who have a lifetime of wisdom leaking out of their pores. It challenges me to be OK with being a beginner at things. And to think about the world in new ways.
So now I design my social relationships to have organic flow, and to follow my 80/ 20 standard. That’s my regenerative sweet spot.
Another big project in the pipeline is a house remodel my wife and I are undertaking. The process is inviting me to think a lot about how our living spaces are designed.
Usually when we think of house design we think first of function and aesthetics. How much storage do we need in the kitchen, and what’s the current trend for cabinet styles?
But the design process doesn’t generally include a conversation about how you want to feel in your home.
Now, that’s really wild to me. Because spaces have a huge impact on my energy and outlook — from my mood, to my focus, to whether or not I’m in creative flow.
If you think about your own life, I’m sure you can think of spaces that feel inviting and grounding. And also places you couldn’t wait to get out of.
When I walk into a space, I’m either like, “Ahh…” feeling expansive, or “Yuck!” feeling constricted. (DMV, I’m looking at you.)
In our remodel, Helma and I are asking ourselves, “How can our home design nurture a feeling of vitality for our family and friends?”
It’s a fun question to be engaging with.
A few things we’re focused on are how to wrangle clutter, especially with a small child.
And bringing more of the outside inside. So there’s less of a barrier to entry (or I guess barrier to exit) when it comes to feeling connected to the natural world.
Those are pretty practical concerns. But the kind of meta-question we’re engaging with is, “How do we feel in our home?”
What I love about this question is that no matter how I answer it (“Inspired!” or “Meh…”) it’s really useful.
The question itself is a reminder that a big part of my well-being comes from tuning in to my physical, mental, and emotional self. Being present. Observing myself in my space. My thoughts, feelings, sensations, emotions, impulses, and moods.
The idea is to take off my dullness, my numbness. And feel the full force of whatever the environment is bringing up.
I’m trying to have these observations without judgment (and man, is that hard!). But I love the practice of it.
When I’m aware of whatever I’m feeling, I call this attunement. And this practice of attuning to ourselves is actually practice for being available to attune to other people. More on that in the next section…
Everything is relational
My latest inspiring read is Dr. Sue Johnson’s Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships. The insights and experiments she shares go way beyond how we relate to our romantic partner.
Dr. Johnson goes into great depth about how attuning to ourselves is practice for attuning to others.
My intuitive sense of the world — and what I love about the philosophical approach of phenomenology — is that everything is relational. You’re aware of the impressions the world is having on you, and the impressions you’re having on the world.
I am who I am through my relation to other people. That means my wife, my son, my work colleagues, and my larger community all co-create me. And I co-create them.
On a nervous system level, we also coregulate one another. I feel this intensely as a parent of a five-year-old. Our son sleeps in our room with us and is actively forming his own self-regulation and sense of safety in the world based on what he picks up from my wife and me. From how our systems “broadcast” to his.
Here’s how Dr. Johnson puts it:
“From our earliest days, our brain grows and develops in response to our love relationships, and as we mature, our brain actively works to fasten us to our loved ones. Indeed, says psychologist Dan Stern of the University of Geneva, the brain is so relational that our nervous system is actually ‘constructed to be captured by the nervous systems of others, so that we can experience others as if from within their skin, as well as from our own.'” [p. 86]
That’s a really good motivator for attuning to my own system!
By honoring my need to be in harmony with self, nature, and personal wealth — by caring for myself in a regenerative way — I have the opportunity to be like a pace car for my son, and even for my partner. Attuning to them, breathing with them, coregulating, calming, grounding, feeling at peace.
Maybe this inspires you to experiment with attuning to yourself, or to your partner or child.
And I hope it also inspires you to pause and reflect on how you connect with your various communities.
Maybe what I’ve shared highlights a desire for an attuned community of people who are actively engaged in their own practices of feeling connected and grounded. So their waves reinforce yours. And you find it easier and easier to expand into well-being.
This is what we’re doing together in Poetry of Impact.
Thanks for being part of it.
What resonated for you in this? Drop a note and let us know your biggest takeaways.
In curiosity and camaraderie,
Gino Borges Founder | Curator of Poetry of Impact