Gino’s Story, Founder of Poetry of Impact

How did a guy who thought he’d spend his life as a warehouse supervisor in a small town end up cultivating a global community at the intersection of wealth and well-being?

Well, like most good journeys, it was a circuitous one.

Oh, the humanities!

When I was in my 20s I had a job in legacy finance and I would fall asleep at my desk. Literally. One day my boss nudged me awake and said, “Gino, I don’t think this is for you.”

“I think you’re right,” I replied. “But I don’t know what is for me.”

I had this sense that there was more to life than funneling everything through the lens of commerce. So I left finance and entered first a Masters, then a Doctoral program in the humanities. I figured the humanities would be an antidote to the clinical, reductionist, transactional context of finance.  

In some ways, it absolutely was. I loved the deep investigation and how I learned to relate to the world phenomenologically rather than as a set of “objective” material truths. 

But as I completed my PhD, I started realizing how neurotic I was becoming in this heady space of academia. I was basically a mind on legs, numb from the neck down.

It was painful to be exclusively in my head and have zero awareness around my body. Well, besides being aware of how lousy I felt. I put on a lot of weight from the standard Midwestern diet: white bread, french fries, and corn-fed pork, all washed down with beer. I started getting intense, interminable migraines that would cause nausea and oftentimes vomiting. And I was feeling acute despair, coupled with anxiety over my doctoral dissertation. Even though I was pretty sure the topic was kind of an exercise in navel-gazing and of zero interest to anyone else.  

Even if I don’t know what the heck it means

Despite my anxiety and doubt, I did manage to finish my dissertation. It was on Ralph Waldo Emmerson, who made his living writing and giving speeches. That sounded like a great life to me. So, once I’d earned my doctorate, I started trying to craft a career as an author and public speaker. 

I was going around to different places in town, giving a bunch of free speeches to practice my craft. What I wanted was to be in discovery with other people and to use humor to shed light on topics I thought were pretty important and interesting. So for example, I had this one talk called “Don’t Ask a Cow to Analyze Milk” that was all about how humans are symbol-using animals (unlike cows). It was a way to get people to reflect on the symbolic nature of our existence — things you can’t really tell people. You have to show them. 

Some folks loved my talks because the experience was like an evocation of consciousness. But some people were confused; they would come up to me afterward and ask what the “5 bullet points” were; they wanted the CliffsNotes about how to get ahead in life because that’s what they were used to hearing from a speaker. That was the expectation.

At one talk I noticed a woman in the back of the audience who was not only engaged with my talk, she was also laughing at  my corny jokes. We ended up getting to know each other and dating for a few years. Alexandria was actively engaged in re-wilding her life. Her approach to life helped to unglue me from my completely cerebral existence. 

She was immersed in the backcountry and river life. I don’t just mean going out on lots of hikes. She would ski down trails she made herself. That was all completely new to me. She took me out to Black Rock Desert in the Nevada backcountry. Now, I’d grown up on a dairy farm in California and spent time on land, around animals. But I really didn’t have a sense of Nature

Roaming the high desert was a revelation. All of a sudden I realized I had a body. The wind on my face, the sun on my skin, the mud squishing up between my toes — this was a brand new language I was learning. Nature speaking to me through my body. 

I remember sitting naked in a hot spring and realizing this was the first time I’d ever been naked “in public.” This was a complete left turn from my Catholic upbringing. And from the 23-year-old me who’d sat numb at a desk, asleep to his own life. I’d found my body. It felt like it was part of me and my identity in such a profound way.   

I started doing yoga, being still, playing music, and chanting “Om” even though I didn’t know what the heck it meant. It just felt good. I got into this mantra of “If it feels good, keep doing it.” 

Nature’s body and my somatic body became a real big discovery process. 

Before this, I’d never learned to trust how I was feeling as an indicator of what I should be doing. I’d always been moralized by external sources. “You should be doing this, you should be pursuing that.” Even if it made me feel like shit. 

Heck, I was prepared to spend my life as a warehouse supervisor in the town I grew up in because my high school guidance counselor gave me a personality test — like Myers Briggs. And when he overlaid the answer sheet onto my test paper, it said “warehouse supervisor” was the job I was best suited for. I was so entrenched in the system of getting an answer from an expert that I didn’t question the result for a moment. In fact, on the way home from school, I took note of the warehouses in our town, thinking one of them must be where I would end up working. Then I had a harrowing thought: There were only three warehouses in our town. What if none of the three would hire me? 

When I got home, I moped around the house and ended up morose on the couch. My mom saw my dark mood and asked what was wrong. I told her that I was destined to be a warehouse supervisor but was worried I might not get hired by any of the warehouses in our town. She gently told me I was free to choose a different path, something other than warehouse supervisor. Man, it was like turning on a light bulb in a dark room. It hadn’t occurred to me that I could be in charge of my fate. That there might be another way to decide on a life path, other than filling in bubbles on a form. 

Environmental will

I’ve always felt a bit like Holden Caulfield. An outside observer. A bit of a rebel. I knew the rules, but I felt like the rules didn’t know me.  Like, do I really need to wear uncomfortable shoes to a wedding? Or use the salad fork? This created some internal resistance to social situations, and I’d often feel isolated as a result. This was compounded by the fact that American culture defaults to isolation rather than connection. You don’t really organically run into people; you have to make a plan.

As a result of my inner resistance and the cultural design, I found social connection required a lot of effort, a lot of individual will. I don’t know about you, but I run out of will pretty quickly.

I’d often get to the end of the week and realize I hadn’t gone out to spend time with anyone because there was so much inertia, so much friction.

I would end up lonely. But I didn’t want to force my way through the friction. And that led me to asking myself a life-changing question:  

What if instead of using individual will, I use environmental will?

Environmental will means immersing myself in the context that supports the activities I want to be doing. So that there’s a lot less friction to creating the life I want. If I put myself in the right space, the details will take care of themselves. Like going hiking and mountain biking on a regular basis because I live near a lot of cool trails.  

I started looking for environments that had built-in micro-community. Places where people walk and bike and hang out organically. Where my wife and I choose to live now gives us a lot of social flow, and also a lot of lifestyle flow. I don’t have to get in my car and fight for parking to grab my morning coffee, get groceries, or meet up with friends. We have a garden in our backyard that makes it easy to eat fresh produce. We walk in our neighborhood and chat with our neighbors, and most days to get to work, I simply walk across the backyard to my home office. 

When I had that insight, it was like, “Man! I just hacked social connections!”

As I leaned more and more into environmental will, I realized I was not only less isolated, but I was also adding these really beneficial personal practices to my daily life. Living close to the mountain-fed Truckee River got me started with cold plunging. I was taking regular dips in its icy waters, and my migraines largely waned. When winter rolled around and I noticed my dips were fewer and farther between, I knew it was time for an environmental upgrade. So what did we do? Put an ice bath in the backyard where it’s easy to keep up this well-being practice in all seasons. This is a really cool example of how my larger environment inspires me to develop new personal practices, and those practices in turn lead to refining my micro-environments.    

Designing my environments to support my lifestyle means I don’t have to use up more of my will to do the personal practices that support my well-being. 

I feel really passionate about design — how we set up our physical and mental spaces to support us. Smart design makes it easy for us to live our values. That means instead of expending lots of effort just trying to make plans with our friends or eat more veggies, we can use our energy for creative pursuits in the world. 

Integration

I always loved math, numbers, counting, and statistics. As a kid, I’d read the paper with my dad. Not the front page articles but the baseball scores and the stock market quotes. I would spend hours poring over the back of baseball cards — entranced by the stats.  

But, as I learned all too well trying to stay awake in my legacy finance career, math for math’s sake wasn’t fulfilling. It was missing dimensionality. 

I sought that dimensionality — although I didn’t use that language for it at the time — by leaving finance and entering the humanities. There, I got to grapple with deep questions about life, language, and meaning. And yet… I was still living from just my head.

Exploring the backcountry and my own inner landscape allowed me to expand my sense of dimensionality. So that I wasn’t just asking deeper questions, I was also receiving wisdom from more places. Not only from my mind, but also from my body, from my community, and from Nature itself.

I was living a richer inner life, but I was missing outer impact. When I was at school, it was easy to “justify my existence” when people asked what I was doing. I was working first towards a Master’s, then towards a PhD, then I was teaching. But when I left academia, people would ask, “What are you doing?” And I had this awkwardness around not being able to explain the societal value of what I was up to. I mean, I was going through my own rites of passage and creating them for other people, which is pretty significant work. But it was perceived by the rest of the world as valueless.

I searched for a context where my passions and interests could be valued by others while still creating deep fulfillment and dimensionality for me.

That’s what I found when I returned to finance in the impact space. I combined my love of math and numbers, my background in real estate finance, my passion for examined living, my skill for connecting with people and igniting their excitement about a project, and my desire to create a positive impact on the world.  

Finding my vocation

Now as co-founder and managing partner of Essentia Capital, I get to fund projects that change people and the planet for the better while tapping into the full dimension of my talents and interests. I’m finally able to do my authentic work in the world. 

Previously, I’d been making decisions based on pain points and suffering. I was always moving through the world as a fragment of myself with a fair amount of unease. My life wasn’t being fully engaged. 

The real breakthroughs in my career happened when I started paying attention to synchronicity and following what felt authentic. (And definitely not due to some carefully laid-out plan!) 

Following my intuition, I started sharing opportunities to invest in the impact space. My mom, a close friend, and a couple neighbors were my first investors. 

Then others started investing along with us and things started to grow exponentially. 

Now we’ve grown into a network of over 500 people. That feels really gratifying — knowing I’m creating opportunities for more individuals and families to build wealth in a meaningful way. 

I found the outer impact I was seeking, and it came about by building up my inward attunement. 

My professional and personal self are no longer in conflict. They’ve converged. Investment is my vocation. I found the dimensionality in it. And I get to bring my whole self to it. 

Not only that, I get to share this dimensionality with others. 

Poetry of Impact

Just when I thought I had it all figured out, I found myself falling asleep to my life yet again. (Geez, I guess I have my own personal canary in a coalmine for whenever my life needs a big shift.)

As I became more immersed in impact investing, I was attending all these conferences, and they hit my body like white sugar: for the first 2 days I’d feel great! There was this massive “sugar high” in the form of a boost for my identity — feeling like I was on the inside of things.

Then, by day 3, I’d have the “sugar crash.” I’d just hit a wall. Without time to integrate, I was getting uncomfortably full from all the inputs. Even though I’m a numbers guy, I’m not a computer; I can’t simultaneously integrate and operate for days on end without a break. 

So I started going “off script” at these events. I would ask people about what they were reading for fun. I’d start conversations about hobbies, health, our families, gardening — whatever felt interesting to me. 

What happened was really gratifying. My fellow conference attendees were eager to move beyond social performance as well. We dropped our LinkedIn personas. We relaxed. We took off our shoes — figuratively, but sometimes literally, too. We got to connect and have conversations about our “who-ness” — not just about our portfolios and ROIs and the hundreds of initiatives in climate, gender, or equity. 

I loved hearing people’s stories. How they chose projects, how they relate to their work and their relationships, and how they attune to themselves.  

These conversations were all about stepping beyond the grammar of impact and into its poetry. I think of grammar as the mechanics of things. How they work at a material level. It’s a kind of socialized training that tells us the rules. And it can be really useful for transferring information and answering questions like “Is this fund giving me a good financial return?” 

But I know for myself that when I live life serving grammar, I’m constantly slumbering through experience. (Sometimes literally!) 

Poetry is what transcends grammar. It arises when you’ve mastered the rules and the grammar starts serving you. 

I founded the Poetry of Impact podcast in partnership with NEXUS and Toniic to explore dimensionality with other folks in the impact space. I invited my guests to step out of the usual topics around investing, and instead have conversations about wellbeing, relationships, imagination, embodiment, and essence. This was a way to follow my own curiosity and connect with people at a deeper level. It was also a way to give back to the impact space by giving folks the opportunity to tell their stories and integrate their experiences. 

After hosting this podcast for 3 years and talking with dozens of really cool people, it dawned on me that there was a pretty dominant theme emerging:

People who were interested in dimensionality were also interested in self-care. They were engaged in wellness practices. 

Now, I thought this was pretty interesting. Because ever since I re-entered my body (from an existence entirely above the neck), I’ve been experimenting with regenerative self-care and lifestyle optimization myself. Things like nutrition, Nature awareness, gardening, hot/cold therapy, functional medicine, movement practices, and even nonviolent communication. 

I learned a lot from my own experimenting. I learned even more talking to other people on the podcast.  

I thought, “Instead of just me having this conversation, what if we’re all having it?”

The next evolution 

Since so many folks were already engaged in their own experiments and practices, what I thought would be helpful is to bring everyone together. A gathering of values, kind of like a co-op. So we can share resources, wisdom and practices. 

This way, we can leverage the wisdom of the collective in addition to our individual wealth. We get to optimize our personal life-design, and also plant the seeds of well-being for generations to come. 

Back when I first landed in the world of wealth culture, I was struck by all the glossy services that suddenly popped up. Ways of preserving and controlling wealth that felt really slick and shiny, but that were missing dimensionality and feeling. The question seemed to be,

“How can we use money to make more money?” But I wanted to know,”How can we use money to make more life?” 

Ultimately, I’m a seeker. I crave a life that has dimensionality so that I don’t have to choose between outer impact and inner development. If that describes you as well, you’re in exactly the right place. 

Poetry of Impact

An inquiry into deep impact

“Gino is the minstrel poet of impact investing. He calls to our soul purpose of prioritizing our values around the use of our money. This book is a touching inspiration, helping bring forth the heart of why we do what we do!”

– Joel Soloman, Author of The Clean Money Revolution

 “This is what it is all about. Doing things for the right reason. Finding balance, harmony, floating in a zone. Thanks for writing the book. Your book certainly was [helpful] to me.”

-Jesse Fink, Co-Founder of MissionPoint Partners

“So many of our current offerings on impact and capital focus on strategy, tactics or metrics. It is so nice to receive a set of reflections based upon a deeper perspective on the meaning and value of our efforts to improve our communities, societies and, ultimately, our very selves!”

-Jed Emerson, Author of The Purpose of Capital

“What struck me in the Poetry of Impact was the phrase “radically personal”…this is so so true! … If impact investing was not this way, it would not allow us to sustain the intense energy we need to transform capitalism.”


-Erika Karp, Founder & CEO of Cornerstone Capital Group

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About The Book

Poetry of Impact was born as an opportunity to continue attuning to life’s rhythms while honoring my own circumstance, a way to allow the eternal to come into contact with circumstance—in this case, money. This unraveling perspective provides a space for impact-inspired investors, founders, artists, and authors walking the edge of aliveness with me to explore topics that can often seem alien in the world of money…but eternal topics such as nature, essence, and loss, that can heal the syndrome of disequilibrium. Even more, it is an invitation for you to radically personalize your journey in deep impact, which is the ultimate defense against society’s tendency toward inhumanity today.