“How are you?”
An innocuous question that 99% of the time is answered with either: good, great, fine, ok, busy, or tired.
But really, “how are you” when no one’s asking? What are the daily returns in the business of being you? Are there things that hold too much weight in how you think about yourself?
I’ve been there. I’m still “there” often, but what if we had a better way to protect ourselves from the spikes and drops of our confidence and disposition? What if it was all about diversification?
Diversi- what now?
When we hear the word “diversification” we usually think of investments, clients, and eggs. It goes that a mix of stocks, income, and baskets helps us spread the risk of our desires so that when we get cut by life, we get a stitch not a seppuku.
While diversification is key for an omelette factory and our net worth, it’s also paramount for our self-worth.
Like all good investments, it’s a balanced portfolio across a handful of categories. Some are easy to understand and measure, while others are, for me at least, a little like photographing a black hole.
And the only way to invest in how we talk about ourselves to ourselves is not with containers or money, but with time.
I give you, the portfolio of self-worth.
Financial Health - How are you providing for yourself?
Physical Health - How are you taking care of body?
Mental Health - How are you taking care of mind?
Relationships - What are your interactions like with the people you know?
Curiosity - What are your interactions like with the world?
Service - What are your interactions like with the people you don’t know?
Or in short speak: Gig, gut, grow, guide, goal, give.
Let’s dive in.
The capitalist almighty. Economic comfort is the lowest hanging fruit on the portfolio of self-worth because it controls the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Access to a roof and a sandwich are pretty important starting blocks to an adult life.
(Well, I’d say paying for that access is the starting block, because if bags of half-eaten Cheetos are strewn across the throw rugs hiding the cold cement floor of your parents basement that you currently find yourself living in, then you’re not out of the gates yet.)
The problem with money is that if left unchecked, the daily dose of Vitamin $ turns into a metastatic tumor of “more”; bullying the rest of your self worth into caring only about your cash, your Tesla and Tulum.
We are simple beasts. My ego doesn’t want to hear that after a certain amount, money doesn’t buy me any more happiness. It tells me, “Stuff, freedom, power and access might not be happiness, but they sure feel happier.”
If your self-worth portfolio is heavily loaded with money/income, then what happens when there is a blip? Are you mentally strong enough to withstand it? Have you cultivated the friendships you’ll need to get you through? Have you showed some gratitude for the things you do have? … Are you healthy enough to bounce back?
Physical health is next easiest to understand because time, pounds, reps, calories and distance, are easily measured variables we can control.
What does a good investment in your health look like? No real secret here; you know what it looks like. Diet and exercise. If diet AND exercise sound like too much, start with your diet. If eating clean is too expensive or time consuming, eat less processed foods. If you can’t do that, eat less sugar. If eating less sugar is impossible, just eat less.
The long lasting Okinawans have a saying, “Hara hachi bun me,” which translates to: “Eat until you are 80% full.” (Okinawa has the world's highest proportion of centenarians.)
Respect your body by restraining what you put in it.
Exercise. Forget about looking like Adonis. I’m talking about taking the stairs and getting some blood work done. Heart disease doesn’t care about your planned ignorance. Out of sight, out of mind, and in your arteries.
Respect your body by simply moving it. Play. Dance. Run.
It’s amazing what exercising can do for your psyche. It increases your memory. It helps you sleep better.
Can’t control what you eat? Hate exercise? At least go outside from time to time.
Diet and exercise also have a huge impact on the next item in our portfolio (so long as you don’t turn into a selfie-taking narcissist who peddles turmeric-infused ghee shakes, while secretly wishing everyone you met wore a full length mirror).
Mental health is a wily one. After all, who is your “true self” and what is it that you want, think, feel or believe? Is that person the actual you or the rationalizing avatar who runs your brain and wants to make sure you fit in and don’t hate yourself when you go to bed at night?
Carving out time for self-discovery, walking without your phone, looking up at the stars, resting*, thinking, meditating, journaling, sensory deprivation floating or figuring out what you stand for all lead to increased emotional intelligence, self-awareness and (hopefully) self-confidence**. This is a good thing for you and the people you interact with.
*You’ll sleep when you’re dead? No, you’ll be dead because you didn’t sleep. Go to bed! Zach Galifianakis has a great quote: “Destroy the idea that you have to be constantly working or grinding in order to be successful. Embrace the concept that rest, recovery and reflection are essential parts of the progress towards a successful and happy life.”
TV shows? Guilty pleasures? It all goes back to intentionality. If you set out to watch a show because you need a break, are interested in that topic, or you want to laugh, do it. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for that. Everyone has a mindless escape from reality. For some it’s social media, video games, reading gossip blogs or whatever. For me it’s watching sports.
Make time for our make believe worlds, just don’t get kidnapped by them.
**A big part of my mental health is self-confidence at work. It’s fine to have financial health but if you’re doing mindless work or you’re being debilitated by Impostor Syndrome, this is no bueno to how you are going to feel about yourself. As someone who has had a lot of different careers and is constantly reinventing himself, I sometimes have to dredge my self-confidence up from the depths of Lake Doubt at the beginning of a new project or job by journaling, meditating or just taking some deep breaths. Such is the peril of a professional opportunist.
Signs you’re investing too much in your mental health:
You’re an Esalen junkie trying to find Nirvana, Enlightenment and happiness
You are constantly telling people to “manifest” things
You’re on a magic carpet ride of self-importance and silent retreats
Signs you’re not investing enough in your mental health:
Your emotional state of mind is a feather floating In the air of influence, at the whims of the slightest breeze from “the internet” or the pack, or what some random person said in a coffee shop.
You use phrases like: “With my luck…”, “What’s the point?”, “Everyone’s an idiot,” and/or “I’m an idiot.”
You told Craig to “eff off” at work after he asked you if you were open to some feedback on your presentation
You swipe right rapidly on dating apps without even looking at anyone’s profile
You’re more afraid to be alone with your own thoughts than you are of death and public speaking
Who knew having cash and staying fit and sane wasn’t a gimme? Good thing you’re not alone...
Don’t forget to talk to people face-to-face, you rich, healthy, mindful SOB! Relationships, not self-actualization, are what makes us us.
I don’t really have any friends I wouldn’t be comfortable crying in front of. I tell every single one of them I love them. We invest in building memories together.
A comfortability in vulnerability is a must when building relationships. This is the one stock in your self-worth portfolio that can get you out of life binds, real or imagined, because true friends can see you from a vantage point other than inside your own head.
This, obviously, is important. Blindspots need illumination. Obsession needs perspective. And little victories need celebration.
Find people who can give you tough love not white lies, and strong hugs not weak "hi's".
A healthy, loving, intimate partnership has its obvious perks of companionship, but it also serves up a constant side order of listening, understanding and sacrifice to round out your people skills.
Two things to remember for this stock:
We are who we surround ourselves with
Quality over quantity
People who have healthy relationships create their own space for each other. The problem comes when we only invest in unhealthy relationships. Signs that is happening:
Your desire to stay friends/intimate with someone has led to unwanted dependencies where you are doing things you don’t want to do just for that person’s approval (see: joining a gang, depleting your savings account, investing in your friend’s uranium face cream business)
Your human interactions are solely through your thumbs on a screen
Obviously, loneliness and abuse are serious issues. If you are struggling with those, please seek professional help. But if you’re just in a new city, new job or you feel like you need a change of friends, what about joining a club or a team? What hobbies are you pursuing that can open up new avenues of interaction?
Hobbies, crafts, passions or whatever; give your brain something to learn or a way to express itself. What do you want to learn more of? What do you want to play more of? What do you want to create? Where do you want to travel? What are you reading? What are you listening to? What is forcing you to think differently? What is questioning your worldview? How can some discomfort teach you something new about yourself?
We are the curious ape.
You don’t have to “change the world” (whatever that means) in order to be curious about it.
Chase your passion? I try to stay away from that phrase because it’s overused and misguided. I’ll say this though, passions are more than research. They’re not things hiding under a rock, they’re things you create or experience out in the world. It is then that you find your tribe; where vulnerability meets confidence, respect and connection.
For all you artists out there, I love this Whitney Cummings quote, “In order for art to imitate life, you have to have a life.”
Think of the "pursuits stock" as the stuff that goes in your eulogy, not your resume.
Risks of not investing in your curiosity: You feel like a passenger in your own life.
Sadly, I always feel underinvested in this one. I’m selfish. But I’m learning that before I can donate my time regularly, I have to be the kind of person who might donate his time. That’s typically someone who seeks to understand, who has shown the odd flash of empathy, who acknowledges that other people don’t exist simply to get out of his way.
Service doesn’t start with donating hours at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter every week; it starts with the kindness you show the cashier when buying a soup, or saying hello to a homeless person who has no shelter.
Service is about showing up for someone without an expectation of a return.
There’s a great line from the show After Life.
“We’re not just here for us, we’re here for others. All we’ve got is each other. We’ve got to help each other struggle through until we die, and then we’re done. No point in feeling sorry for ourselves and making everyone else feel unhappy too.
“Happiness is amazing. It’s so amazing that it doesn’t matter if it’s yours or not.
“Good people do things for other people. That’s it. The end.”
I’m still the guy who too often calculates his kindness to strangers depending on my day, but decency shouldn’t be at the mercy of my mood. I’m getting better at it, and not surprisingly, that improvement makes me feel better about myself.
100 Units of Time
We are not just our circumstances. We are not just our job description or our side hustle. We are not just an athlete or an artist or a volunteer. We are not just a husband or wife. We are not just fat or skinny. We are not just a happy hour with our friends or a quiet night watching TV.
We are “us” based off a medley of inputs and outputs that we have some say over. Feeling overexposed in your self-worth portfolio? What can you start doing differently today? Don’t obsess with clock watching, but imagine you had 100 free units of time (minutes, hours, whatever); where do you think you’re making your self-worth investments? What stocks are too loaded? What’s getting forgotten? Where do you wish you had more of an investment? What investments can you combine?
No two optimally run self-worth portfolios will look alike. We're each unique in what our best balance is at any given time. And the distribution that works for you today might have to be adjusted next year. You have to watch your "market." Maybe you have a new job or a new project or a new relationship or a new race, and you want to put more time and energy in those respective stocks. Absolutely you should, but don't completely forget about the rest of your portfolio. You'll need to tap into those other stocks when your market changes direction (and it always will).
The idea is to spread out how we value ourselves because—knowingly or unknowingly—we value what we spend time on.