Borsalino Test #22: Mid-year reflections 2021

Mid-year reflections 2021

This is the first year I decided to do a thorough mid-year review.

It’s usually enough for me to review my goals once a year, at the beginning of the year, and then spend the next 12 months powering through them. But the first 6 months of this year brought significant change in a number of areas of my life.

Each change seemed to usher in the next in quick succession, and I’ve felt a need to process a large backlog of changes. This was also the first year I shared my annual review publicly. Having my reviews out in the open has helped me tremendously to stay on track, so I think I’ll continue that initiative.

Purpose

Early this year I quit a comfortable full-time job and took some time to contemplate what’s next. This initiative demanded a decent amount of alertness and conviction. Importantly, these very attributes have been constantly pressure-tested in the weeks and months that followed my offboarding.

It took me a whole month of intentional reflection to pick my next lane. During this process, my mind reverted to comfortable, engineered distractions. Most days, I indulged myself in Netflix shows, Twitter rabbit holes, Hinge dates and online chess tournaments. It's been a hell of a reality check on the caliber of my willpower and ability to focus. 

I am proud to have picked an extraordinarily ambitious project after some meandering. I hold the full conviction that liquid biopsy will prove to be one of the most transformative scientific developments of our time. Possibly, the biggest paradigm shift in the field of oncology of the past five decades. I am now privileged enough to witness history unfolding from a front-row seat. For that, I am beyond grateful. 

I have turned a cold email into an established working relationship with a renowned scientist in the field of liquid biopsy. He has been incredibly available and kind to me. He walked me through fascinating scientific discoveries and allowed me to grasp the full potential of his work. Furthermore, he facilitated connections with other members of his team. 

Together with his team, we are now at an inflection point. The technological platform showed enough traction to catalyze interest from the scientific community. It’s now time to plan how to bring it to market. I am excited to translate revolutionary science into a clinical reality. I get incredibly energized by interactions with this team. All these people are incredibly talented, open and focused. 

Centering my life around a meaningful problem has provided a sense of calm contentment. Sometimes I feel I am spreading myself too thin, only making inch-sized progress in a million directions. I am confident I will soon develop adequate musculature to show composure in the turmoil. The feeling of operating at the very intersection between what's important and what's intimately tied to my personal story is where the money is at. 

Highlights:

  • Quit a comfortable full-time job

  • Acquired sufficient working knowledge in the field of liquid biopsy

  • Built and nurtured stable work relationships originated from cold reach-outs

Growth

Meditation - it's been almost three years since I have picked up meditation for the first time. I am pretty satisfied with my consistency, though the quality of my daily practice has been oscillating from time to time. In the past few months, I have extended my morning session to a 20 minutes duration. I have skipped my practice very occasionally.

My rule is to never skip more than two days in a row. I am now intrigued by transcendental meditation as a way to elevate my practice from my basic Headspace use.

Reading -  I have read twelve great books in the past six months. That’s just a tad bit less than what I have planned. I am admittedly ecstatic about my readings thus far. Some volumes have brought transformative, orthogonal views on specific topics I urged myself to investigate. “The Ethical Slut”, “The world beyond your head” and “How to change your mind” surely top the list. 

I have enjoyed punching above my literary weight and picking dense, mind-stretching books. However, I have significant room for improvement on short-form content (e.g., articles and essays). In the past, I have consumed short reads more consistently. I would block time once a week and review a set of articles archived during my off-hand Internet explorations. I would love to reintegrate that habit into my schedule. 

Writing - I have now published more than 20 pieces on this newsletter. Since my first essay, I have cruised at a consistent pace of an essay every two weeks. I am now beginning to develop muscle memory, and writing progressively feels part of my identity. 

Now, to the less glowing commentary. The quality of my writing has been stagnating, if not slightly dropping. I don’t write as consistently as I would like to. Ideally, I would spend at least 30 minutes every day. However, some of my essays are wrangled together in the last 3 or 4 days before publication. I hate to admit that.

I keep a running list of ideas for the essays I’d like to develop. Some of the prompts are significantly underdeveloped when I note them down. They need time to slowly marinate in a sauce of personal thoughts, related readings and conversations with friends.

There’s no good writing without meticulous note-taking from readings. Though I take note of almost everything I read, I have resisted the need to organize highlights and snippets. This is the kind of low-hanging fruit I’d take a bite of in the second half of the year. 

Therapy - I have been on and off therapy for almost seven years now. I am very grateful for the compounded benefits of this practice, and to the (many!) professionals who backed me. Therapy offered a set of colorful Lego bricks to assemble answers to some urgent and important questions. Many more bricks are missing to complete the whole building.

I have become particularly quick at evaluating a good fit (or lack thereof) with new therapists. I don’t just “show up, so the practice would take care of itself”. I strive for a good balance between my ability to lead the session and the dexterity of my therapist to route the session towards high-caliber insights. Taking notes would elevate my practice. I will create a ledger of learnings to identify areas covered and existing gaps. 

Reflecting - During the past eighteen months I have used a personal system built in Notion to organize every aspect of my life, from friendships to meal prep recipes. The architecture, content and use cases of my operating system have evolved along the way, but the initial purpose and habit stuck with me. 

During the last few months I have developed a new way to review my weeks. I have a hunch this exercise would lead me to a much better quality of insights, rejuvenated presence in my routine and, most importantly, a sense of clarity, composure and centeredness. 

Finally, a side note about unlearning. Room for growth originates from obstacle removal. I need to unlearn habits and curb knee-jerk reactions. Most of my recent 80/20 gains came from unsubscribing to Netflix, uninstalling the YouTube app and monitoring unintentional screen time. I am interested in immersing myself into more analog activities and using technology for my service, rather than swing to its tidal forces. 

Highlights:

  • Published 13 essays on “Borsalino Test”

  • Read 12 amazing books

  • Picked up a lightweight weekly reflection practice

Health

I have never felt healthier and stronger before. I have been locked down in my apartment for four of the past six months. It has been tough to stay in shape and consume healthy food. Nonetheless, I have been extremely disciplined about it. Given lockdown, it is possible I have subconsciously anticipated a potential physical debacle and fired on all cylinders to prevent it.

Working out & CrossFit  - Early in the year, I ran a solo half-marathon in Lisbon. It has been incredibly challenging to train and race completely solo. During the second quarter of the year I started training to complete a hundred consecutive push-ups. This one ended poorly for me and only approached fifty once. 

One of my 2021 goals was to work out at least 85% of my time or to complete 310 workouts by the end of the year. I stopped tracking this metric around April, when I noticed I was consistently exercising every day. Occasionally, I will take a day off. 

Exercising is now fully integrated into my routine, and it’s one of the first things I do every morning. I give due props to myself here to have built a consistent practice for my wellbeing. It's unbelievable to think that in the past I could go for several days (sometimes weeks!) without working out. 

In May I restarted attending CrossFit classes, which hit pause during the lockdown. Since then, I have significantly improved my technique and conditioning. I learned to rely less on my upper body strength and more on technique and tactical use of energy. I now pace myself intelligently and trust my body more. I have developed a subtle intuition for optimal weight and speed. 

Though I have so much room for improvement, I have thoroughly enjoyed the slope of growth more than the y-intercept of my fitness level. I feel ready to take things to the next level, and decided to participate to a CrossFit Open competition.

Realistically, this will take at least a couple of years of intense training and disciplined eating. I would lie if I said that doesn’t scare me at all. I have enough reps under my belt to form a fair understanding of how tough this is going to be, both mentally and physically. But this is probably my last opportunity to pick up a proper athletic challenge, and I’m psyched about it!

Food & Drinks - I haven’t drunk any alcohol in the past six months. I have witnessed a plethora of benefits from this, and it has been significantly easier than I initially thought. I sleep better (most days!), I feel leaner and more focused and my athletic performance improved exponentially. Right after quitting drinking, I ran my fastest 5k and 10k ever. It’s like reverse aging, and I am never coming back. 

Quitting alcohol has also been an interesting social challenge. I have learned how to party and socialize when completely sober. It took a few attempts, but I finally got the hang of it. I am now more present and connect better when meeting new people. Importantly, I have more fun. 

Food has been a mixed bag. Though I eat clean most days, I sometimes slip into desires for comfort food to medicate a turbulent state of mind. I guess this is the socially acceptable coping mechanism I have picked up along the way. Though it's really okay to indulge every once in a while, this repeated behavior is definitely not an act of self-love and appreciation towards myself. 

I intend to become a better cook and order less takeaway. I am interested in exploring different cuisines and styles, and stretching myself beyond acquired taste. I want to have fun in the kitchen and take care of myself through homemade healthy food. 

Sleep -  This has been a work in progress for a while. During lockdown, I have sometimes spiraled into loneliness and self-doubt. Covid took a toll on my mental health. At least once a week I would sleep less than six hours and feel miserable the next day. 

In the past couple of months, I got back into a healthier routine of 7.30-8h slept per night. There are many small levers I pull in order to achieve consistency in my sleep. Earplugs to reduce noise, cold temperature, no screen time right before going to bed are just some of them.

Now that I am intensifying my workout routine, I feel I can’t compromise on sleep. Sleep quality also impacts my clarity of thinking and my mood. 

Highlights:

  • Completed a half-marathon

  • Quit alcohol

  • ~8 hours of sleep per night on most days 

Finances

This is where I haven’t done a great job. I have come to terms with the fact that I am currently not earning an income and sustaining myself with my savings. However, I haven’t been intelligently frugal. I overspent most months of the first half of 2021. Food and beverage have been the top spending categories. 

During the second quarter of this year, I haven't been revising my runway as consistently as I intended to. Though once a month might be a bit too frequent, I should certainly strive to review my trajectory and operate some 80/20 adjustments at least once a quarter. My behavior has been the product of fear and insecurity. It’s been convenient to avoid reviewing my expenses. 

However, I don't want to be too hard on myself. I feel okay when I buy plants for my apartment, or meet a friend for brunch. Working on building something new is hard and I often need to offload some worries without the pressure of counting pennies. I need a smarter way to keep my finances on autopilot and grant myself peace of mind.  

Highlights:

  • Avoided one-offs and big purchases

  • Built a structured model to simulate my runway

  • Identified a path to income

Relationships

I am grateful for the meaningful friendships I have built over the past six months. I have done quite a remarkable job at both broadening my reach and deepening some existing relationships. An established community of friends in Portugal has been the cornerstone of my mental wellbeing. 

I take note of all the important friendships I intend to invest in. I want to recognize Portugal is a land of transition for me and for most of the friends I have made in Lisbon. That’s really fine - I can and want to nurture quality connections beyond physical proximity. 

Most of my hangouts though have been quite lazy, routinary and unstructured. I don't think there's anything wrong with house parties or park get-togethers. But there’s so much I can do with friends! I want to have deep, interesting conversations, share fun activities and elevate the quality of our interactions.

Finally, I want to be around people that are smart, kind, that have been through some form of life-defining event early on and are generous with their time. I have become better at cutting out people that are not bringing much to my life. Lisbon is full of explorers who want to enjoy life, party, and drown in all sorts of indulgences. More power to them. I feel I have transitioned out from that season of my life, and happily so.

I want to solidify my connections by leading more and organizing events. Also, I'd like to spend more time with friends during the daytime. Finally, I want to be more proactive at meeting new people. Everybody I met has just been quite organic, through mutual friends or at parties. I am sure there is a better way to engineer the serendipitous joy of great connections.

Highlights:

  • Formed a community of friends in Lisbon

  • Deepened a handful of meaningful relationships

  • Cut out superficial relationships

Fun

I have to admit to myself I still don’t know how to integrate fun in my life. My approach has always been quite amateurish in this area and I feel this might be one of my most underdeveloped skills.

I haven’t gone on hikes, nor did I surf or paint much. During lockdown, I spent a lot of spare time on Netflix shows because that was the easiest way to decompress stress and consume something predictably fun.

Cultivating fun hobbies is a great way to generate energy when I feel depleted by work or relationships. I want to organize something fun every week, either solo or with friends. I can’t just show up at parties and pretend to be entertained by others. My intuition directs me towards manual hobbies and outdoor activities. 

On the bright side, I feel I have partied quite a lot in the past few months, especially after the lockdown happened. Lisbon is the right place to enjoy the breezy entertainment of house parties. Though it’s likely not going to be my permanent location, I want to make the most out of it for as long as it lasts.

Highlights: 

  • Lots of house parties with friends

  • Some needed beach time after lockdown

  • Organized 3 events at my place