You cannot be inspired in the wrong environment. You will not wake up your Inner Amazon or Jedi Master in an office or marriage that denies you the joy, nutrients, or sunlight you are designed to crave.
You can’t change your design. You can change your environment.
They say that gold fish in a tiny bowl do not grow large. The conditions stunt their possibilities. As a career coach, I’ve seen certain cubicles or even huge corner offices, crunch a soul into a peanut. I’ve heard sad stories of amazing wonders tucking their tail feathers in or ducking their heads, to get by in the “culture” they work in. They have too many ideas. They don’t do things the same way everyone else does. Or they just don’t gossip enough or run fast enough to TGIF parties with co-workers.
One of my clients saw himself as a vampire. He said during the day at work, he “died.” And at night he came alive, could do what he wanted, turn up his music, chase a thousand creative ideas and be his true self. Only, even the nights now were rare. He was too tired.
So here’s what I want you to know. You are designed to thrive. I don’t believe in character flaws as much as I believe in finding your right element. See, when you’re in the wrong environment, it can stigmatize the way you see your own personality. You can start to feel weak. You can start to believe you are incompetent or born under the wrong shadow. Yet it’s just a matter of nature. A palm tree that will flourish in the rainforest, will wither in the desert. You are not designed to falter or struggle. The right soil and conditions will have you blooming your little head off, expanding your soul, and the souls of others, lucky enough to be near you. I want you to know just how much you can soar. In This Time I Dance! Creating the Work You Love, I said, “If you’re this successful doing work you don’t love, what could you do with work you do love?” And it’s not just what you do…it’s where you do it and with whom.
Did you know that Albert Einstein was considered to be mentally slow in school, because he didn’t respond to certain topics? But then he found geometry and he found himself. He discovered new energy and abilities. The man who almost flunked grammar and spelling, went on to teach at Princeton University, discover the theory of relativity and unlock the secrets of the universe for the rest of us. Intelligence and creativity are interactive; they respond to the elements in which they find themselves.
Are you in your element?
It matters more than you might think. Personally, I can’t believe what a difference it makes. I’m one of those people that believes in positive thinking and turning every environment into “your environment.” But then I had a little episode a few years ago that floored me. I had a crash empathy course in what it’s like to feel like a zebra in a room full of horses.
I accepted an invitation I usually wouldn’t have accepted. I decided to attend a reunion, a Harvard Law Luncheon for Women. I figured, that while law school had almost crippled my spirit and potential, I was now all cheeky in my new life. I had nothing to prove anymore. I was a published and even best-selling author with a lively following and seminar schedule. Besides, many of my career-coaching clients were lawyers whom I adored, so I assumed this luncheon would just be a piece of cake, and a lunch.
Still, in minutes, as I roamed the room, it happened. I started small talk with people, and as my usual rapport bounced off brick walls, I felt smaller. Unfortunately, I tried harder which is always a mistake. I started sounding more and more like Zen woman and feeling as though I’d shown up in billowing orange robes, shaved head, and beads. Suddenly it seemed to me as though everyone in the room wore corporate red suits, over slim, well-toned, politically correct bodies. They spoke in crisp bullet points, crunchy statistics, and stared a bit too long at me, as though they could see auras, when I mentioned what I did for a living.
Within minutes, I bellied up to the salad bar, scooping more mounds of the zucchini pasta salad than anyone would ever need to eat in a lunch hour, unless of course, they were hoping to hide in it. These women talked about political issues, not psychological ones, and they got down right slap happy and kitten-like when they remembered how great law school had been. Clearly they had been eating different cud while there. That’s when I realized it wouldn’t matter how many books I’d sold, and how much success I had, I’d still never fit in where I didn’t fit in. Sure I could hold my own, like I didn’t have to call my therapist in the parking lot or anything, but I’d never relax and shimmer.
I tell you this because it shocked me. It broke my heart for all those who are not where they belong. I’d felt strong and confident when I went to that luncheon, and in minutes, in a dominant and incompatible l environment, I felt self- doubting. Clearly there are more resilient personalities out there than mine. Still, I shuddered to think of what years in the wrong environment could do to a sensitive individual.
I can tell you that one of the joys of my career is that I am always in my element. I am always more natural in workshops and retreats than I’ve ever been in my life. My students are my tribe. They are my precious soul family. They are asking the same questions I’m asking in the same language, on the same days. They’re journeying down the same trail. They get me and I get them. Their interest and excitement stimulates my interest and excitement. The more myself I become, the more light I emit, and the more of a devoted following I attract. I feel as though I get to be all that I was meant to be, effortlessly, and it doesn’t get better than that. And I never have to make small talk.
I am a goldfish that has surely been plucked from a fish bowl and placed into the pond of a luxury hotel.
My new favorite role model is the Douglas Fir Tree. A naturalist recently told me that it needs sun to thrive. And when lower branches start growing in the shade, the tree releases a chemical to kill off these branches because they will never thrive and contribute to the overall growth of the tree.
Take a lesson from a Douglas Fir. Reach for your sun. As humans, we don’t obey our nature. We don’t kill off the jobs or activities that don’t support our health and growth. We put in overtime.