A State of Mind or a Place: The Environment

When we were little my parents took us tent camping. We left our home to go live in the ‘wild’. We changed our environment and when we got back home, we appreciated a standard of living we had grown accustomed to and now saw it as luxurious.  Upon one particular occasion, we had forgotten to pack the tent stakes… to a child it seemed bad enough to warrant packing up and going back home.  How would we keep it standing? Wouldn’t the wind merely blow away our tent?   My dad laughed, got out the hatchet and had us gather some sticks, which he used to make into tent stakes.  It’s a big lesson to a little camper.  Almost magic.  Fast forward a few years to a literature teacher in high school.  I read Camus, Sartre, Dante, and a poem by Shelly called Ozymandius which is one of many that still echo with me today.  Our teacher had us write an essay to answer: – Is hell a place or a state of mind?   I know which side I choose – Though I don’t remember my soulful response, the question still haunts about me.  Fast forward a few more years, and television shows about simply surviving in the wilderness are quite popular.  The less the people start with… even more so.

I have worked with software and technical professionals in some big companies and some large programs, and with many teams.  The word ‘environment‘ usually conjures a place where I can put the software, work with it, test it out.  Yet more often when we talk about environment we usually mean the room, the building, the organization, the management, the culture, the project climate, the attitude of the teams.  It becomes important to frame the context at times.  It is also important to frame one’s experience and mental resilience. In this landscape I always find individuals that thrive as well as those that languish. In fact closure is a big deal to me when anyone has the chance to move on.  There are good reasons why we do.  Sometimes the environment is changing too much for someone to handle, but even more often it is not changing quickly enough.  Many have tapped out their ability to affect it.  Sometimes we simply need a pause in order to learn and grow within a new context.  We’ve outgrown the old terrarium.  What ever the reason, we all have witnessed individuals, and even teams that affect their environment.  No environment is ideal, and it is usually the hero or heroine we remember.  Examples like Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years in a prison and became the leader of a nation.

Terra Formers – These are people who lead and change the environment by being a part of it.  Their example can be sheer brilliance or even mortifying (Terror Formers).

Survivalists –They will thrive, grow, hunt, and make their way around.  There are those who use some amount of Camouflage, hide and bide their time, or contribute at a deeply interwoven level.  The opposite – those that stand brightly out or in contrast to the environment.   Usually the environment isn’t changed much. There are also Pioneers  who will knowingly and slowly enact change.  The environment will be moved bit by bit (1’s and 0’s ?) and slowly the work they do will contribute.  These are the inventors and innovators that think it not just possible but necessary to do so.

I worked in one culture where teasing was the norm.  It was the first thing I picked up on and started to change.  No bullies, no victims.  My intuition was this – similar to how we learned in kindergarten.  People don’t learn, don’t ask questions, and don’t want to feel vulnerable if they think others will pick, pinch, poke and make fun of them.  It is Definitely not an environment to grow in.  Also how do we reward our key contributors and those with great soft skills such as team building and communicators?  Cultivating the right behavior in your environment is important.  We should be learning, growing, and changing the processes, tools and environment about us.  Improvement demands something change.

Not every one thrives in a prison of perception.   Hamlet – though he were ‘bounded within a nutshell, might count himself the king of infinite space’.  Part of being resilient is having a chance to walk away from an experience with wisdom.  Sometimes we need to be removed from the environment to be able to look back and do so.  It also gives us a chance to build up our supports outside of that particular environment. Learning new technologies, new techniques, meeting new people with different perspective, and more.  Things that may not have seemed possible in the old environment.  Good luck to everyone to be agile enough to grow, be resilient, and change the environment about them for the better.

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