The view outside my window is nothing but a concoction of grey buildings and dark clouds. Below, there’s an ever-present noise made up of honking and shouting by impatient drivers and angry pedestrians. Once I’m outside, I find myself navigating dirty streets full of rude people going about their errands like chickens with their heads cut off. It’s a far, far cry from the grand boulevards of Paris, the charming old town streets of Vilnius, or the beautiful cobblestone callejones of Barcelona. It’s a hostile climate that offers absolutely nothing in the form inspiration, joy or happiness.
The other day, while feeling completely uninspired, I decided to try something new. I took the subway and in less than thirty minutes emerged in a completely different neighborhood. The streets appeared a bit cleaner, the houses seemed prettier, and the people walked at a slower pace, visibly enjoying their day. I even saw a couple of smiles here and there.
I walked a couple of blocks and finally entered my destination: a quaint coffee shop on a quiet street corner. As soon as I entered through the artistic wooden door, I knew I found my oasis in a sea of chaos. The music was soothing. The barista was friendly. Even a young girl flashed a smile in the distance. I grabbed a chair, opened my laptop and felt motivated to complete in that moment everything I was working on for weeks and months.
What did I do? I changed my environment.
Over ten years ago, I was facing a dilemma and decided to ask a close friend for advice.
“What’s going?” he asked me.
“Not sure, but I’m not feeling this place.”
He replied without missing a beat, as though what he was about to say was the most obvious thing in the world:
“Well, if you don’t like something, change it.”
With those words of encouragement, I packed everything I had and moved to another city in another state.
Since then, I’ve traveled to over 70 countries and lived in ten. I met incredible people and learned several languages. It has been the happiest, inspiring, as well as productive time of my whole life. In fact, I don’t remember much of my “previous” life, but I vividly remember many of the magical days during my “present” life as though they happened just yesterday.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that the environment that you exist in is absolutely paramount to your well-being and state of mind. It inspires you and drives you to new heights. It revitalizes your head and re-energizes your body.
Environment is a combination of everything that you, as a human being, interact with. It’s the air you breathe. It’s the streets that you walk on. It’s the beautiful colonial architecture you stop to admire. It’s the people who respond to you when you ask them for something. It’s the girl who smiles at you when you compliment her. It’s the male friends who never flake when agreed to do something. It’s the glorious sunny weather. It’s the beautiful narrow colonial streets. It’s the amazing apartment right in the center, a mere walking distance from trendy cafes and restaurants. It’s the old shop keeper who treats you like his own family. It’s those huge green parks next to centuries’ old monuments of past heroes.
Environment isn’t any of the above: it’s everything put together. It’s the whole package that you come in contact with continuously without ever giving it a second thought. It shapes you, molds you, and defines you as a person more than you’ll ever know and will ever realize.
Environment can make you or break you. It can mean the difference between a stagnant life of misery and struggle, and a productive life of happiness and ambition. New environment can make all the difference.
You must be able to take charge of your environment and be also willing to change it if it no longer servers you.
It’s surprising that such a simple act such as going to a pleasant coffee shop in a nicer neighborhood would suddenly bring the much needed respite from the disorder I was experiencing earlier. I didn’t know that by moving to Rio, to Medellin, to Vilnius or to Kiev that I would finally understand that it wasn’t me who was off; it was the environment that was never compatible with me and my values. Environment affects everything. Changing the environment changed everything.
Sometimes you’re compatible with your environment. You don’t walk around aimlessly wondering what’s wrong. You don’t question your own existence. Everything makes sense to you. You’re content and happy just where you are.
Other times you find yourself feeling off. It’s a constant state, like a chronic decease instead of an acute infection. Every day is a slug, a struggle, a search for the truth, like walking around with a tiny rock in your shoe. Even the most trivial thing annoys and irritates you. You try to put your finger on it, but you can’t find the real cause.
Is it the crappy weather? Is it the rundown buildings? Is it the dirty streets? Is it the 38-year-old mediocre girl who won’t stop testing you, waiting for any sign of weakness like a hungry shark, because she wants to prove she’s better than you instead of letting herself go to be seduced by a confident man? Is it the people who view you as their competitor for everything good in life? Or is it the dog-eats-dog society that views you as an entity that only exists to be fleeced financially, morally, physically and spiritually? You’re not sure; the only thing you are sure of is that something is amiss.
What’s off is your environment. And it’s actually good that you can’t put your finger on a more specific reason — there’s no specific reason. The environment exists as a whole, as an immutable block of concrete that you either keep it all or change it all. Only by changing your environment will you be able to change yourself. Not a moment before.