How To Avoid ‘Shrek-ness’ In Your Life: And Build A More Sustainable And Creative Environment

A quick question: Does ‘environment’ matter?

If you believe in environmental change — as in ‘climate change’ — there are many doing their ‘bit’ to make a difference.

And that’s all any of us can do isn’t it? One tiny change leads to another and another.

But change only happens when we want it to. When habits are formed. Without them, changes don’t stick.

Having the courage to ‘flip’ and crave a new environment takes courage.

I find I’m regularly forgetting recyclable bags for groceries and leaving lights burning in an empty room and heating on when I could easily put on another layer. All because it’s easy to fall back into old patterns.

It’s like personal change. Switching off irritating thoughts. Setting triggers to get new patterns and healthier routines happening. They all happen with habits. And have little chance of changing without them.

The Flip Side

While it’s easy to think of ‘environment’ as a place we live in and care for — there’s a flip side to it.

It’s summed up beautifully in the movie, Shrek (Disney, 2001).

Because for Shrek, environment did matter.

He found his environment in a place far from anyone who could criticise, ridicule or reject him:

“They judge me before they know me, that’s why I’m better off alone.”

It’s the story of many a ‘reluctant’ hero — those living in their own ‘swamp’ and needing deep courage to dig their way out.

Because risking exposure — usually means getting emotionally involved.

So much safer staying swamp-bound.

Takes courage to move beyond fear of judgement and rejection — because that seed, if watered, can turn into a great big ugly fat green ogre.

I think Donkey from Shrek said it best:

“You’re so wrapped up in layers, onion boy, you’re afraid of your own feelings’.

Choices show up in actions. Layer on layer — wrapping and protecting a core that defies exposure. Onions have layers that when planted right can grow well.

It’s everywhere — from politician’s pre-election preaching to post-election postponement of platforms that got them elected — to “I’ll save 10% of what I earn, and then … oops I need a new xyz and have to get it now”.

That’s one layer. A surface layer.

And the closer I am to the surface — the easier it is to take the quick option: instant relief.

And while none of us are the sum of our behaviour — we’re more complex than that — behaviour reflects ‘genuine’ — each one’s truth.

So often though, in defence of ourselves, blaming becomes the easy option.

“Look, I’m not the one with the problem, okay? It’s the world that seems to have a problem with ME!” (Shrek, 2001)

And here our ‘genuine’ is seen (or not) in how we show what we stand for — our personal values, how we feel about ourselves and ultimately how we protect ourselves from hurt and pain.

I worked with a group of men a while back — leaders of a company who had come through some big changes — both financially and culturally.

To a man, there was discord between their ‘external’ selves and the internal one they shared with me when we were spoke independently — apart from the group.

Childhood stories that influenced how they viewed themselves and their roles as fathers, brothers, sons and bosses.

Sins visited upon the sons.

As I’m writing this, in the background is a podcast — the never-ending debate about work-life balance — so it makes sense it’ll creep into this post.

It’s the guilt factor of not being where others’ expectations believe we ‘should’ be.

For me, and every other person on the planet — making a choice for one thing means making a choice against another.

No other way.

When my son was young — so many times I felt a total failure. Guilt if he stayed too late in after-school care — guilt if I left work at a reasonable time so dinner, homework and time to share the day with him happened.

I felt pulled. Every. Step. Of. The. Way.

Just like the men I worked with. Pulled between the child version of themselves and the man-version dragging them forward.

So, do we display our genuine and align ourselves with values (how much do we even really know our own values — but that’s another story altogether) or do we keep the peace with others, trying to please everyone (and ultimately pleasing no one) and leave the internal battle somewhere between guilt and denial?

And this is the crunch.

Because between guilt and denial I believe there is another way.

And that comes from choosing our internal environment — its influence is far greater than any external one can ever be.

In our trial course, we talk about our environment and how strong its pull is.

If your self-awareness is high — you’ll know how ‘choice’ works.

The questions tapping on the edge of our consciousness asking:

  • “Why did I say ‘yes’ when I don’t have time to do this?”
  • “Why is my ‘gut feeling’ screaming ‘get out of here’ when on the surface everything seems ok?”
  • “What is it about this person that draws me in and touches a nerve deep inside?”
  • “When will I feel happy?”
  • “When will it be ‘my’ time?”
  • “Why do I feel so alone — when I know I have ‘everything’ I need?”

Ahhh …

Questions with an eternal itch. Regardless of age, gender, culture or religion — the sense of ‘being ok with the world’ can seem an elusive search.

It’s in finding a life of meaning that we can anchor ourselves and satisfy needs. (Ever read Viktor Frankl’s, Man’s Search For Meaning? — Worth checking out if you haven’t.)

It’s this that allows us to discover the mindfulness mantra of ‘being present’ — not living in a stored memory of the past or some wishful future — but truly present to the deeper part within that often has much to say if only we could place our hand on ‘pause’ and sense the pulse of ‘now’.

self portrait

self portrait

Not then, not in the future, but now.

So, what does this mean when we talk about ‘environment’?

Now this is important.

If our environment — our internal one — is more important than our external one, then life is held in a beautiful tension where choices are consciously made.

It’s about:

· Knowing when your values are stretched and in danger of betrayal.

· Acknowledging how you feel about a situation and making a choice to change things.

· Having an attitude of ‘servant leadership’ over ‘self-absorption’.

· Sensing the influences that pull and push you — and in turn influence how you are with others.

· Knowing when you’re at the edge of your skills and need to learn more so awareness of not only where you’re at — but where others are too — helps all people within your community.

Because this is what it’s all about.

Whether we express ourselves or not — our values speak for us — and it’s all wrapped up in what we pay attention to and what we ignore. The choices we make — and those we don’t. The consequences, the pay-offs, the missing-out, the gains.

Values are formed and forged in the ‘internal environment’ we choose.

While the external one may have the power to ‘influence’ — ultimately it’s a choice as to what ‘internal environment’ each one of us chooses.

What does all of this mean?

Is this something you’ll read and move on from with a ‘so-what’ reaction?

Perhaps for some, this will be it.

For others, it’s a chance to reflect — on self, on family, on colleagues and to consider what ‘environment’ you’ve chosen to express yourself in and what ‘environment’ you choose to internally express to others.

So may I ask you a few questions?

Think about your external environment — where do you feel most ‘you’?

Is it at home, in nature, when pushing yourself by exercising, when creating, reading, being with friends, at work, with your family — or being on your own?

As you think about this space where you feel most comfortable— what is it about this that touches you? And if you could imagine yourself fully in this environment seeing what you’re seeing, hearing what you’re hearing and feeling what you’re feeling — where in your body do you sense this?

What about this space helps you feel this ease and comfort? Is it the calm quiet, the noise and energy, the feeling of connection and friendship, the solitude, the senses being stimulated?

When you’re in this space and sensing this ‘rightness’ what does this mean for you?

How does it help you connect more to your inner voice?

How could you lean more into this space and ‘listen to this inner voice’ — the one that doesn’t often get the chance to speak — or even hum along to the spirit of the moment that you’ve just tapped into?

For me — when I think of times where I feel most ‘me’ — most in-tune with what’s important — it’s walking along the beach. Thinking of it now I’m transported back to teenage years of long walks at low tide between the headlands of Austinmer and Thirroul in New South Wales — south of Sydney.

Each time I get the chance to kick off shoes and grind my heels into sand and feel wavelets swash my legs I’m transported to those early days. Something inside me calms. A heartbeat connects with the ebb of tide. A sense of all-is-well-in-the-world?? Of rightness?? Perhaps even naïve innocence at all the hope and possibilities I saw ahead of me. A deep contentment simply held in those moments of sun on back, breeze on skin and light glancing off the cupped wavelets washing around. Deep gratitude.

And I can’t resist one last Shrekky quote:

Well, I have a bit of a confession to make: donkeys don’t have layers. We wear our fear right there on our sleeves. (said Donkey)

So what about you. I’d love to hear your moments — those environments that help you connect more with your internal one. Those ones where you’re most you and don’t need to onion-layer yourself beneath a swamp to breathe.?