Your environment can make you into a titan or a toy. By "environment," I mean both the settings you have control over and those you're involuntarily flung headlong into—your daytime gig versus, say, your childhood home. So, really, what I'm talking isn't a case of nature versus nurture—whether or not you can control how you develop or if you're altered by uncontrollable external stimuli and/or bullshit. No, I'm talking about nurturing your nature. Because if the theories are true and you can't control how the outside influences you on the inside, then you can at least control which outsides you submerse yourself in.
There are a lot of ways into the theories about how we're shaped by our environs. They say, for example, "You are the room you're in." They also say, "You are the average of the five people you hang out with most." "They," whoever they are, have given this a lot of thought, but it takes only one tractor accident to wipe out both your Illinois, milk-farming parents and (hold on tight, I'm on my third red eye) uproot you from that bucolic life and send you packing to your next of kin on a glitzy patch of Michigan Avenue where you start hanging out in Remington-hung rooms and getting used to the Ladies Who Lunch Air Kiss. All of a sudden, the things that were all you knew in the country are hailed by a Chicago beef princess as "perhaps a bit tacky." And you've been there long enough to agree with her. The changes are slow-moving, but because we're creatures that seek harmony with others as well as ourselves, we reach a kind of equilibrium wherein we change ourselves enough to be welcomed in the places we frequent, but not so much that we don't recognize ourselves in the mirror. So, sure, it's all ego: the part of us that wants to be liked and the part of us that wants to like ourselves.
But this isn't exactly bad. Especially if you're willing to turn into the skid when sliding into new places. For one, it helps to be a Student of Your Setting. Like most capitalized phrases, this is profound. You can be shaped or you can be broken. There's not much in between. Try to learn. Be impressionable, yet discerning. Try to glean something—anything—from everybody everywhere, especially those who fail: friends who fizzle or blow up or fall down, run away, disappear from the block, drop off homeroom roll, peers waiting for past missteps to knock quietly at their door and ask to chat, opponents. It's all educational.
These are all things we can know. What we're in the dark about is whether passively evolving with where your life takes you—and not sweating what-all that may hold—is problematic or lazy of us. 'Cause, really, we have no way of knowing how we can grow unless we let it happen. And isn't it weird how stagnation, in that light, turns into an A1 option if we know the alternative is deterioration? The flip side is holding on tight to who you think you are at the risk of never becoming someone you like better. The term I've heard that might work here is "Analysis-Paralysis." And the only way I know of to combat it is to not ask yourself whether you're paranoid. Whether you're going to bed a better person than when you woke up. Whether you're not insane. Nope. The best medicine is to simply open wide for the spoon.
Rick Morrison is a writer living in North Carolina. Follow him on Twitter here.