“A Deformative Effect of Her Environment”

Came across this article in the NY Times called ‘The Busy Trap.’ It’s about how so many people impose a crazily hectic lifestyle on themselves and then proudly announce to others how busy they are. It doesn’t really apply to me, but about two thirds of the way through the article, I came across this sentence:

What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious and sad — turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment.

He’s talking about a friend who left New York for the South of France, but his words struck a chord.

Our lives in New York revolved around work. Every weekday and almost every weekend we worked. Even on holidays we were at home, working for at least part of the day. I wasn’t unhappy – I think I’m congenitally set to be generally content – but I was losing my spark, overly reserved, too introverted, prone to avoiding adventure, too involved with producing things. And like the woman in the article, I assumed that was just my personality rather than understanding that it was a deformity caused by my environment.

It’s only now that I’m home, socializing on a regular basis, planning trips and outings, chatting amiably to strangers in the supermarket, that I realize how much I changed during those 22 years abroad.

If you’re reading this from New York, I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I do not think New York – or America in general – is to blame. There is nothing deformative about it as an environment. For many people it’s the opposite – a place where they can feel free and develop their skills and personalities in new and exciting ways. And for many years it served the same purpose for me. I grew in ways I could never have imagined. I learned more than I could ever have hoped for. I experienced things others can only dream of. And I’m grateful for all that, I really am.

But it’s good that it came to an end when it did, because in the process of all that I think I started to lose myself. In the end, I bought into the protestant work ethic and forgot about how important it is to have a life outside of work. Now that we’re home in a place where people work to live rather than the other way round, things have changed. We still put in time every day on the business, but we take more breaks. We pop out on short trips during the work day. In the evenings and on weekends we go out more. We meet friends and family. We take drives. We live life now in ways we didn’t previously.

And what I mistakenly assumed to be my personality turned out to be, well, not.

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3 thoughts on ““A Deformative Effect of Her Environment”

  1. How absolutely true. We are such complex individuals so to me, it doesn’t make sense that one-dimensional environment/lifestyle would bring out the best in us. Thanks for a thought-provoking piece.

  2. I too saw this piece so it was good to read your take on it. I am forever saying ‘I’m too busy,’or similar and I know with all my logic that it is all my own doing… but I just can’t manage to slow down yet! It is my mission this year to do just that–to find a better work/life balance.

    • I think I have found it since moving back here. This weekend I have to admit that I did a bit of work, but inbetween trips out and walks and fun. It’s been a lovely weekend and I didn’t used to have those. Good luck in finding a balance that works for you!

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