Trees are dying in my neighborhood. It seems like every day, a crew is out there cutting up yet another big dead tree. I live in essentially a high mountain desert, just west of Vail, and my neighborhood faces south, so it tends to bake in the sun. The native vegetation is sparse, consisting primarily of sagebrush. Thirty years ago, when the development of this neighborhood began, people planted trees and grass. I suppose because that’s what you do when you build a house — plant trees to make it look nice. Aspen, cottonwood and spruce trees. When we bought our home several years ago, we liked how pretty the neighborhood was, with mature landscaping, flowers and shade in the summer. We’re originally from Michigan and we like trees.
Alas, the trees have been assaulted by drought, disease and pests and they are dying. Some are just old — they only live so long — but most are sickly. Basically, the trees don’t belong here. Never did. It’s too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter, too dry from time to time and the soils aren’t right, allowing bugs and fungus to get in and kill them.
So, this morning, as I listened to the chain saws of yet another crew cut down another huge tree on the golf course behind my house, I thought that these trees are like a lot of people I know, including me. For whatever reason, whether a bad relationship, the wrong career choice, changing economic circumstances or trying to be something because that’s what is expected, people can end up in the wrong place. And for a while, they may be ok. Their reserves sustain them, they grow and establish roots as best they can and they may even appear to thrive. Eventually, though, they get worn down and depleted, cracks in their exterior expose them to the elements, and they get sick.
When this happened to me a few years ago, I was completely caught off guard. I’m fairly smart, have a decent “emotional” quotient and work hard, I was doing what I thought I was supposed to do. People often told me how strong I was., whatever that means. But I was in the wrong place, at least the wrong place for me, in my job. And with every day that went by, I became less. Less strong. Less patient. Less energetic. Less me. Eventually, I confided in a friend and colleague that I feared I was broken. And then, when some really difficult situations came at me, I wasn’t able to deal with them from a place of strength.
A counselor then told me something I wish I had known sooner. When in a place that fits you, you will gain strength, thrive and grow. But, if the core of who you are does not align at least generally with your environment, you will be in a state of constant friction. Even if you don’t feel that friction outright, it is there and it will wear you down. Think Chinese water torture of the soul. Something needs to be altered, and generally our fundamental selves don’t change. So you need a transplant. And if that’s not feasible, at least recognizing that you are in a situation that is depleting can help you find the resources to shore up and replenish.
As hectic and busy as life may get, invest some real effort in your introspection and in the assessment of your environment. And check back in from time to time. Things change. Your good environment of five years ago may not be so good for you anymore.