Try This Exercise: Your Ideal Environment

In one paragraph—or more, if you like—answer this question:

In what imaginary environment would your best self emerge?

Most of us have never asked ourselves that question because it’s not considered askable. What we’ve been trained to ask is, “How can I fit into some preexisting environment? How can I change myself to fit the world?” When we go to the store, we hope we’ll fit into the clothes on the racks. If the jeans are too long or too narrow, it’s we who are too short or too fat. If we happened to have three arms, we’d cut one off rather than politely but firmly insist on a jacket with three sleeves!

Just in fantasy, I’d like you to try shaping the world to your needs for a change. Imagine an environment that is perfect for someone with all your present characteristics—a world so tailored to your nature that you’d be at your best in it without changing yourself one bit. Let the environment do all the work for you.

I’m going to stop right here and define my terms a little bit. By environment, I don’t just mean your physical surroundings. Sure, it would be nice to have a house with a patio and a swimming pool and a huge fireplace, and it might be even nicer to be in the Bahamas under a palm tree. But I don’t want you to spend too much time on the color of your walls or the climate and the vegetation, unless that is vital to your best state of mind. It may be. But environment is also, very importantly, your human environment: the kinds of people you’d like to be surrounded by; how much privacy you need, and how much interaction; what kinds of help you’d like; what kinds of responses you’d want to your ideas.

You might need to be challenged…or just really listened to. (You will certainly need to be respected.) You might want to be a teacher, with the opportunity to inspire your students; or you might like to be a learner, surrounded by people who could teach you all kinds of fascinating things. You might want to be in charge of a large operation staffed by totally cooperative, efficient, loyal people who are dying to do whatever you tell them to. Or you might prefer to be a member of an egalitarian group effort. It’s entirely up to you.

And “Let the environment do the work for you” means don’t change yourself in this fantasy. Above all, don’t improve yourself. Improve the world, so that your characteristics stop being problems. If you hate doing the housework, don’t imagine you being more self-disciplined or patient. Imagine eight little gremlins following you around cleaning up after you! (Be as whimsical as you like—this is fantasy, so anything goes.) If you’re disorganized, or you need a lot of love, or you’re shy, or you tend to procrastinate, don’t think of those characteristics as “weaknesses” that need changing. Think of them as design problems—challenges to your ingenuity as a world-maker. Create an environment that fits and supports you as you are, so that you are comfortable, secure, and free to turn in your best performance.

I think you’ll enjoy this exercise. You won’t be asked too often to re-design the world to suit you. But you have to know that it’s important to think about what such a world would be. What emerges is another view of who you are.

Print this page and write your answer or share your answer in the Comments section.

(If you’d like to do the next step in this exercise—it’s pretty good and you might like it—just go to and open to Chapter 3. Then turn to page 49 and start reading.)