I recently read that one’s surrounding environment shapes a person.  I see the logic in this: my daughter has had an urban upbringing.  She knows art and music and how to get around with mass transit, but is lacking in practical skills of outdoorsmanship, maintaining an actual house, and driving.  My Husband and I, well, there would be a steep learning curve if we ever moved to a house.  We don’t know lawn maintenance, or how often gutters needs to be cleaned, or hot to fix a hot water heater.  We live in a 19 floor high rise with a full time super and a handy man and a porter.  We throw garbage down a chute and have someone snake our drains.  If the hot water goes out I make a phone call, and usually, 20 minutes later hot water is magically restored.  We are completely shaped by the urban landscape in which we live.

Now, my husband and I chose to live this lifestyle.  As adults, we made an active decision to live in an urban environment.  Though I love nature and hiking, these things were not vital to my being.  I am perfectly happy hiking 5 or 6 times during the spring/summer/fall.  I don’t need to start up the grill at night to make dinner.  I don’t like to drive.  My perfect weekend would probably include a museum and some sort of show. I can do this most of the time.  So here’s the thought: am I shaped by my environment, or did I choose a setting that would best nurture my soul?

I grew up in a suburb of NYC where the main things were playing tennis and golf, drinking too much and shopping.  Sure, people had lovely houses and gardens, but they hired out the work.  True, some people really were avid gardeners, but it was mostly decorative.  Back in the day, few of my neighbors grew their own food. As a child I never felt comfortable in the suburbs.  I play tennis, and I played back in the day, but otherwise I did none of the things my neighbors did.  I was a reader, and I could normally be found in my room, nose in a book.  I shopped- but though many consider shopping a hobby, it really isn’t.  I never felt comfortable there.  I tried to adapt to a certain degree, but I felt out of sorts.  My environment didn’t really shape me: it just made me aware of what I wasn’t, which was mainly happy.

My daughter has spent her entire life in Manhattan, and yes, she is shaped by her environment.  She is a city girl through and through.  But, it’s a chicken/egg thing really: did she just adapt herself to her environment, or is she really an urban girl?

This question has come to light as we visit colleges.  We’ve visited suburban campuses, and campuses that are in quieter areas of major cities, and she has been known to utter the words “I don’t know if this is too rural.”  The first time we heard this was at a college that is technically part of a city, so close to the downtown area that the campus has it’s own subway stop… When we walk down a street with no one else on it she is bewildered: empty sidewalks just don’t exist in our part of the world.  And noise- actually lack of noise- she can’t sleep when it’s quiet.  Hearing birds chirp blows her mind.  She’d rather hear the bus driver announcing the next stop.  Though she is old enough to have a learner’s permit, she hasn’t even thought about taking the test.  To her, what’s the point?  We don’t own a car.

What does this mean?  When she looks at colleges, the first thing she notes is location.  If it’s anything other than urban, or town, she flips the page of the college guide book.  She does not think she could survive in an area where you can’t walk to Starbucks or stores.  She needs action.

Could she survive a different type of area?  She’s a Darwinist, so yes, she could adapt.  But will she really be happy?  Is she just meant to be a city girl?  Or is the urban lifestyle just totally ingrained in her?

I had a friend who lived in a rural area.  We used to joke about how J’s neighborhood had one traffic light and no building above 2 stories, while I could see 3 traffic lights from my third floor apartment.  J used to say that I would survive about 2 days in a rural setting, that the lack of people and buildings and noise would drive me crazy.  And perhaps J was right, perhaps the city is the force that gives me breath, that makes me thrive.  Maybe, without the bright lights I would wither and die.

So, what do you think?  Do you adapt to your surroundings, or do find an environment that suits your personality?

87 thoughts on “The Shape Around You

  1. I adapt. I’ve lived in urban high rise buildings like yours. I’ve lived in historical districts, once in a 100 year old house. I’ve lived on a quaint brick street and in old-style suburbs with established lawns. I’ve lived on a private drive, and I’ve lived in a newly built house on an unfinished street. It’s all what make of it– not allowing yourself to be judge-y about where you are, learning new things about yourself as you face the challenge of adapting. To live the same way all the time would be bore me.

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  2. I know I couldn’t survive long in a city. I visit San Francisco a few times a year, and I am so overwhelmed. The noise, and the traffic, and the people…it’s always fun for a few hours, but I’m ready to go home by the end of the day. I find it exhausting. I love my quiet little seaside town. 🙂

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      1. Oddly enough, when I was younger, I craved that busy-ness. So perhaps, over time, I just grew so used to where I live that living in a different type of place would be hard for me. Or maybe I just got old. One of those!

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  3. I can adapt to different locations but there’s always the environment where I feel most at home. I grew up in a very quiet neighbourhood , which was just too quiet and lacking in entertainment for me. As a young adult I moved to a big city which I loved, for the most part, but was never fully in my element. the suburbs suit me quite well now. I’m close enough to the acton the I want to be but at night, it’s blissfully quiet. 🙂
    I think we are partly shaped by our environment but there’s also an element of it that’s just ‘how we are’.

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  4. For me, I love the rural life — farm or woods. I CAN, however, deal with whatever environment I have to endure for work (or when we were moved as Navy kids). When I’m at my parents’ farm, I feel so at peace. Right now I need to be in a St. Louis, MO suburb for work, but I plan on moving to a more “Green Acres” lifestyle once retired.

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      1. My sister and I are Chameleons — we can live anywhere. I’d find city living brutal, though — too many people, too much noise and commotion. Even the suburbs are a bit much for me since l’ve had the chance to live on a farm/rural property.

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  5. I think you definitely can be a city person or a rural person. I have always lived in a village, but I am DESPERATE to go to university in a city. I mean desperate. Maybe that means I’m not adaptive, but I just can’t stand the quiet nature of this village, can’t wait to get to the busy city.

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  6. I need both. I need the calm and the quiet of the rural, as well as the bustle of the city. I just don’t need them at the same time. I went to a VERY rural university and looking back I’d rather have been in a more urban environment. The only thing there was to do was hang out in bars. No shops, no museums, no theatre, no cinema … time could have been put to good use there. Better than in a bar anyway 😀

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  7. I’ve always lived in a small town or semi-rural area. Currently we live on two large lots in a hilly housing development eight miles outside of Tallahassee, FL.
    The thought of living in a city has always intrigued me, and I believe I could adapt, but my husband would hate it. He likes mowing the lawn. Go figure.

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      1. Lol! Mine has this super macho riding mower that he swears is his favorite toy of all time. I believe mowing is his meditation. I’m not allowed to operate it, even though I have plenty of time in my day.

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      2. I do have friends like that…they find it very soothing. I think it’s the riding mower thing. I see how going back and forth in lines could be almost zen like….and noble thankful for little things…😉

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  8. I think some people are able to adapt. I grew up in a small town, but adapted to the city life (learning to sleep through sirens 24/7 was tough). I think I could have made a life in a city. But my husband was not happy in the city (we went to the same College). I see both of my daughters happier in a small town or rural setting, but time will tell. I work in a small university town (no Starbucks, but quaint little coffee shops). I see a lot of city students attracted to the small town, small school.

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  9. I have a friend who was born and brought up in London. She did the rural thing for a few years, and quite enjoyed it, but has settled back in a London suburb, for keeps. I suspect, but it’s only my theory, that nurture becomes nature after a number of years, particularly if those years are your formative ones. Hope your daughter finds a college where she will be happy and successful.

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    1. I grew up on Long Island. It didn’t suit me. At some point I know I’ll be in a quieter locale. I would love to try living in a small town. Quieter, but still some things very accessible

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      1. Waynesville, near us, is small and arty. Asheville is not far away. Along with everything else nice, we have the mountains! My husband was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens. He is still addicted to NY radio stations, but he is surviving here. I’m pretty sure he would say he is happy, but I don’t think I’ll chance asking him.

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  10. Mr B would argue that we’re born this way. He would say that we are born with hardwired preferences. We don’t make a decision that chocolate is our favorite flavor of ice cream; our biology let’s us know that chocolate it its favorite flavor of ice cream. While we can adapt to a life without chocolate ice cream, we can never completely overcome our biology and convince it that peach is its favorite flavor of ice cream.
    I don’t entirely understand the science behind his assertions, but they make sense anyway. I’m a recovering addict, and I most certainly did not make a choice to live most of my life obliterated by mood & mind altering substances; I truly believe I was born an addict. Recovery is possible, but only with vigilance; if I don’t maintain my recovery, I will revert to the way I was born, and I will use my body as a toxic waste dump again. It’s much like diabetes: if my husband eats properly and takes his medication, his diabetes remains under control.
    I hope all of that made sense.

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  11. Having been an Army brat growing up, I lived in a huge variety of places. When I got to select for myself, it was definitely rural. Oh, I could survive anywhere, but given a choice, no city life for me.

    For kids that grow up in one place, I see that they either love it or seek out the exact opposite.

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  12. We don’t think as much as when we are growing up and making these decisions. I went to the first university that offered me a full scholarship (academic) Stony Brook and didn’t look back. My father was praying I would go to Saint Bonaventure and worried about the liberalness of Stony Brook. I survived and graduated from there. If I was cognizant of all I knew of myself now, I would probably chose based on located somewhere with wide open spaces to breathe in like Wyoming, North Dakota, Montana or Northern California. Best of luck to your daughter and I hope you are ok with the choice also.

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  13. I lived much of my adult life in a big city and loved it. My wife, on the other hand, lived on a farm and also loved it. So we’ve adapted and chosen a place to live that suits the other things we now seem to want. The recognition here being that as one gets older, your preferences can change. I never thought I’d ever happily live in a small Florida tourist town, and yet here I am. – Marty

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  14. That is what my mom said years ago and my father just rolled his eyes but you go with the best choice: whether it is financial, academic and sometimes the soul searching comes years later. As my husband sometimes said, “you could have ended up in a much worse position.” I might have been present in those towers on 9-11 or have married someone else and have been left overseas alone and with a child. Sometimes the decision are made with the information we have .

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  15. Interesting post. I’m sure there’s a bit of hardwiring in your choice of environments. But I know plenty of people who grew up in cities who couldn’t wait to move out. I love hiking and the outdoors, so the city wouldn’t work for me. But I like knowing I can get there whenever I want. It’s good that your daughter knows that about herself. Lots of kids end of leaving schools because they can’t handle their location.

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  16. I think you adapt to your surroundings when you have to … perhaps the only job you could get was located in a big city so you live there … but I also think people find environments that suit their personality … so when you finally retire you move to a smaller town like you’ve always wanted to do…

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  17. I think one migrates to the area that suits them. I am living in the desert southwest in a large, poorly laid out city and not adapting at all (we have been here 8 years!). I am a four seasons girl and as soon as my son graduates from high school I am moving back north to a mid sized city. I have lived all over the country and know that is where I am happiest.

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  18. Thought-provoking post, LA. I also grew up on Long Island, a long time ago. It made for a great childhood, but I could not imagine living the lives the mothers were living there. I wanted to be in the middle of a big city, which is what got me to McGill. From Montreal, my husband and I spent two years in central London, which was fabulous. As we all learn, life does throw curves, and when we returned to this side of the pond the job market was “in flux” and we ended up in a small town … for a few years that returned into a lifetime. It turns out that small towns (well, not very, very small towns), especially ones with universities and professional opportunities, are more similar to big cities than suburbs, at least for me. I do think that although we can adapt, there are different strokes for different folks. Feeling comfortable in your environment is important. You want an environment that makes you feel alive and motivated to be who you want to be, rather than feeling out of place or bored.

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    1. Very good points. And I agree with you about university towns being more like cities. I think I could live in a small town easier than I could live in a suburb. I think you, and Tracy are right. We can adapt, but it doesn’t mean it’s the best environment

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  19. ‘We’ve visited suburban campuses, and campuses that are in quieter areas of major cities, and she has been known to utter the words “I don’t know if this is too rural.” The first time we heard this was at a college that is technically part of a city, so close to the downtown area that the campus has it’s own subway stop… ‘ Given than I live in a small city, but have a cornfield and orchard three blocks away, this cracks me up (granted, both field and orchard are part of the university’s agriculture department, but still). The nearest subway stop to me is an eleven hour drive away…

    I think it’s both a matter of nature and nurture, it just depends on the person and what they like. I have a couple of friends who, upon graduating college, moved to the east coast. They hated it there and moved back to the great plains as quickly as possible. They loathed the noise and the press of people and the traffic and their inability to see the sky. But there are classmates from my small town high school who now live in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, and love their urban lives.

    You can adjust to a place, too, depending on who you’re with. My parents, for example, come from very different places. My dad grew up in a city where his graduating class had over 2,000 students. My mom grew up on a farm and drove a long way to get to school. Her graduating class had a grand total of 7 students. They’ve lived in a town of 5,600 for almost forty years, and my mom wouldn’t go back to live on the farm anymore than my dad would go back to his big city. They’re both quite comfortable where they are, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

    For myself, I couldn’t live in a tiny town, but a city like New York would drive me nuts if I had to be there more than a few months, I think. I like to travel to the world’s great cities, not live in them.

    And for what it’s worth, I think it’d be a good idea for your daughter to take the driving test and get her license. You (and she) never know what sort of emergency might happen that would make driving experience essential.

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    1. After reading a bunch of comments yesterday, I’m thinking it comes down to this. We are all capable of adapting to any environment. But just cause we adapt doesn’t mean we are suited, or prefer, that environment. We’re just making the best of the situation we’re in, whatever the circumstances. On another note…well said comments!!

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  20. Very interesting post! I think we go where we belong. I grew up in the LA area and once the traffic and crowds got out of control, I left for Colorado where I was meant to be. I would be miserable without the mountains, rivers, and hiking. But I am kind of a hybrid though. I couldn’t live in a truly rural place. I need to get my city fix occasionally, and love going to Denver a few times a year. I think it’s awesome you live in a NYC high rise! When we’ve visited, I’ve always wondered about the people who live in them! 🙂

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  21. I have no way of knowing for sure, but I tend to think that we find the environment that suits our personalities. People who feel they don’t fit in where they were raised (like you and my husband) usually more somewhere more comfortable as soon as they are grown up and able. Those who do fit in, tend to stay put.

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    1. I was talking to a few blog friends. I’m thinking we can adapt to anything, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best environment for us. It’s made me think ….not sure if that’s a good or bad thing…

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  22. I think we do both, depending on the time and situation. Now that I’m retired, I’m traveling and enjoying lots of environments – taking them all in, no adapting, per se, required. But you know, just like the working world, no one environment is necessarily perfect. We adapt to our families growing up, college life, our own when we raise kids, the office and/or multiple jobs. The key, I suppose, is find some peace of mind where ever you are at. I definitely prefer rural over city

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    1. There are so many components to peace of mind…it’s like a combination of all your environments…internal, external, etc….it’s interesting to think about what makes up peace of mind

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  23. Great post and fascinating comments. I grew up in Chicago, mainly in the suburbs. I loved the feel of the suburbs with easy access to the culture of the city. I tried to attend college in a rural area and quickly learned it wasn’t for me. Transferring to Northwestern was perfect, suburban with access to the city. Less than 2 years ago I moved to the mountains and forest in Colorado. It’s been an adjustment but I’m learning how to balance my day-to-day love of nature with my need for culture and social activities. I recently spent a week in NY and it was wonderful but overwhelming. I felt like Elf when I took the train to Penn Station.

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    1. Its always a tricky balance when you love nature but crave the attributes of a city, because rarely do you get a good combination, though San Fran is a decent example. My friend gets a healthy dose of culture but still has pretty easy access to supping and hiking….

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      1. I’ve got friends there too and it’s an attractive alternative but very pricey. I’ve chosen to live where I can get most of what I want/need to be happy but also travel. There are always trade offs.
        And on the subject of your daughter choosing a college, good for you in allowing the decision to be hers.

        Liked by 1 person

  24. Born in a city I am absolutely a country girl. I have lived in Miami and a place in NM so remote I could drive 5 miles in any direction from my house and not see a fence post or telephone pole. I don’t need glitz and lights though once I yearned for it. I have no idea what this means or if it even answers your question. I think we have a place at the depth of us where we want solace and calm but we grow into it.

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  25. Ahh the old which comes first chicken or egg. A good question, I guess I’m shaped a ‘Townie’ because my mum and dad own a semi on a housing estate so all us children will only ever be middle England children. I adore visiting London and ask myself ALL THE TIME whether I could live in such a fast paced urban environment and I’d answer no……. there’s just tooo many lol aggressive impatient unhappy? People.

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