The environments in which we work shape us.

Right from the first moments of entering the world of work, it began to shape me.

When I joined the most junior ranks of my local bakery Donaldson’s Cakes as a ‘cake shop girl’. I didn’t realise I had entered the shallows of the murky waters of organisational dynamics that often encouraged me to hang my values at the door and to follow hard instructions without asking hard questions.

A short time after being employed, I was promoted to taking the lead on the prized Sunday shift. It was prized because it was the longest shift of the week and one paid at 1.5 times the normal hourly rate. I worked that shift for years. I started at 5am every Sunday morning.

My first task each shift was to move all the cakes that had been baked from the back racks near the ovens out into the shop.

Early one Sunday morning, I discovered that a rack of large sweet buns had been nibbled by rats in the wee hours of the morning. Upon reporting this shocking situation to Mrs Donaldson, I was firmly instructed to get a knife, trim away all evidence of rat teeth marks, brush off the poo and stick a half-price sign on each one.

Selling those buns to people I knew in my local neighbourhood was a test of my true commitment. I am sad to report that I passed with flying colours.

I continued to give my unquestioning, iron-stomached loyalty to Donaldson’s Cakes all throughout high school and university. The money I earnt paid for my first car, and a countless number of White Sambuca shots at the university bar.

I did not leave that job until after I had graduated from university with a Manufacturing Management degree, and landed a full-time job as a production assistant at a lighting company. Rod, the manufacturing manager, explained that he had chosen me for the role, despite the fact I had zero manufacturing industry experience because of the dedication and loyalty I had demonstrated through my long-standing job at Donaldson’s Cakes.

I learnt that the system rewards those who stay in the muck and deal with the crap.

The problem is that staying in the muck can damage us in really serious ways.

As much as we might like to think of ourselves as somehow immune to the environments we expose ourselves to when we are working, the inconvenient truth is that we are not immune.

In the same way plants needs fertile, nutrient-rich soil in order to sustain growth and health over the long term, humans need this too.

Sunflowers have adapted to be heliotropic, orienting themselves throughout the day to soak in maximum sunlight. In the Melbourne Botanical Gardens, I recently discovered a type of jasmine flowering in the middle of winter, its fragrance delicate yet defiant in the chilly air.

In much the same way humans can be strong, adaptive and resilient – but if any element of our environment is toxic, over the long term we cannot prosper. Long term exposure to harsh environments can make us brittle and spiky.

We may try to fool ourselves into believing if we just try hard enough, we can create a force-field around us that somehow protects us from the harmful effects of our environment.

But the truth is that we are not robots or superheroes.

We are susceptible, vulnerable living creatures that are connected to and influenced by our environments.

If you are on the path from self-betrayal to self-fidelity and might benefit from a little guidance and support, click here to see how I can help.