Why Knowing Your Place in the System Matters?

Jul 24, 2019

One of my colleagues asked the question: Is there a difference between environment and systems?

My gut reaction was that they are the same, but as I thought a bit further, I realized something.

While your environment is interconnected with the system, it can also be separate and apart. Let me first explain what I mean by “system” and then I’ll illustrate, by way of example, why this is important and how it impacts your ability to live your biggest life.

What is a System?

I get asked this question at least twice a day. Here’s the most basic definition right out of Wikipedia:

“A system is a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network.”

Key phrases here are: things and interconnecting network.

“Things” basically means everything. Yes, all things are part of a system. And, all systems are part of the system. Everything interconnects in one form or another to form a system, and those systems interconnect to form a network.

Additionally, everything within these multiple systems is energy, down to the micro-particles that exist within every element in the universe. As human beings, we are part of this network. We are part of multiple ecosystems.

You may be an Expert in Systems, but Do You Know . . .

As a leader, you’ve been taught to develop and implement concrete systems and processes that are designed to help you implement the goals and objectives of your business: marketing systems, financial systems, hiring systems, and so on.

What we often miss is the energy that flows between the people (and the elements) within those systems. It is those invisible energies, the hidden dynamics within these multiple complex systems that often cause us the greatest amount of anxiety, frustration, or perhaps even pain.

The source of our suffering is often rooted in our innate desire to control systems (and the people in them) that we have no control over. When we learn our place in the system(s), the suffering ends.

The flow of energy in these systems impacts our environment and vice versa because the environment also contains multiple systems of its own.

Case in point: I was recently visiting the Linville Caverns in North Carolina. As we descended into the darkness of the caverns (with my praying that the resident bats were flying elsewhere), the guide cautioned: Do not touch the rocks.

To be honest, my brain rushed to, seriously?

The guide went on to clarify. The rocks are still growing, she said. Our touch could interfere with their growth. Who knew? I certainly never imagined that rocks grew, yet as we descended deeper into the caverns and more and more stalactites and stalagmites became visible (you remember these from science class, right?), it was clear that, yes, rocks do grow into multiple formations. They aren’t stagnant and concrete as we often think. They are alive, and they grow. It’s just that they take hundreds of years to do so, and the growth is so slow over the course of time, what we witness is concrete, hard, and static.

Please, Stop, Sharon, with the Geology Lesson. What Does this Have to Do with Me?

The question is where are you within the systems in which you live, work, and play? Are you concrete, hard, and static, failing to transform, thrive, and grow? Or, are you growing and adapting to the systemic energies that surround you?

Understanding that everything is a system and that everything within that system has an equal right to be there, shifts how we think and respond to the world. There is an order to each and every system and the energy within in it. Your job is to determine your place within the multiple systems in which you interface and to honor the place of the other elements that co-exist within.

Elements within the system might be abstract, e.g., emotions of anger, resentment, joy, or sorrow. Or, they might be people: your boss, co-worker, best friend, mother-in-law. Every system contains elements unique to its existence. You are but one element among many.

Now, Back to the Question of Environment versus System. Is There a Difference?

The answer is yes and no.

Yes, the environment is interconnected to you and the multiple systems which you bring into the environment. However, because you have a brain and a tree doesn’t, you get to choose how you want to influence the environment. You also get to choose how you allow the environment to influence you.


At the time of this writing, I’m sitting in a condo overlooking the Appalachian Mountains in Burnsville, North Carolina.. The environment surrounding me is comprised of multiple ecosystems: plants, flowers, soil, trees, bears, mountains, rushing creeks, neighbors, and constant shifts in weather.

This scene is the environment that I stepped into several days ago. What I brought into this environment is the multiple systems that live with me: my ancestry, my personality structure, my current family system, my business systems, my belief systems, my physical body, also comprised of multiple complex systems. The list goes on.

If I enter this environment with toxicity from any of my systems, whether it be the stress of work or a health condition or perhaps with a barking dog who digs up my neighbor’s flower, I have the potential to negatively impact the tranquil beauty of my environment.

Or . . .

I can experience the environment and allow the tranquil energy of these mountains to transform any toxicity that lives within my mind, body, or spirit such that I am impacted by the environment in a positive way and thereby have a meaningful, creative experience.

Bottom line: I am an integral part of every environment I enter into, and I have a choice to make. How will I impact the environment? And, how will I allow the environment to impact me?

Every System Has Order: Know Your Place!

In a recent blog post about South Africa, I described how the premise of order showed up for me via my experience in the bush. Nature is a great reminder of how small we are in the grand scheme of things.

Here, in the mountains of North Carolina, I’m reminded once again of the power of nature. One minute the sun is shining and the next, it’s thunder and intense rain. If I hike on a nearby trail and suddenly stumble upon a black bear, guess who’s first in the system? Clearly, not yours truly.

What does this have to do with you and your business? Your life?

When you come to understand yourself in the context of multiple complex systems, it’s humbling to know that there is a great deal outside our control.

Your job is to appreciate the many environments in which you live, work, and play. Only then can you find your place in the system. Only then can you fully realize what you have to contribute and why your contribution is important.

It’s about letting go and knowing that, as human beings, we don’t always rule. In fact, we rarely get it right. The good news is, we get to choose how we want to be a part of the multiple systems in which we find ourselves.

Something to think about. I hope you choose well.

Question of the Week:

Think about one of the systems you step into each day? Think about the order of that system? Can you name your place within that system?