Think about the last time you were annoyed at someone in your life.

Maybe your partner forgot to take out the trash (again!), or your kid threw a temper tantrum in the grocery store, or your boss shot down an idea that you were really passionate about.

You probably have opinions about their behavior.

And your brain likely has lots of Very Logical Solutions to the “problem” of their behavior, like:

  • Your partner should just set a reminder for trash day.
  • Your child should just be a little quieter in public.
  • Your boss should just give you a little bit more freedom so you can prove yourself.

You may have even tried to change their behavior.

Maybe you pulled out the big guns and tried coaching them on how to fix these “problems.”

If they just fixed their few flaws, you think, they would be perfect and you would be happy.

Do you see where I’m going here?

Spoiler alert: No one else can make you happy. Only you can – by managing your mind.

That’s why I want to introduce you to a powerful concept I came up with during my last long-term relationship: The Human Ecosystem.

This life-changing concept came to me when I was coaching myself on, of all things, the fact that my former partner tended to be 20-30 minutes late to pretty much everything. 

I had a lot of thoughts and feelings about that, as you can imagine. After all, I myself am routinely only fifteen minutes late, which is TOTALLY DIFFERENT. (Narrator: It is not in fact different at all). First I tried sulking and getting upset, and then I tried encouraging him to change. Neither of those worked. Eventually I realized my problem was a deeper thought error than it appeared. 

Because implicitly, in judging my partner and trying to change him, I was relating to him as though he were a machine. As though I could reach in and adjust a few gears, and then the machine would run exactly as I wanted it to. If I could dial down his lateness just a smidge, and dial up his fondness for family dinners 23 marks, and dial back his need for alone time by 10%, I would have The Perfect Boyfriend™.

But then I realized that people aren’t machines. (That Ivy League education of mine really paid off).

So I began to ask myself a powerful question: What if the thing that bugs me most about him is actually inextricably linked to something I love?

What if the same reason my partner was always late is the same reason he wrote me love songs – because he was creative and tended to get lost in his thoughts?

What if it was all part of the same human ecosystem?

The human ecosystem is the idea that people are a complex network of interconnected qualities. We can’t separate one quality from another, and if you want to love a person fully, you must learn to love what you perceive as flaws, too.

Because tiny changes in one place – say, making a person more punctual – can create huge changes in another.

We can see the logic when it is applied to the natural world. The classic example is “the butterfly effect”: the concept that a butterfly flapping its wings in Chicago could cause a hurricane in Japan.

But it can be applied to people too.

The things you love are intimately connected to the things you wish you could change.

What if, instead of trying to change them, you viewed everyone around you as a complete Human Ecosystem? It would change your world.

And this extends beyond other people.

You are a human ecosystem too.

Think about this the next time you start criticizing yourself.

You may love how organized you are but hate your rigidity.

But your organization skills are related to your rigidity.

That doesn’t mean that with thought work you won’t be able to maintain organization while also becoming more laid-back emotionally.

But it is a way to see both sides of the coin rather than reject part of yourself as unacceptable and worthless.

I love how introspective I am.

But this means I sometimes need a push to spend time with other people and connect.

If I don’t manage my mind, I may default to isolating myself. I use thought work to be that push. But I don’t criticize myself for the initial thoughts and patterns.

It’s not a problem.

It’s just my ecosystem.

What is your ecosystem?

To find out, ask yourself:

What do I dislike about myself?

How is it related to things I love or value about myself?

Let’s take this a step further and explore how the human ecosystem applies to other things in your life. 

Maybe you think your job involves too many meetings. But what if these meetings also let you connect and brainstorm with your colleagues?

Maybe you’re on a committee that spends two hours debating what drinks to serve at an event. You may find the debate insufferable…but what if this also gives you a chance to exercise your facilitation skills?

Every part of an ecosystem has a role to play. Individual characteristics in a person all weave together to build the tapestry of who they are. Individual people together make up a larger community or world.

Thinking of yourself as a part of the ecosystem of your family, workplace, friend group, or even country, will help you see the ways in which you show up, contribute, and bring value to other people and relationships.

You can choose to love your ecosystem or not – but I encourage to ask yourself what you gain by hating it.

Hating something doesn’t change it. It only changes you.

Of course, you can choose to leave your external ecosystem.

You can move cities or change partners or get a new job.

You can even change some of your internal ecosystem. Thought work can help you become less anxious, more resilient, happier.

But the work of loving all the ecosystems you are in is constant.

There will always be hot and cold, sun and darkness, desert and snow.

You have to accept and love it all. Because life is always about the contrast.

The ecosystem in which we live.

The human ecosystem of the people around you.

The human ecosystem of yourself.