April 26, 2021

How Your Environment Shapes You

This is the eighth in a series of short essays I wrote as part of the Ship 30 for 30 program. You can read all thirty essays here.

There used to be a bar in my town that ran weekly whiskey tastings. Every Wednesday, a couple of buddies and I would visit and sample a few whiskies.

Go to enough whiskey tastings, and you learn a thing or two. One thing I learned is that most familiar whiskey brands are made by just a handful of distillers. They create massive batches of raw spirit, which they run off into thousands of barrels. Then, they wait.

Whiskey typically takes 8-12 years to mature. During this time, magic happens.

The charred barrels leech out chemical compounds that slowly transform the raw spirit into the golden nectar that whiskey fans love. The environment plays a part too. Different chemical reactions occur at different rates in each barrel, depending on where it is located.

Barrels on the sunny side of the warehouse mature faster than those on the north side. Barrels closer to the interior experience less extreme temperature fluctuations than those closest to the walls, and so on. In short, the environment whiskey matures in greatly affects the finished product.

At bottling time, company tasters sample each barrel’s contents and decide which of the house brands’ flavour profile it tastes closest to. Then it gets labelled as that product.

So, Eagle Rare and George T. Stagg may come from the same batch of raw spirit, but they develop different characteristics due to environmental influence.

In this regard, we are like whiskey. Our environment shapes our character. We can take advantage of this and deliberately expose ourselves to the kind of environments that will desirably affect us.

Want to be tougher? Expose yourself to hardship. Want to be more patient? Join a leisurely community. The list goes on. Think about who you want to be, then find the right environment for you.