Every summer, I plant a small veggie garden in my Michigan backyard. Even though the location is too shady for some of the sun-loving plants, it’s the only place that works in our yard, so we (and by “we”, I mean both the plants and I) make do. This summer I experimented with the placement of several plants to see if they would thrive in the shadier part of the garden. Surprisingly, all of the vegetable plants did well.
One thing I did notice, though, was that my basil plants had an unusual “leaning” thing going on. At first, I attributed it to them being planted askew. After a few days of monitoring, I realized that they were growing in the direction of the sun. If you remember your high school biology class, plants are “heliotropic,” meaning that they move or grow towards the sun in an attempt to flourish.
Human beings tend to (metaphorically speaking) gravitate towards the light as well. Social psychologists use the term “heliotropic effect” to describe how societies, groups or individuals move towards a person, situation or belief that they perceive positively. No doubt you’ve seen this in your life: there are some people to whom you are naturally drawn. That’s probably where the phrase “sunny disposition” comes from. My twelve year old daughter described one of her classmates in similar terms. “Cindy (not her real name) is so nice, Mom. Like, not fake-nice, but just really nice. Everyone wants to be her friend,” she once told me. That’s high praise (and no easy feat) for a preteen in middle school.
Caroline Adams Miller, a life coach and an expert on developing grit, talked about the heliotropic effect at a conference I attended. She described certain people as “energy hubs,” drawing others towards them. Like the basil plants in my garden, we turn towards these people because they inspire us and make us feel good. They can also help us perform better. Miller cited professional NBA basketball player Steph Curry as an example of a player who, whenever he’s on the court, elevates the stats of his fellow team members.
So, what if you’re not exactly the Steph Curry of your office? Not everyone has a naturally “sunny” disposition. And that’s ok. You don’t have to be Suzy or Sam Sunshine to be effective at work. If you truly want to give your best at work, you do however need to pay attention to how your behavior affects others. Think about your interactions with others. Do people come to you for advice or input? That’s a good sign that you are seen as a helpful member of the team. Here’s something else to consider: not everyone feels drawn to the super-friendly, or the extroverted personality. Perhaps you can draw others towards you in a more quiet way.
One last thought: sometimes the “sunshine” seems very far away. If you are discouraged that there are no energy hubs to draw upon at work, consider this: my basil plants, even though planted under less-than-ideal conditions, still produced an excellent yield this summer. They persisted until they found some sun. That’s my wish for you as well—I hope your search for positive energy is fruitful, even if times seem very cloudy at the moment.