February 15, 2024

Impermanence in Life and Business

I wanted to share this email in response to an episode that I recorded a few weeks back. I want to say thank you to everyone who took the time to text, email, or DM me regarding their perspective and thoughts. I obviously cannot re-post every response, but this listener’s email really struck a chord with me. It is too good not to share. Enjoy!


Hi Tyler,

After listening to your need for change episode I find myself compelled to engage. Not least because I have just been listening to a book called “Scarcity Brain” by Michael Easter.

For a touch of context - and there is a risk of this becoming long winded - I am a 36 year old New Zealander who grew up in an apple orchard and have now lived in Maine full time for almost eight years. I don’t remember ever having any sort of plans or ambitions as a high schooler outside of the nebulous idea of just being happy. I graduated my senior year, barely, and went to work in a fruit packing shed around the corner from my father's orchard with the plan to leave the country and work in a restaurant on an island off the coast here in Maine for the summer (my mother is American, so there is a roundabout connection there). 

At the conclusion of that first summer, I went from there to Europe, primarily Spain, where I spent the autumn, winter and spring waiting on tables at a friend's family restaurant and rock climbing around the country. This relationship had originally been formed during a six month stay in Spain that my parents formulated when I was 15/16. 

From there, I came back to work the subsequent summer in the Maine restaurant, and for the next few years led a life fueled by meeting people from around the world and going where invitations, and inclinations to climb took me. Other American states, Turkey, South Africa, Sweden and a number of other European countries.

I remember at one point after a few years of this being back in NZ for a cousin's wedding and his best man worked for one of the big communication companies in the country, and he had a cell phone, a salary, even a haircut! I felt this twinge of envy contrasting it with the sub-$1000 balance of my bank account and rather more disheveled general state. Fortunately, however, that experience did nothing to change my trajectory, and I continued my somewhat nomadic, climbing centric life.

All until I ran into a girl I knew from Maine while in Baltimore, and now I have been married for over seven years and have three kids! I got into trade work, bought a house, became part of a local community, and am primarily focused on just providing the best life that I can for my family.

The aforementioned book discusses the hierarchy of needs that we - and most other animals have. Food, water, shelter, opportunity to procreate, social status, and even exploration. Apparently we are actually hardwired to want and/or need all of these things in a descending order of importance (the prehistoric man who has no food is less concerned about sexual opportunities until his stomach is full). I could never do the book justice, but I found it somewhat empowering that it was pointing out that a lot of our modern world is designed to exploit these traits, it’s not causing them.

It really doesn’t matter where we are; we are still there. 

I don’t think that that necessarily means that wanting to improve our general conditions is a pointless pursuit, but maybe it is just that we need to know ourselves well enough to understand which ones actually matter. Maybe if you had miles and miles of trails to ride right out the back of your house it wouldn’t matter if a McMansion popped up across the street. Maybe if I had a million dollars in the bank my wife and I wouldn’t argue about whether or not I could take two full weeks off work in the summer. 

In my case I know the problem lies with my feelings of integrity and much less about economics. I feel like I am letting a client down if I am gone for so long. Of course the reality is that - and you have touched on this in the past - time with my family should come way ahead of my clients. I find myself fortunate that I can most times see this on a day to day basis. I will almost never work more than eight hours a day. I am always home for dinner and bedtime. I will even take those two weeks off during the summer. Ultimately, I do care more about time with my currently sick children - even when they’re being assholes - than I do about building a house.

There is another concept in Buddhism of impermanence. Nothing is permanent. Considering this really helps me to appreciate everything. When I put petrol in the car I make sure to leave my phone in it and to just look at the other people around me. I look at a tree. I look at the shitty vinyl siding on the petrol station. I kind of appreciate it all. And I really appreciate that I am exercising some resistance to a screen that constantly screens for our attention.

My “scarcity brain” means that I don’t stop wanting more, but it doesn’t have to stop me from enjoying everything that I have.

I should wrap this up. I have been writing over the course of a work day so hopefully it is not too disjointed.

At the end of the day I think we do all need change. Most of us seek out that change in very immediate means like social media or tv. It gives us a change in state, piquing different emotions, but ultimately most of us wouldn’t call it “meaningful.” In contrast, you could move with your family to Australia, become a professional moto-x rider, and win the lottery and most people would call that a very meaningful change. But if you still experienced anxiety about taking time off, or if you should have gone to England instead, then maybe nothing changed at all. 

Changing ourselves and our perspectives is probably much more significant and clearly much harder. Deeply appreciating what we have and what is around us might be the most significant step in helping us appreciate a new place should we ultimately choose to go there.

I really appreciate you guys and all that you do. I gain so much perspective on how I can grow and improve in more ways than just professionally. 

However this finds you I hope it helps you feel like your struggles are not especially out of the ordinary. I don’t think of myself as particularly wise to this stuff; just someone whose personality predisposes them to live with this perspective.

As someone who has seen grass in a lot of different places in the world, one thing I can say with certainty is that your lawn is definitely green enough.