Paul McAleer: Hi, this is Designing Yourself. My name is Paul McAleer.
Whitney Hess: And this is Whitney Hess.
Paul: This week, we wanted to talk about another very, very simple topic because that is what we like to do on this show. Today, we're going to talk about impermanence. Whitney, I think you're laughing because nothing's permanent, right? That's why you're laughing, right?
Whitney: No. I'm laughing because it seems like we just love to sink our teeth into these topics that people think about but don't necessarily get the airtime that they deserve, given just how complicated they are. We're like the old-school sitcoms or even a Prime Time drama, where we believe that we can have everything resolved within the hour.
So, we might as well - after we've tackled self-awareness, fear, and last week, vulnerability - we might as well tackle impermanence.
Paul: Every episode is a very special episode of Designing Yourself. [laughter] We learn lessons at the end, and then, we all hug and get out. Yeah. I didn't think of it that way, but you're right.
So, I know last week, before we talked about vulnerability and invulnerability, you know, I partially chose that topic and went with it because I was kind of scared to talk about it, you know? Much like you were talking about, it was one of those things that I saw as a potential thing to chat about, and I said, Wow. I'm really scared to do that. Let's do that.
This week, with impermanence, you know, I have an idea about it and what I think we could talk about, but I'd also, you know, much like you were saying before on the show, I'd rather see also where this goes because for me, the core tenet of impermanence and where it fits into my life is that everything is changing.
I'm sitting at a desk right now that is actually slowly decaying. No, no. It's not because it's in bad shape, and it's not because of poor craftsmanship, although it is an IKEA desk, but it's because it is decaying. It is, you know, it's made of wood, more or less. It's a natural thing.
It's going to take a very long time for it to decay, but it is, and it has been, you know, even before it was created. It's been changing its state. It's been in a constant state of change. It's so slow right now that I cannot tell that it is changing, and that's probably good, but you know, I'm looking around my space here, at my desk and all the objects, and yeah, the objects have a little more feeling of permanence, but you know, then there's me.
I'm sitting in this chair, and I am also changing right now. There's so much going on inside my body and so much happening, I almost have no idea about it. You know, so much is just happening to me and within me that I don't experience really consciously, and yet, it's all happening there.
I think for me, though, the big point is that it is changing. I am not the same person I was a moment ago nor ten minutes ago nor, you know, yesterday at this time. It's easier to see that change in people - and maybe objects, too, but let's talk about people - over time when it's a really wide time frame, you know?
I think about, you know, my son growing up and how different he is at the age of 3-1/2 than, you know, at 1 year. Of course, it's a big, physical change and developmentally as well, but that happens to all people, not just children.
We're all changing, but it's maybe easier to grasp when it's at a broader time scale.
Whitney: Well, it's so funny to me because we talk about change as though it's something that happens once in a while. Like, we talk about how we're going through a period of change as though it isn't happening all of the time.
I'm always struck by that because there are people who are opposed to change, and I come across that a lot in my work, that I am the change agent with a lot of my clients, and I have to negotiate and navigate through the politics of people who work within organizations and, perhaps, who have been there for a long time, and they don't like change, and they're opposed to change, and they believe that change is not happening.
Then, when they sense it, suddenly, something feels awry. So, it's just like what you're saying that change is always happening, but we aren't always able to sense it. I think that that's a really interesting notion. You touch upon this when you say your desk is decaying right now, even if you can't see it, and that's probably a good thing.
I think that's such an interesting way of putting it because if we were conscious of everything that was changing around us all of the time, there would be no stasis, no sense of balance of calm or stability, getting your footing, and it would, perhaps, feel as though nothing was worth planting, nothing was worth holding on to, because everything's changing all of the time.
So, I wonder to what extent our inability to sense the ever-present change around us is really a survival mechanism.
Paul: Oh, that's a great idea. I love that. I love that idea. I think you're right in that if we were able to see this - like, if I could tell that my desk was decaying, and I was more aware of it than I am now, and I gave it more credence - then, that would be true of everything that's around me, including the house I'm in, you know?
So, that would be, for me, a little terrifying. I don't know how you would feel about that type of thing, but I would feel very much out of control, and you know, there's the illusion of control that comes into play here as well.
It feels like I can, you know, have a good sense of control around this environment. I can move this desk around, sure. I can't move my house, but you know, there are things that I can do within this space, and there are ways that I can, kind of, anchor myself within this space, you know, to say, like, Okay. This is where I'm going to sit, and this is where I'm going to chat, and this is the device I'm using. It's a computer, you know.
It comes down to very basic stuff, but without those things, then it would get a little strange, would it not? I mean, to me, it would be kind of, as you say, I would see it as terrifying and a little strange.
Whitney: Absolutely, but there's the flip side as well, which is that when we come to realize that everything is changing all of the time, I think it frees us to behave in new ways, and it frees us to take risks and experiment, and it lightens the load quite a bit.
So, yes. There is practical things that you bring up, like your computer is going to stay in its current form, you know, its physical form at least, for as long as you own it. So, it's not changing a physical shape and forcing you to relearn it every time you sit down.
So, your attention is not needed there to re-learn how to use it, but that does change from a software perspective, and we all know how people respond when there's a redesign that they weren't expecting. Now, suddenly, they have to re-learn everything in order to just do those simple tasks that they're so used to doing.
I get all that, but the flip side being that when you accept that everything is changing and that you have absolutely no control over it, finally, you're able to release and be a part of that flow, and you can change constantly, all of the time, and maybe you can become more aware of your changes and not try to force permanence on your life.
In a way, I feel that it's that desire for permanence that gets in our way a lot and causes a lot of our suffering. For instance, money. I, at a very early age, was under the impression that a career was like a hockey stick graph.
You started making less money, and over time, you would get a raise, and then, you'd get a promotion, and then, you'd switch to another company, where you would get another raise, and then, you'd get another promotion and that over time, you would just have a steady increase in salary over the course of your career and that everything that you had done in the past would aggregate and would lead to the results of the future, essentially, and that whatever you had done was, kind of, permanent record so that every place you went next knew that you deserved something that was comparable or greater than what you had already had.
This idea was that the money would continue to come in, and it would be more and more and more and that you would never have to be concerned with going back to the past. Now that I'm an adult, and I actually have a relationship with money, and I have realized how impermanent it is, it comes in, and as soon as it's in, it goes out.
It's gone almost as soon as I've earned it. In fact, with many areas of my life - and I know that this is the case for others as well, so, even though it's hard to admit, I know I'm not alone - sometimes, it's spent before it's even made. It's out before it even came in.
Then, it comes back in again, and then it goes back out, and then it comes back in, and it goes back out. That dollar amount that I look at in my bank account, which I know that I use as a measurement of success - and I've gotten much better at not doing that as much in the last couple years, but up until recently, that was really my only measure of success - and I know that many other people feel the same way.
Looking at that number in my bank account was my sense of identity, and it was kind of a barometer for how well I was doing, and then, it's not there anymore. You know, oh, I got excited because it was there. A client payment came in, you know, wired into my bank account. Oh, there's that big amount.
Oh, wait. It's gone because I have a re-occurring bill payment set up electronically, and I don't even think about it, and they get to take the money out of my account once a month. There's that up-and-down and up-and-down, that is just a natural part of life.
If we are fighting that all of the time, if we are determined to make it stick, and we don't want to see the ebbs and flows of life, and we don't want to recognize, kind of, those natural rhythms, we drive ourselves crazy, and I think we put ourselves in situations that end up being very debilitating for us because we're trying to hold on to that permanence, and we fear risk.
We fear transition. We just want things to stay stable and not change in us and not change around us. I worry more about being in that state than I do about potentially being able to sense the desk crumbling around me.
Paul: Yeah, and I'm wondering how much the way that we work with people and the way that we interact with people is influenced by the way we work and interact with objects because I think about the way that we may be quick to paint people into the particular box or corner and label them, you know, including ourselves, but we'll touch on that in a little bit.
Then, when those people are no longer in those labels - when they break out of them or choose to change them or don't choose to change them, they're simply not any more - how we react to that.
Whitney: I've had some personal experience with this, actually. When I was getting ready to get rid of my place in New York and leave town, I had several friends, who I've known from childhood, who I grew up with, born and raised in New York City, alongside them, and they were just dismayed that I would leave.
They couldn't believe that I was getting ready to move. They couldn't believe that I would ever think of living anywhere other than New York. I know that their opinion of me changed pretty significantly, and they probably questioned if they ever really knew me at all.
I'm aware of that being the case because I got so many comments, some from very close friends and some just from acquaintances who said, "But you ARE New York. You're such a New Yorker. I mean, listen to the way you speak and everything that you do. You expect to be able to get, you know, to do your grocery shopping at 3:00 in the morning. That's just who you are."
I guess I felt like I was that person, but I wasn't that person any more. That confused me as well because it took me quite a while to admit that I was no longer happy and comfortable living in this place that I had lived my whole life and was pretty much the only thing I'd ever known, with the exception of Pittsburg, where I'd been for college.
It took me probably six months after moving out of New York to finally convince myself that I was right about myself and that I knew myself better than everyone else thought that they knew me, and that, while yes, I am a New Yorker through-and-through, and I always will be, I had changed, and I did need something new now, and that that was okay, and that didn't erase who I was before, the quintessential New Yorker.
It's funny how people react when they feel like now that they're sensing something different about you, that something has changed, everything that you have been in the past comes into question, rather than just accepting, No. I knew precisely who she was before, but that isn't who she is any more. Something has changed.
That doesn't mean that everything else before was a lie. It's possible that that was all true, and who I was, and this is also who I am today. One human being. It has been very, kind of, illuminating for me, and I've come to realize that I do the same thing to other people.
Like, no, you're not the kind of person who would do this because you're the kind of person who does that, and this and that don't go together in my head. This notion that when I observed you doing this one thing that you were the same person as when you did this other thing.
I think that comes into play in the work that we do all the time. You know, we conduct user research. We go out into the field, and we come back with all this intel, and then, that drives our strategy for the next two years, as though the people that we interviewed remain static and the same forever, and they will never evolve.
Their lives will never, you know, shift in any way. Their needs won't shift. We just feel good. We got them down on paper, and then, like, we make every decision based on that.
Paul: We have these magic personas that we did, you know, two years ago, and I don't see why we'd need to update them because we did them two years ago. Everything's good, and we're doing work around those, right? I mean, but that's what happens.
It's funny because that's a really, really good tie to user-experience work because with personas, we get kind of this profile and kind of get to know people, and then we build stuff for them. It's almost like when we're, you know, when we interact with people in general, we build personas in our minds and in our bodies about how they are.
Then, when something changes, well, we may or may not react favorably to that, or we might, you know, be indifferent. You know, I think about my best friend. I've known him for 31 years now. It's a long time. I've known this guy for a very long time. I grew up with him, and we're best friends.
There are a lot of things about him that have not changed. You know, there just are, and I trust that's true of me as well, but then, you know, he was always, you know, very much like, you know, I don't see much of a point in getting married or having kids or anything like that, and that's cool. I totally respect that.
It made sense, you know, from what I knew about him, too. Then, a couple of years ago - well, less than a year ago now, excuse me - he got married. It surprised me, but then, not so much really because it made sense because his wife is a wonderful person, and they are a great couple, and they love each other. And, to boil it down, that's kind of all you need.
At the time, at the very first time I heard about it, I was like, Wow. He's getting married? Really? Really? But, then, it made sense to me, you know, sure. He's getting married, and similarly, he's, you know, we've chatted about kids, and he's hung around my son a lot, of course.
You know, his attitude on kids has changed a little bit over time. That's been something for me to witness and partake in as well because I've seen that change in him. It still fits in with who he is, for sure, but it's not something I would have expected, you know, 10, 20 years ago, but then, it should not have been because I have no idea.
I would have had no idea who he would be in 10, 20 years or in 20 minutes maybe, too, you know? I mean, it's something where, when we see that change in others, it may affect the way that we see them and interact with them, and then, as you say, the way we look back at other actions and other things they might have done.
We may see them in a very different light, and we may say, Okay. This makes sense, and I think, really, that, you know, to me, I think that's our minds trying to really tackle that situation, right, because, oh, something's different. Well, let's see if I can find the logic in this. I mean, that's how I would approach that problem anyway.
Whitney: I'm having a similar issue right now, actually. I'm a little hesitant to talk about it, but I think that other people might be able to identify, and it's similar to what you're describing with your friend.
I have a very close friend whose wedding is coming up. When we knew each other as young ladies, she was not the least bit interested in marriage, not the least bit interested in kids. We'd walk down the street, and you know, you see a cute kid on the street, and you go, Oh, Ah, na-na-na-na. She would roll her eyes, and be, like, Ugh. Get that thing away from me.
I was always confused by those reactions then, but that's who I came to know her as. I got comfortable with the idea that that's who she was - my friend who wanted a different kind of life. Over the years, I've become more like that.
Now, I very well may get married, have kids. I'm in a fantastic relationship. That could very likely happen, but it's not something that we're working on right now. At 31, I get some eye rolls sometimes when I tell people that I'm really interested in waiting for all of that.
That's just where I am in my life. I feel like I became comfortable with this idea of wanting to wait and seeing and not just assuming that I'm going to want those things or do those things in my life because of her, because she was that person in my life who really never wanted those things.
She's getting married very soon, and since she's gotten engaged, she's been, like, so far on the other end of the spectrum with the bridal magazines, reading all the links, posting things all the time to social media, like, T-minus 235 days until I'm Mrs. So-and-so.
All these things that have just been so surprising, lovely. I'm thrilled for her. I'm crazy for her fiancé. She couldn't have picked a better guy, but it's been really jarring for me because that's just not who I thought she was.
There's the judgmental part of me that wants to say, It's fake. Oh, they're just focusing on the wedding and not the marriage, but when I stop and think about it, I know them, and that's not actually them at all. They're in love.
So, for both of them, I think this took them by surprise. This is what they want, but things change. Here they are. This is what is driving them. It's exciting them. They're going for it whole hog, and I have a lot of respect for her and for him that they've been able to embrace that.
She didn't stop herself from fulfilling the current fantasy because of whatever, you know, she used to claim to not want in the past. I think there are a lot of people who say something in the past, and then, work to stay true to that.
One of the psychological principles from Robert Cialdini's book, called "Influence," which is a phenomenal book on how to influence people and negotiate, basically, using psychological principles, one of the principles is consistency.
It's a sales technique. If you get your prospect to say something about themselves, that they believe to be true, they're going to do everything in their power to continue to assert that truth about themselves. So, people tend to want to stick to what they asserted in the past.
That can prevent change. I think it's amazing that she's not stuck on that, and she's realizing in a different place in her life. This is a person who is bringing it out of her. She's bringing it out of him, but I have noticed my little judgmental ears perking up, and saying, Oh, my gosh. What is this? This so isn't her. It doesn't sound like her.
I haven't been gracious enough to recognize that she changes, that she's in the midst of changing, and I'm in the midst of changing, and it's all good. It's all normal. There's nothing wrong going on here.
Paul: That's right. It's interesting to me that you see this change, and you also recognize that people can change because you're right in that if there's something that we take in about ourselves, we hear it, or maybe we don't know where we got it. Maybe it was something that we learned in childhood about ourselves or heard about ourselves in childhood or just along the way, even in adulthood, but we take it in, and then, we stick to it.
Boy, it can be really hard to change that and be brave enough to do that, you know? Your friend, basically, you know, changing her mind, essentially, it sounds like, on this and going with it. Look where it's got her. I mean, that's really fabulous. I mean, it's really fabulous.
Whitney: Yeah, I agree.
Paul: If she had not, you know, and boy, this is hypothetical and arm-chair psychologist, but if she hadn't, you know, taken the chance of letting her mind be changed and being open to those other ideas, then well, things may or may not have been different. They certainly could have, though.
You know, I think what it boils down to is when it comes to change in others and change in things and objects, those are things that we may be able to notice a little easier, you know, or judge, even, a little easier, and I do that, too.
So, you're not the only one with judgmental ears, but when it comes to ourselves, how easy or difficult is it to recognize that change or initiate it? This touches back to something we talked about in our first episode about when you start something, you know?
I mean, given change is a constant, it's something that's always happening, well, then, maybe I started, you know, being a runner a long time ago. Maybe I started writing a blog - well, I kind of did - but maybe I started writing a blog a long time ago. Maybe these things had already been in motion, and the change was just, well, that was just the recognition of it versus the action of it.
Whitney: I mean, that's really what I was getting at when you were talking about starting, and I said that we start things long before we recognize that we're starting something. We make up our mind to start something, and it started a while ago because all the conditions that got us to the point where we're finally able to declare, "I'm starting this," all that was already happening.
We were not conscious of it. Just like you're not conscious of the desk decaying in front of you, but one day, you might walk into your office, and say, This piece of crap. I have to get rid of this.
Paul: [laughter] Sure.
Whitney: Probably a good thing that you're not noticing it every single day because it would divert your attention away from the things that you're there to do, like record a Podcast or catch up on some work or download some new music or whatever it is that you're there, in your office, to do.
If you were constantly paying attention to the changing nature of the desk, the purpose of the desk would not be fulfilled, right? So, it's a good thing that you can't see it all the time, but at some point, you see it, and when you see it, I think it's important to acknowledge that things have been happening for quite some time that led up to this.
It doesn't just happen. Like, that term, "overnight success," is one of my biggest pet peeves because I don't care who you are, there is no such thing. Even if you were plucked out of a casting call, and you have no previous experience, and then, you get put into a Steven Spielberg movie, and it makes a trillion dollars, and you win an Oscar, that still wasn't an overnight success.
Everything that happens - every situation we put ourselves in, our ability to perform, our mindset, the way in which we treat ourselves, take care of ourselves, all of that - is a daily, and even more a lower level of measurement than that, minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour endeavor that we are engaging in, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, and it's moving us in that direction.
That's what this notion of impermanence is, that there is absolutely nothing that's static, and most of it is totally outside of our control. It is just happening. The globe is spinning, and we are spinning around the sun, and we're all watching the sun come up and go down every day, and it's even closer to home.
You take an inhale, and then you exhale, and then you inhale, and you exhale. You're not even constant. Your body is constantly changing. The blood's flowing through you. Like you said, there's all this activity that's going on inside of us that we're not conscious of, but at the same token, if we were conscious of it all of the time, of every moving part inside of us, and everything that was changing, it would get in the way of our purpose, of actually living.
So, there are a lot of practices out there - yoga, meditation, what have you - that help you to refocus on your breath, and do a body scan, and check what's happening with you, and tune in to the ways in which your body is changing, adapting, needs more care, has evolved because of your care and what-not, and that's something worth doing, but no one suggests that it's something that you should do all of the time.
You meditate for 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes. You don't meditate for 24 hours because you wouldn't be living if you did. It's essential to have those moments where you take a step back, and you notice, Oh, wow. Change is happening. I can go with it, and it's going to be okay for me.
Give in to it. Allow it to occur. Redirect it if you so desire to the extent that you have any control over it, but the idea that, you know, you need to know it all the time, not so much, and that you need to have no consciousness of it, also not very helpful.
Paul: That's for certain. You know, I'm thinking about colds. I'll tell you why. Because in my experience, when I get sick with a cold, first of all, colds worst, but when I get sick with a cold, there tends to be a point, maybe about two-thirds of the way through, where I start to think, Wow. Maybe I'm not going to get better.
I don't mean that in the, necessarily, I'm-going-to-have-a-chronic-cold sense, but maybe my nostril's just always going to be plugged. Maybe this is it. Maybe it's going to be one nostril from here on out, and that's it. Maybe this is the way it's going to be.
A part of me takes on that "Wow, maybe this is permanent now" role. You know, I understand that that's not the case at all. The cold will go away, hopefully, if everything's good, but there is a part of me that holds on to that.
I say this all with a smile on my face because I think it's a little bit of an absurd example, but I also mention it because it's another - for me, it's an instance of my mind trying to latch on here, and say, Okay. Maybe it's just going to be this way, and you know, now this is the permanent state of you. This is how it is going to be. I know it's not actually going to be that way, but something has changed in me. I've gotten sick, and now, I say, Okay. Maybe that's how it's going to be.
Whitney: Yeah, I think it really is the ego on so many levels. I know exactly what you're talking about because I go through the same thing when I get sick, and I feel miserable. I've had those same thoughts.
I'm reminded that we see the world in that way, as though we're the center of it, that this is permanent, but quite frankly, we aren't immortal. So, that cold that exists within you, it may last for the rest of your life, but your life isn't going to last for the rest of eternity.
Paul: True. True.
Whitney: So, in that sense, it is not permanent when permanence is measured in existence, in all existence, outside of ourselves. It's funny because I'm a little amused that marriage came up in this conversation on impermanence because one of the issues that I have with marriage as an institution is the romanticism and real dishonesty around the notion that it's permanent.
We know that it's not. We know that it isn't. Whether or not you get divorced or not, there are plenty of people that step out. There are people that feel lonelier in their marriages than they would outside of them. People pass away, and then, the widow or widower may eventually get remarried.
Love dies. People change. They grow apart. When the two people are standing up there, making their vows, the vows are written in such a sense that the marriage is permanent in the eyes of God and in the eyes of the community when nothing is permanent.
Really, nothing at all is permanent. I wonder why do the marriage vows talk about that commitment as though it is going to be forever. Where did our obsession, our romanticism, of this notion of forever come from?
Another thing - I'm going to interrupt myself - another thing about permanence that drives me crazy are tattoos. Now, I love tattoos on other people. I have a lot of friends with tattoos. I have some friends with a lot of tattoos.
I think they're beautiful, and they're artistic, and they're interesting, and they tell a story, and that's fabulous, but I will never - and now that I'm saying never, I'll probably end up doing it - but I can't, for the life of me, imagine wanting to put a tattoo on myself.
Why? Because I don't believe that anything is permanent, but in particular, how I feel about things. So, I always joke that if I ever got a tattoo, the only thing that I could get a tattoo of is my name because it's the only thing about me that will never change, but that could change.
Paul: That could change, too.
Whitney: Something could happen in the world. Like, there could be some serial killer, terrorist, something awful, named "Whitney," and that name could have a horrible connotation in global society, and I could decide that I could no longer really move on with my life if that was my name, and I would have to change it.
So, that's, like, I can't imagine putting anything on me that can't be removed because I can't commit myself to a lifetime of feeling the same way about something. Even though I think marriage is amazing, and I hope to be married one day, I do have a critical eye towards the way in which it's talked about, considered, in this, kind of, like I keep saying, romanticized sense because, hopefully, both people are changing quite a bit throughout the marriage.
Hopefully, both people are getting better and better and smarter and happier and more fulfilled. If they're supporting one another in doing that, as I would hope happens in a happy marriage, in a worthwhile marriage, if they're both supporting each other and becoming the people that they're truly meant to be, getting closer and closer to their own individual, true nature, and naturally, that leads to them going on their own separate paths, isn't that still fantastic?
Wasn't that still a worthwhile marriage? Why, then, should they be punished or condemned or ridiculed or whatever for separating or divorcing because they made this supposed commitment to this permanent connection? I don't really understand it.
Paul: Well, I want to get back to that because you said a lot of things there that I want to talk about. First is the incredibly morbid idea that there would be a serial killer out there with your name.
Whitney: Oh, but who knows?
Paul: I mean, now, when we were talking about names - and that's kind of what you went with first - mostly, I was sitting here, thinking, Wow. She could just choose to change her name. I mean, not that that's necessarily an easy change, but you certainly could. I mean, that is always an option. You could change your name.
Whitney: Easily, but if it's tattooed on my, you know, wherever girls put tattoos - your shoulder or something - I would seem so foolish, and I wouldn't be able to get it removed, and it would still be there. I could change it legally. I could change it on my driver's license, and I could get people to start calling me by a different name, but it would be there on my body.
Paul: That's true. That's true, and with regards to tattoos, for the longest time, I felt the same as you. I thought tattoos are - Well, I used to think that they were stupid when I was young. I don't think they're stupid any more. I actually think they're pretty great, and I also thought, Wow. I'm never going to get one. I had the same thought in my head for many, many years, and now, I'm very much open to getting one, very much so. In fact, I mostly want one at this point.
Whitney: Really? What do you think changed?
Paul: Me. Easy answer. Well, me, to a degree. I think the other aspect of it is how society has changed in its collective stance on tattoos. Those are not seen as an out-there, alternative, really edgy thing much anymore.
Paul: I mean, it's pretty mainstream now.
Whitney: No, so much so that my friends raise their eyebrows that I'm not tattooed.
Paul: Oh, okay. So, oh, wow. So, that's pretty cool. So, maybe it'll swing back around a little bit. Who knows? It might. In fact, it probably will about the time flannel - Oh, wait. Flannel is coming back.
So, there's that as well, but I really had that same, same stance as you. I was like, I'm never getting a tattoo, and I do not feel that way anymore. Part of it is, yeah, it's going to be on my body for the rest of my life. There is the possibility that laser tattoo removal will improve in my lifetime. I'm not going to bank on it, though, but then, to me, well, then, it means I've got to pick something really, really important to me.
So, that's not trivial to do. So, I understand that, and that kind of ties in to the idea of permanence because my body is going to change. I mean, I know that consciously, and I've seen it happen, you know? I used to be a kid. Now, I'm an adult.
I mean, that very broad time sense, yes, and that will continue. You know, there may be a time when I get sick, and I do not improve. You know, I hope I keep my limbs for a very long time and the like, but I might not, but there would still be that tattoo with me, and that's a little weird for me to think about, but, you know, if it's there, then that's a little bit comforting in a way. It is a reminder of who I am, you know?
Whitney: I suppose there's a way to hack impermanence, and that's by getting a tattoo.
Paul: I guess so. That's it. That's the only way, I guess. So, the other thing, though, I wanted to talk about was marriage. You know, it's interesting because when I was a kid, you know, my idea of marriage was really, you know, it was really kind of based around these two people getting together and deciding they want to be together and then not changing. Like, that, for me, was part of the construct that I had in my head. I don't quite know where that came from. I haven't really unpacked that yet.
Whitney: You know what some very scary women say? I'm done. Like, when you're married, you're done.
Paul: Huh. Oh, wow. Okay.
Whitney: It freaks me out.
Paul: Well, yeah. That's scary to me as well, but I think the way that I see it now, obviously, having been married for ten years, is that it's more about change within a box, and I mean this in a good way, so stay with me on this.
So, the construct is that, yeah, these two people, you know, are agreeing to spend time together, and it's normally the rest of your life, right? The goal is until one or both of you die, right? Like, that's almost permanence, right? It's almost like a tattoo in away. We're trying to, kind of, hack some permanence onto this thing called "life."
Whitney: If you're Buddhist, though, you don't believe that death is permanent.
Paul: That's true. That's true. So, I wonder if marriage continues beyond that. Anyway, that's an interesting point, and you're right. That's true. I mean, it's not like death is a permanent state, right, but that's how we see it.
Whitney: People are buried next to each other, though, with the - I believe - hope or intention that they will continue to be married and together in the afterlife.
Paul: Yes, I think that is something that some people believe. Yes. That's true. That part to me feels a little odd, I'll admit, but I think within the construct of this life and how we think about marriage, or at least maybe how I think about marriage, it really is that the box is a pretty light box.
It's saying, you know, these two people are going to be together, and they're going to change. Instead of saying, you know, People are not going to change, no, I think it really is about - No, people are going to change and grow, and yet, the beauty of it is that no matter what, those two people are still going to be there and support each other and love each other, and if there's a time when that ends, then it ends.
I think that's in conflict with the idea of it, obviously, being permanent, expanding all the way out to death and possibly beyond. That is, wow. That's kind of the part where it feels like that's a traditional thing that's been kind of slapped onto it, and we've just, kind of, had that with us as a society for a while. You know what I mean?
Whitney: Completely. I mean, there's - Well, I don't know. I'm not sure that I am the best person to talk about this because I don't have experience with it.
Paul: Okay. I know. [laughter]
Whitney: And that's change for me. Right there, is taking an opportunity to say, you know what? I'm not an authority on this, and I don't have any personal experience with it, so I'm not going to offer my opinion. That's a big change for me in the last year or so because I have been the type of person that's wanted to comment on everything and have an opinion on everything, regardless of whether or not I have any personal experience with it.
I decided, you know, only recently that that was me being inauthentic. So, there I am. I'm changing. I have a little poem I want to read to you by Robert Frost:
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leafs a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Paul: Wow. That's sad.
Whitney: Wow. You see sadness.
Paul: I do.
Whitney: Oh, my gosh.
Paul: I mean, I see it as beautiful. I do see it as beautiful, but I also see it as sad. What do you think?
Whitney: I don't feel sadness at that at all, and I love that you do, and I'm grateful that we're having such different reactions to it, but when I first read that, I felt relief that this is nature. Nature is constantly changing, that nature's first grain is gold. I just love the image of that.
I'm, you know, reminded of fall in the Northeast and timing with your loved ones from when you're going to go on a drive because you want to see all the rich colors, and you don't want to be too early, and you don't want to be too late because if you're too early, it's not going to be as rich as it could, and if you're too late, they're all going to have fallen, and you can't time it to a calendar because it's different every year, and yet, it happens every year.
Sometimes, that period lasts longer, and sometimes, it's really short. It's just, that's normal. It's just normal. That's the way the world is. I love that it's unpredictable, and I love that it's routine. It's a cycle. It happens all of the time, but it's a reminder that things don't last. You know, so, Eden sank to grief.
There is ecstasy, Nirvana, if that's what we can consider the story of Eden to be, perfection, where there is no pain. There is no suffering. There's all the beauty of the universe. There's everything you could possibly want in life. There's no wanting, and that can become grief because there's loss, and then, you miss what you once had.
You're going through a period of transition and reflection, but then, you're stronger. You know, but then, you wake up again the next day, and for as long as you're fortunate to be alive, you keep waking up the next day, and you get that opportunity over and over, and it reminds me of "Groundhog Day."
When I first, you know, the first 30 times I saw it as a teenager - as a kid or a teenager, whenever it came out - I just thought it was a funny movie with a funny dude. I loved it. Fredrick, my boyfriend, when we first got together, told me it was his favorite movie, and I was just surprised by that because he's such an intellect, and he's really silly and stupid sometimes, too, and I thought, Oh, maybe that tickles his silly side.
Then, we finally watched it together, and I hadn't seen it in a long time. God, it's a poignant movie. It's about impermanence. It's about free will. It's about the desire to change yourself for the better and that every day is a new day and a new chance to make a new life and that if we're lucky enough to be given an unlimited number of days that we'll get it right eventually if we keep trying, but we can't give up.
That's, basically, what happened. I mean, he went through a period where he was just going to kill himself every day and just eat a million donuts because who cares, right? Who cares? That's a natural human response. Things are changing around me all the time. I can't control any of it.
I'm just going to be forced to wake up tomorrow and go through it all over again. Who cares? I'm going to just go crazy. I'm just going to just treat myself to the best and the worst of all of it, and then, finally - not spoil it for those of you who haven't seen it - but finally, he realizes, you know what? I could really make something out of myself, and I'm going to have the benefit of practice.
I can learn things. I'm remembering, even though the day is always the same, but I'm taking all that learning with me, and I'm adapting. Eventually, I'm going to get it right, and I'm going to strive to get it right. I'm going to take care of myself, and I'm going to take care of the people around me, and I'm going to become a better person. That's, ultimately, what happened.
So, yeah, that things are constantly, that the sun rises and the sun sets every single day, I don't see sadness in that. I see relief that I don't have to be in control of everything all the time. I don't even have to be in control of myself all the time. You know what? I'm not that important. I'm really not that important.
I'm going to do the best job that I can to make the difference that I can, but I also don't have to fool myself and have such an enormous ego that it's my actions that keep the world spinning because they don't. I'm going to come and go, just like everyone before me has come and gone, and everyone after me is going to come and go. That's just how it is, and I feel like I can let go and breathe.
Paul: Yeah, and I agree with you on all of that. I still - My reaction remains that it is sad and also beautiful because I do feel a little sadness around that, and the fact that things are not permanent. There's a part of me that sees that as sad, frankly, but I also see that - I do see that as beautiful as well. I'm so glad that you mentioned "Groundhog Day" because that's such a fine film. I also think the statute of limitations on spoilers is way out of - way gone.
Whitney: Okay. Good. [laughter]
Paul: I mean, it's, like, a 22-year-old movie or something like that. I mean, the movie can drive itself. I think we're good. So, I mean, that all said, I think there's something really great about that movie as well because - and, again, that also is sad and beautiful and really funny, just like life - the moments where he decides, Oh, I'm going to start killing myself, are really great, you know, because you think, Wow.
If you're been in this loop for who knows how long - and, you know, I trust, if you enjoyed the movie, you've ever looked at probably a Wikipedia article or something else about that saying, you know, it could have been hundreds of years he was doing this versus, you know, whatever we see on the movie - if you've been doing that type of thing for, you know, 90 days, 200 days, a year, multiple years, I could see where people would think, Wow. Maybe I'll just kill myself.
That's what he does. You know, he does multiple things, and of course, that part of it is surprisingly lighthearted. Considering what he's doing, it's very lighthearted, but then, as you say, he realizes what he's gotten himself into. He doesn't know why. It's never explained why, which I think is probably the beauty of it.
He makes the most of it. He says, You know what? I'm going to do this. I'm going to learn a foreign language. I'm going to learn to play piano. I'm going to learn to do this. I'm going to help this person because I see that person every day, and this is what he does and he's going through.
I can't save this person. I feel terrible about that. There's this one person I really want to connect with, really, really, really. I don't know how to do that. I'm going to figure it out. Then, he does, and then, by coincidence, the next day starts in somewhat of a similar fashion as every day prior to that, but it's a little different, significantly so for the movie, of course, and he moves on at the end of the movie.
Gosh, he moves on. We could probably have a whole show about "Groundhog Day," and how that could be a metaphor for life, but the beauty of it is that the construct of what we think of as life is kind of thrown in our face in that movie, and it says, You know what? Let's say we're not going to change stuff, and you're the only thing that can change.
You are the only person that can change. Everything else is going to happen the same way. You could influence it to some degree, you know, here or there. You might end up in jail. You could end it by killing yourself. You could, you know, help other people. You could eat a million donuts, which is a hilarious picture. Stuff like that.
I mean, you have those options, right, but for the most part, the world's just going to keep on going. We're going to confine it to this one day, and you're going to repeat that, mmm, maybe forever. Don't know. I mean, that's a really powerful thing to take away from it because then it really pulls it back to, well, we're the ones who are changing.
We are changing, no matter what. Sometimes, we realize it, and sometimes, we don't. You wake up in the morning. Maybe you wake up at the same time every day like I do. I know you don't because you're not a morning person, but maybe you wake up at the same time every day, and you know, the days may start very similarly, but they're not the same days at all.
They're totally different, and the moments are different, moment-to-moment. We still like to have some sort of construct around days. We've created days to help us with that, and we've created time to help us with that, to help us see the things and organize the parts of our lives and the parts of our existence that otherwise would be a little more chaotic, but change is still happening.
Whitney: It's still happening, and isn't it amusing when you think to yourself, Okay. I'm going to have to have every single day be exactly the same, and I can change myself, but nothing around me is ever going to change, and then to realize that some of the people that we work with, some of the people that we live with, behave as though they want precisely that?
They are so adverse to change. They want everything to stay exactly as it is so that they can stay in control, feel like they're in control of their lives and their surroundings. When we talk about the alternative of, Okay. We're going to give you every single day exactly the same for the rest of your life, it sounds preposterous. It sounds boring. It sounds maddening. It sounds like prison.
Yet, that's the life that some people give themselves, the prison that people give themselves when they are so adverse to change or when they resign themselves to being completely out of control of changing their environment.
I'm thinking of, you know, both that one person at your office who is just a wet rag and just nay-says every big idea that comes up because they're afraid of what might happen. Like, maybe, they'll lose some status, or it wasn't them who came up with the idea. So, who knows how this is going to affect me? So, they stand in the way of that idea being pursued.
Then, there's the flip side. There's the person, like you and me, who sits on one of the many teams in the organization and may sometimes feel like they have no control out of getting their ideas heard, that there's that person that's above them or more important than them or been there longer or more persuasive or whatever who's going to dictate how things are, who's going to, essentially, get in their way of achieving their goals within the company.
So, they just resign themselves to that being the way that it is, and they don't seek another job, and they don't seek a way around it. They don't try to learn how to be more persuasive. You know, I'm remembering a Tweet that I sent today about how even the best user-experience designer is going to fail if the CEO doesn't support UX.
One very clever and intelligent person wrote back, saying, "That is true, but that's when the job of the user-experience designer, if they really are great, becomes learning how to communicate and change the mind of the CEO."
Whitney: That, in and of itself, is something that so few people do. They just accept that things are the way they are, and that's them, kind of, believing in this false permanence, that things are completely outside of their control. So, it's interesting that impermanence brings up both this "everything is fluid, everything is changing all the time and is totally out of our control," and at the same time, encourages greater free will. [laughter]
Paul: Yeah. I think, you know, it's interesting, too, that when we see somebody come in and recognize them as being different, we call them a "change agent," and I know you mentioned that earlier, and I'm very familiar with that term because I've been in jobs, too, where I have been designated the change agent and, you know, it is your job to, you know, initiate change and get people to change.
That is almost all of what a UX person needs to do, not to belittle it, but to say, like, yeah, it kind of goes with the territory because that's how we roll, but you're right in that it's about communication, and it's about the way that we influence change.
I think what we're finding, in general - to divert over to UX land for a little bit - is that the way we talk about our work needs to change. Otherwise, the success may not be as great as we need it to be or want it to be, you know?
Whitney: Completely. I think that that has come up in the last couple IA Summits. It has been something that I know a lot of people discuss pretty frequently, getting a seat at the Boardroom table or whatever the heck, you know, term is used for it, but it really is about recognizing that the work that we do extends far beyond designing interfaces.
In order to be successful and to really serve our users and our customers in the way that we're mandated to do, that requires creating organizational change and helping people to change. What I have found personally is that it's not about convincing people to change. It's about helping them recognize that their goals - the goals they already have - requires change and that it's just a fear of success more than it is a fear of failure.
They are free to change. They're allowed to change. They're allowed to fail. They're allowed to succeed. They will be supported. We're all going to be doing this together and that, in fact, taking that risk and opening themselves up to the impermanence of their organizations and their own position and their own mortality, all of it.
I mean, we don't normally talk about it at that level in the workplace, but that is the reality of part of what's so hard to accept change. You know, having to accept your own mortality. It frees people. It really does. They start to make a shift towards achieving those goals and finding fulfillment in a way that they weren't able to previously.
Just like with any negotiation or persuasion, you have to first understand what that person's goals are, and then, help them to see the path of where they are now to achieving those goals. That does require change. It can be baby steps. It doesn't have to feel overwhelming all at once, but it is possible.
Paul: And the beauty of just about everything you've said is that it can apply to other people and one's self as well.
Whitney: Absolutely. So, I'm going to give you one more quote on impermanence that I think sums up what we've been talking about very well.
Paul: Okay. I hope it's sad and beautiful.
Whitney: It's not.
Whitney: Well, maybe it is. Maybe it is.
Paul: Please proceed.
Whitney: It's by Heraclitus, a philosopher, a Greek philosopher. I'm sure I'm saying it wrong. Heraclitus. I don't know. The quote is: "No man ever steps in the same river twice for it's not the same river, and he's not the same man."
Paul: Yes. I love that quote. I love it. That one inspires me. I love that.
Whitney: I think that's amazing and that the flowing river is a very common image that comes up in Buddhist teachings quite a bit, and I'm sure many other religious and faith and those kinds of practices. I don't want to call Buddhism a religion, but I'm not quite sure how to classify it, life philosophies.
That river is a river, and it's always moving. You can't stop it, and you're never going to see that same molecule twice. It's carrying things down the river, but meanwhile, it's a river. For as long as you can observe it in your lifetime, it will always be a river unless they, like, put a dam up or something.
It is eroding, and it is moving, and it wasn't always there, and it won't always be there, and it may dry up. It's always constantly moving, and that's life, that's nature, that's who we are. I think that there's so much to embrace in that if we can overcome the fear and the ego that we get so wrapped up in.
Paul: I agree. That's such a wonderful image, and I think that's a good place to stop. I think it's a wonderful place to stop and reflect about how we are very much like that. We are changing always. Always, always, always, and nothing is permanent.
Whitney: Well, I'm so glad that we chatted about this today, a wonderful time, as always. Thank you to everyone for listening. We love you. We adore that you're willing to join us on this journey. If there's ever a topic that you want to hear us cover, please don't hesitate to reach out to us or to provide any feedback on format or sound quality or anything at all.
We are new to this, so we really need your feedback in order to get better so that we're always changing and always being the best that we can for you. Ways to contact us.
Paul: There are several ways. One is, of course, to Tweet @DesigningYou, that's Y-O-U. You can also Tweet me @PaulMcAleer and Tweet Whitney @WhitneyHess, and you could also e-mail us if you'd like to.
You can contact us through the super-secret e-mail address that we don't have on our Web site. It's firstname.lastname@example.org. So, consider that your inner-circle invitation if you're listening. Otherwise, contact us however you see fit. We'd love to hear from you.
Whitney: And you can hear us, of course, at designingyourself.net, our awesome URL, where you have access to all of our episodes. You can subscribe to us on iTunes. What other ways can you listen to us?
Paul: You can use RSS, my favorite way. If you've got a favorite Podcast client, if you're on iOS, you might like Instacast or Downcast. You can just go to designingyourself.net and pop that into your Podcast client, and it'll grab all the episodes for you. Easy-peasy.
Whitney: Wow. We really are accessible.
Paul: We are. We are trying harder.
Whitney: On the note of accessibility, we are looking for a way to transcribe all of our Podcasts. This is our seventh episode. We have looked up and down for services to do transcription for us because we want to be as accessible as we can.
However, for anyone who has ever tried to do this, you will know that for an hour-long audio, it is exorbitant. Since this is something that we hope to do for a very long time, it's well outside of our budget, but we don't want money to be a reason to hold us back.
So, if you know of someone who offers these services at a discount, or if you or your company might be interested in sponsoring us for transcription services, we would love to chat with you about it. We're really eager to make it work and hope we can find a resolution soon. All right. I think that's it.
Paul: All right. That is it. Thank you so much for listening, everybody. We appreciate it, and we will talk to you soon. Take care.