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“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” ~ A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
“I’m sorry, but your plane is delayed for a few hours,” the Delta representative tells me.
I wait. A few hours go by, and we finally get on the plane. Then, the captain announces that we can’t land at JFK airport. We need to disembark and wait in the boarding area for further announcements.
I start to feel irritated.
I’m with my son. We’re trying to leave Savannah, Georgia and get back to our home in Ghana, but via New York. A few more hours pass, and there is still no news from ground staff.
Finally, an announcement comes that Delta will reroute its passengers. We get called up to the desk, and the young lady smiles and says, “Sorry, but we are trying to book you through Atlanta, then Amsterdam and you will finally arrive on Friday morning to your final destination.”
It’s Tuesday afternoon.
“Are you joking,” I scream.
“No sir, we are doing our best, and we at Delta take these things seriously.”
“I could walk faster than your plane.”
I continue screaming words that I can’t even remember, till I glance at my son, who gives me a look of disapproval and walks away.
I had lost the plot. But my son’s look jolts me back to reason.
I walk away and take a few minutes to think. We discuss our options and decide to go back to our hotel in Savannah and come back on Thursday to try again and hopefully land in Ghana on Friday morning.
I only arrive at this sound decision because my son’s calmness and patience rub off on me.
I’ve been impatient all my life. Whether in my business, where I often drive my colleagues insane, on the football pitch, where I scream incessantly for a pass, or just waiting for my order at a restaurant, my impatience is a constant.
I’ve changed tremendously in the last few years, however, and I’ve become much better. Still, my default is to react first, and calm myself down later. Some people, like my son, are naturally patient and can begin from a position of calmness.
My impatience has helped me get things done. I make quick decisions, and I get them right more often than wrong. I have led my business team to reach goals way before others. In crises and emergencies, I’m the go-to person to take initiative.
However, we’re not always in fight or flight situations.
There is a high cost to my impatience, and in many ways the costs have outweighed the benefits. It has affected me personally, in my relationships, as I tend to dominate and not allow others to express themselves, since I want to resolve issues quickly.
Furthermore, I often give up on projects when I’m not willing to wait for the fruits of my labor to slowly grow. Sometimes, it’s like I hold the seed in my hand, clasp it tight, and then expect to see the final fruit when I unclasp my hand.
Patience requires us to do nothing but wait things out. It also allows us to be calm no matter what happens and to react positively to unfortunate circumstances beyond our control.
Patience is a neglected skill, which has largely been replaced by busy-ness.
We measure success with instant results and feel entitled to expect everything quickly—mainly because of technology. Whether it’s the likes on our Facebook page that tell us people appreciated our post, or the press of a button delivering food within minutes, we think in immediacy, and not quality.
The world has not only forgotten the virtue of patience, but treats it as a weakness. Patience has been superseded by its distant cousin—perseverance—which implies some enterprising action and has received all the recent plaudits in the self-help world.
However, the ultimate truth remains that everything meaningful needs time to flower. A good red wine needs at least 25 to 30 minutes to breathe before we drink it. It took Steve Jobs and Apple five years to build the first iPhone. J.R.R. Tolkien spent 12 years writing The Lord Of the Rings. James Cameron had to wait patiently for the right technology to develop (almost 12 years) before he could make Pandora a reality and release the widely successful movie, Avatar, in 2009.
I’ve been actively working on patience for the past few years, and I’m slowly getting a grip on its benefits.
Here are four practices that have helped me in my pursuit:
1) Being present.
The more activities we do that help us focus on the present, the better we strengthen our “patience muscles.” Anytime we lose ourselves completely and find that we’re not wondering what time it is or thinking we have to get up and go, that’s time spent in the now.
Whether we watch a sunset, play with our children or write poetry, it’s about learning how to pause time. Then, stillness and inner peace can engulf us. We stop talking to the outside world and, more importantly, we stop listening to our incessant inner voice.
For me, reading, and specifically aiming to read a book a week, has taught me a lot about patience. It has helped rebuild my attention span, which I’d lost after college. I ignore my phone, emails, and any distractions in order to read first thing in the morning for up to an hour.
2) Accepting that there are no shortcuts.
There is a particular kind of inner satisfaction that comes when we take our time and do things without cutting any corners. We feel professional, focused on finishing what we started. We do better and appreciate that patience is indeed a superpower.
In the last few years, I’ve regularly gotten injured when running, gymming, or playing soccer. I hardly warm up before or stretch afterward, because I’m too impatient to get on with the actual sport. Now, though, I always spend 10 minutes warming up before and five minutes stretching at the end. I’m getting injured less often and enjoying the workouts more.
3) Conquering key moments.
A “key moment” is a challenge or a moment of adversity. When we react positively and overcome these moments, not only do we expand our patience, but we raise our self-awareness and increase our personal power too.
Going back to my experience with the Delta staff member, I did well on two key moments—when they announced the first delay, and when we had to disembark—but failed miserably on the third. If I had conquered that moment, I would’ve added more fuel to my patience tank.
4) Thinking long-term.
I wrote last week about the 10-year exercise and how it helped me define my future. In addition, if we switch to thinking in the long-term, then patience becomes something that we are, rather than a quality we strive for. We become calm and relaxed. We recognize that not everything has to happen today, but in the back of our mind, we are also aware that it does have to happen, sooner or later.
With that in mind, I’ve set a 10-year goal to become a “writer par excellence.” This will include finishing my MFA writing course, writing a book every other year, reading a book a week, and continually learning the craft of writing through workshops, seminars, and spending time around writers at a few events every year.
As Marcus Aurelius said so many years ago, “You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” This is the central theme of stoicism, and when we recognize that we can’t control every single detail in our lives, then we are free to embody patience.
Being patient does not mean being passive or never getting what we want. Rather, it’s a virtue that we can use to stay true to our plans, goals, and dreams.
So let’s be patient. Our lives are adventures on par with the best fairy tales ever written, not short, 300-word blogs. There is much time and detail to fill our stories.