Photo: Matthew Reyes / Unsplash
I’ve had countless conversations with friends and family about patience. It’s that skill we all wish would come more naturally to us so we wouldn’t feel so annoyed and agitated when we have to endure tedious situations. Oftentimes, those situations involve waiting, and all we want to do is skip to the end. Whether it’s waiting in line or waiting for our dreams to come to fruition, we wish we didn’t feel that yearning to go faster.
Well, there’s a theory that suggests we can.
My aunt and uncle were out of town for the week so I accepted my cousin’s invitation to stay with her and keep her company. I was working from home, so all I needed was my laptop. A perfect arrangement. We could both do our own thing during the day, and hang out in the evenings.
She’s a few years younger than me and was into the third month of her first job. I won’t pretend I know what she actually does, all I know is she’s an electrical engineer…lights and stuff right?
She was usually gone by the time I woke up in the morning, so I was surprised to hear the sound of Chandler Bing’s voice coming from her bedroom. I knocked on the door and saw her lying in bed, in her pajamas, looking less than pleasant. “I’m ill,” she said. We spoke for a few minutes, I gave her a hug and told her to rest. I would finish my work early so we could hang.
As the day went on, and as little as I wanted to ‘be that person’, I became suspicious. She ordered pizza for lunch and washed it down with ice-cream. At dinner, she suggested we have some wine. Delighted yet surprised, I asked whether she thought it was a good idea. That’s when she started crying. “Ok, ok, we’ll have the wine,” I said.
She hadn’t gone to work because she was upset. She said, “her boss didn’t even know who she was and she wasn’t doing anything right.”
If I could just get Simon Sinek on the phone, I thought. GenZs, man; give it time!
I first explained why this was a ridiculous reason to skip work. Next time you’re considering taking the day off, think about whether you’d do it if you had a child to feed. If the answer is yes, you need it. Otherwise, get dressed. Then I listened to what she had to say.
Nothing had even happened. She hadn’t made any major mistakes, nobody had called her out for the wrong reasons, but all she was worried about was the fact she hadn’t received any recognition. I was confused. She had only been in the role for three months. What could she possibly expect to achieve in such little time in her first-ever job?
Watching this situation unfold, from the outside, it was obvious this was possibly the biggest first-world-problem in history. But there was a part of me that could relate. It’s frustrating to see your goals in the distance and feel like all your efforts, however great, are nothing but tiny steps in the right direction.
There are many instances in life where we need to give ourselves time. All we can do is keep doing the next best thing and try to enjoy the journey, however long it may seem. But to do that, we need patience. And it’s something you develop.
The reason why we all struggle to be more patient is obvious when you consider its definition. There’s a misconception that ‘patience’ is something passive; that it requires you to slow down or endure an unpleasant situation without doing anything about it. But it’s not so.
“The ability to wait, or to continue doing something despite difficulties, or to suffer without complaining or becoming annoyed.” — Cambridge Dictionary
By definition, ‘patience’ accepts three global truths about life. We will all experience:
(2) Difficulties, and
And the only way to become patient is by mastering how to:
(2) Without complaining, or
(3) Becoming annoyed.
The first three points are circumstantial. You experience delay, difficulties, and suffering because of the situation you’re in, whether you want to or not. Family illness, financial difficulties, poor business results.
The good news is that circumstances change all the time. And this simple reality gives you the answer you’re looking for.
The way you can ‘continue without complaining or becoming annoyed’, lies in realizing that the circumstance you’re in, is only temporary. For this very reason, it’s an opportunity to seize, not a period to endure. There’s a reason you should value it. I’ll elaborate.
Why do we value things?
“Why water that is vital for all life is cheap, while diamonds are expensive, even though we can live without them?” — Aristotle
The answer to this question is explained by the economic law of diminishing marginal utility.
Imagine you’re lost in the desert. You haven’t seen food for days and you’re very literally starving. In this hypothetical desert, you find an apple. The value you attribute to that particular apple is huge. It probably tastes better than anything you’ve ever tasted. It may have saved your life. You keep walking, and you find a second apple. Then a third. Then the tree.
You have so many apples now that you value each individual apple less than you did the first. Your hunger has been partly satisfied. If a bird tries to eat one, you wouldn’t be as worried as you would have been had it tried to eat your first apple. Heck, back then, you would’ve probably eaten the bird!
The reason we attribute economic value to things tends to correlate to their abundance or scarcity. Drinking water, in the western world, is an abundant resource. Diamonds are rare. But ask a person dying of thirst which they’d prefer.
Of course, there are personal preferences that come into play too. We all value certain things over others. But there’s good logic in seeing the value in the scarce. To build patience, you can apply the same logic.
Instead of being frustrated by the lack of attention, she was receiving at work, my cousin could choose to see the value in the unique circumstance she was in. She was in the early days of her career; now was the time to mess up and learn from her mistakes, to observe, and to take chances with little risk of reprimand given her junior-level responsibilities.
The time will come when she’s in a senior position, having to make difficult decisions that could affect the company’s bottom line and employees. She might be a mother having to make decisions that will impact her children’s future.
To ‘not be there’ yet can be a blessing. It’s a temporary, unique moment worth embracing and making the most out of.
Periods of delay, difficulty, and hardship are circumstantial. They are therefore temporary, unique moments. Like diamonds, they’re each unique, rare, and valuable. They’re unique opportunities to learn.
Other periods of delay, difficultly, and hardship will come, but not this one. What you take away is totally unique to this particular circumstantial experience. So, value this moment — because it won’t come again.