Patience is the Companion of Wisdom

A hiker overlooks the sunset. Text "Not all classrooms have four walls" appears on the graphic.

Dear God. I pray for patience and I want it right now.

- Oren Arnold

Are you as thin as your patience? Do you ever run out out time? Do you ever run out of patience?

Where would your patience tolerance register on the patience meter?

The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it. I’ve always liked this Chinese proverb, “Little by little the bird builds its nest.”

This spring, just outside my front entrance door, a robin built her nest in the eavestroughs of the garage. I believe this is the third year she has nested there. I loved watching her tuck grasses into a safe spot and then hunker down to incubate the eggs. Each morning I checked her progress; but each morning, there was nothing. Apparently, Robin eggs take two weeks to hatch. This is a great lesson in patience. Teachers and lessons are everywhere if you just look for them.

To truly get the benefit of this lesson, you must go slow. Read it carefully. Reflect on the many questions and especially the ‘Food for Thought’ section. Remember, you only get out of life what you put into it. Patience is definitely a virtue.

Johnny’s report cards had been far from satisfactory. One day one arrived a little worse even than those which had proceeded it. Johnny’s father announced that it would be a subject for discussion after dinner. When the time came, the father sat down with him with the report card in hand and after reviewing it once more, said “Well, Johnny, how do you account for such a miserable showing in your schoolwork?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” answered Johnny. “What do you think it is? Heredity or environment?

Hal Urban writes, “There are two things that are most likely to make people struggle with patience. The first is our genetic make-up. Some of us come from a gene pool that has a lot of ‘calm, cool, and collected’ in it. Patience comes more naturally. Others of us come from a gene pool that has a lot of ‘wham, bam, slam” in it, along with a few too many fits of rage. If you come from this latter pool, patience is more difficult to acquire. But regardless of personality type, the greatest challenge we all face is the microwave society in which we live. I’d be a rich man if someone gave me a dollar for every time I was impatient.”

Let me ask you this, “How rich would you be if someone gave you a dollar for every time you were impatient?”

Often when we’re young, we feel as though we have to do everything at once. We need to plan our lives, experience everything, get to the top, figure out our life’s purpose, and do it all at the same time. Slow down. Don’t rush into things. Let your life unfold. Wait a bit to see where it takes you and take time to weigh your options.”

One of my clients I have worked with as their personal coach for many years, recently asked me this question, “What is your superpower?” I was caught completely by surprise. I once heard a colleague claim, “Making wine and money disappear are my superpowers.” Well, I too can make both wine and money disappear, but I never considered it to be a superpower. With all the focus in film now on Iron Man, Superman, Captain America, The Avengers, and Wonder Woman among others, I was intrigued to hear her response. I definitely do not see myself as an action hero. Her response was, “You are one of the most patient people I have ever met.” I do consider myself to be patient in most circumstances. But I am a card-carrying member of the human race, as are you. And I am far from perfect. I have emotional and impatience triggers. In other words, I am a fellow traveler on this journey we call life; I do not claim to be ‘the expert.’

This lesson has probably been the hardest one to write as I have had to reflect many times in my personal mirror. I can be that person who does not like lines in grocery stores, or question with my internal voice, why people can’t count to eight as they bring 12 items through the express line. I can also be that person who gets frustrated when people drive too slow or even too fast. It’s only in the last few years that I identified that these irritants would only bother me on certain days; there would be days when I wouldn’t be bothered by these situations at all. In other words, it wasn’t the events at all, they were actually neutral. It was my perspective that was the problem, maybe the spin I would put on things that day, or perhaps my mindset that day was tuned into a negative channel.

Jim Henson, the creator of The Muppets, wrote, “I still think of myself as a very human being. I have the full complement of weaknesses, fears, problems, ego and sensuality. But I think that is why we are here, to work our way through all this, and, hopefully, come out a bit wiser for having gone through it all.”

The key to everything is patience.

Paul Sweeney a few years back coined this question, “How can a society that exists on instant potatoes, packaged cake mixes, frozen dinners and instant cameras teach patience to its young? The pace of life has only increased since then. There is the potential for all of us to suffer from ‘the hurry sickness’ if we allow ourselves to.

Tom Wilson’s cartoon character Ziggy once exclaimed, “I wished for patience over a month ago! When do I get it?”

Perhaps one answer would be for all of us to develop a thorough understanding of what it means to be patient and then live our lives as role models for others. So, let’s see if we can develop a stronger awareness of being patient as we continue our mission as lifetime learners and continuous works in progress.

What is patience?

Patience is not just the ability to wait, it is to be calm no matter what happens, constantly taking action to turn it to positive growth opportunities, and have faith that it will all work out in the end while you are waiting. It is the acceptance that things can happen in a different order than the one you have in mind.

In my research, I came across this definition, “Patience is something you admire about the driver behind you and you don’t understand in the one ahead.

In my role as a bereavement coach and counsellor, perhaps the most common question I receive from bereaved people is. “How long does grief take? Well, it takes as long as it takes. And it will be different for each and every one of us. This is a crucial lesson for life; things take as long as they take.

The single most important thing in learning to develop patience is to understand that it is a mindset, an attitude. The next thing is to realize that all attitudes are choices. If patience is an attitude, and attitude is a choice, it logically follows that patience is a choice.

The best book I have ever read on this topic is’ “The Power of Patience” by M.J. Ryan. I would definitely recommend you make this a must read. With her permission, I will share some of her wisdom in this lesson.

She writes, “Take a moment to reflect on a time when you employed the power of patience. What were the circumstances? Did you calm an otherwise volatile situation? How did it feel? What helped you to act patiently? Now think of a time when someone was patient with you. How did he or she treat you? How did it feel? What were you able to do or learn as a consequence?

In one of my readings on this topic, I came across an interesting story. A middle-aged fellow, who had a problem with road rage among other hurry sickness problems made the following request, “Bless me with patience; not opportunities to be patient, I’ve had plenty of those and they don’t seem to be working.”

What is impatience?

George Carlin wrote, “When someone is impatient and says, “I haven’t got all day.” I always wonder. How can that be? How can you not have all day?

If you think patience is a virtue, try surfing the net without high speed internet.

Impatience is another word for hurry sickness; it is likely the root of many of your problems. Sarah Pollard describes impatience as waiting in a hurry. You cannot force life to give you answers. You must let them unfold before you. Impatience can hurt us physically too. How many of us have sustained injuries while we were in a hurry? Hurrying ends up taking more time because we make mistakes that we wouldn’t have made if we had just taken some time.

A torrential downpour of rain had left a small town in an emergency situation. Waters had risen to levels of five feet to six feet in certain areas of the town. Rescue workers, including some engineers, had arrived to assist the townspeople in dealing with the various problem situations.

One engineer was intrigued by a specific situation he had come to observe. There was a hat floating on the water, but it seemed to defy the law of nature. It would go about twenty feet in one direction, seemingly turn right and go about thirty feet, turn right again and do another twenty feet, turn right again, etc., etc., while at the same time going against the natural current of the water.

Noticing a woman standing nearby, the engineer remarked, “One of the oddest things I have ever seen. That hat seems to have a mind of its own.”

“Oh, that’s my husband,” replied the woman. “He’s a very stubborn man. He said ‘come hell or high water,’ he was going to cut the grass today!”

You cannot force life to give you answers. You must let them unfold before you.

Just think of some of the negative costs of being stubborn and not having the ability to delay or wait for things. It’s great to stay committed to your decisions but have the wisdom to be flexible in your approach. One of my fears in life is that I have witnessed the death of common sense, one of the most limited of all our natural resources it seems. I once saw this quote on the internet, “Common sense is a flower that doesn’t grow in everyone’s garden.” Sad, but true. It seems that common sense is no longer a gift, it’s a punishment; because you have to deal with all those who don’t have it. Slow down. Perhaps happiness is trying to catch you if you let it.

Ryan adds, “Indeed, it appears that the faster things go, the less patience we are able to muster. This is a problem because life inevitably has a certain degree of delay in the form of lines, traffic jams and automated message machines.” Every day can be a test of patience. Every day brings some exasperation, some need, small or great, that forces us to exercise patience. Patience is just part of the equipment we need if we are going to cope with life. Expect at least some things to go wrong and expect at least a few delays. If you start every day this way, you won’t be thrown for a loss when one comes along.

Impatience is a habit; so is patience. To change a habit, we need strong motivation, which comes from knowing the rewards that come from the new behavior. By practicing what I might call ‘deliberate patience,’ we can become less overwhelmed in some of life’s difficult and challenging situations. Awareness allows us to learn. In other words, the way to further develop our patience is to see ourselves as learners and each occasion of impatience as an opportunity to grow. Simply, we are all just human beings. We’re occasionally going to push the elevator button more than once to make it come faster.

Ryan continues, “The question is not whether we lose our patience, but rather how we treat ourselves when we do. Do we berate ourselves for not being perfect? Or do we kindly acknowledge that we are still learning and wonder what we might learn from this? When we see ourselves as learners, however, we acknowledge that something in the situation was hard for us, and we seek to understand what that is. The next time you find yourself ‘losing it’ over something, try asking, I wonder what was hard for me about that? rather than thinking you are a bad person.” In my experience ‘losing it’ almost always means a loss of control; and we have so little control overall in our lives. When your impatience buttons get pushed, try seeking it as an occasion to learn something about yourself. Ask, “Why is this hard for me?” As lifetime learners, I think we should all be wearing a sign that states, “I am currently under construction. Thank you for your patience.”

If you were to ask most people if they would like to have more patience, the majority would say, “yes.”

Hal Urban posed the following question to hundreds of people, “What routine occurrences annoy you and test your patience the most?”

The most common responses were:

  • People

  • Waiting in line

  • Being put on hold

  • Driving a car

  • Using a computer

It seems almost unanimous that the biggest challenge we face is dealing with other people. “What is wrong with people? The problem is everywhere we go, there they are-other people; spouses, kids, family and relatives, friends, coworkers, drivers, shoppers, cell phone talkers (and even worse, cell phone walkers), store employees, neighbors and so on. Why can’t they be more like me? Maybe because they’re a lot like us. They have weaknesses, they have bad days, they’re often in a rush, and they’re trying to do too many things all at once. They need our patience, just just like at times, we need theirs.” Chuck Gallozzi asks, “How can we expect to have others accept our weakness unless we are willing to accept theirs?” Patience, then, is about respect for others.

Are you able to graciously accept differences between you and everyone else you come across? This can be a real challenge. It requires stepping back from our assumptions of how the other person should be and observing how they really are. People will continue to be people and you really can’t control other people’s behaviors. Ryan adds, “Ask yourself this question. “What if we were to welcome into our lives those that are most trying to us because they will teach us patience? When we see those who challenge us as teachers rather than burdens, our patience instantly grows.”

Think about the following statement, “Waiting is part of being alive!” Much of life requires waiting and we have a choice to do it happily or miserably. Ryan adds, “One of the assumptions of our impatient age is that waiting is not at the core and center of human life but somehow accidental; we should not have to wait. Society should have worked out all the kinks so that there’s no waiting anytime, anywhere. Most of us alive today think waiting represents a flaw in the system, rather than a natural condition of life. But human beings have always had to wait, the only difference now is what we wait on, not that we must. Waiting can never be completely eliminated from our lives. The more we accept this truth, the happier we will be.” Why rush if you don’t have to? Why not enjoy the journey?

When I was young, I was taught to ‘count to ten’ before doing or saying anything rash when I became frustrated or irritated. It actually does work, but people rarely use it. Oprah Winfrey adds, “Nothing is more effective than a deep, slow inhale and release for surrendering what you can’t control and focusing again on what is right in front of you.

I have been facilitating workshops on Managing Stress for well over 40 years and perhaps this is the base learning I try to encourage people to adopt as a way of being as a take-away principle. Patience is created by putting the irritant-person, place, or thing-into perspective. Ask yourself, “Is this really going to matter 5 years from now, or even 5 days from now. It seems that whenever we put these irritants into a larger, more distant perspective, more often than not we gain patience as a result. Often called the five by five rule. If it’s not going to matter in five years, don’t spend more than five minutes being upset by it.

I once took a four-day course in Minneapolis-St. Paul. I was fortunate on my first day there to meet a taxi driver who drove me to my course destination and agreed to pick me up in the late afternoon to return me to my hotel. We did this for all four days. He was so positive, so cheerful. At the end of the second day on our return, I asked him how he remained so patient in all that traffic gridlock and I will never forget his response, “This traffic could be a real headache for me if I let it be.” That driver knew patience is not something we either have or don’t, it’s a decision we make. In other words, we have a choice in how we respond to the situations we find ourselves in. Because we spend so much time in cars, driving or commuting is the perfect time to practice patience. When you are in stressful situations in the future, be sure to ask yourself this question: “If I allow this incident to get me upset and angry, will I make it better or worse?”

Patience, then, is about respect for others.

As any gardener will tell you, the cycles of nature require patience. You can’t just plant a seed and expect it to flower the next day. Hopefully, you don’t tug on the leaves to hurry-up the process.

An old man who was always in his garden was asked by his four-year-old grandson why he loved gardening so much.

“I love it,” he said, “because my garden teaches me so much about life.”

“Like what?” the grandson asked.

“Well, like that good things take time,” said the grandfather. “My garden has taught me how to have patience.”

“Wow,” said the four-year-old with excitement, “I can’t wait until I have patience.”

Gardening is an instrument of grace.

Food for Thought

How long can you go without being impatient?

What causes you to lose patience? What are some of your impatience triggers?

What are some of the negative costs of always being in a hurry?

Is it sometimes OK to wait a little longer for something?

Have you learned to stop rushing things that need time to grow, including yourself?

Choose one quote every day or perhaps one or two every week if you like. How do these quotes speak to you? What applications do you see in your life? Share your chosen quotes with a family member, a friend, a business colleague. Create a ‘quote of the day’ club at work.

Instant gratification takes too long.

- Carrie Fisher

Patience is what you have when there are too many witnesses.

- Anonymous

The first piece of luggage on an airport carousel, never belongs to anyone.

- Erma Bombeck

The first rule of a professional accounting practice: Nobody is in a rush for the wrong answer.

- Robert D. Cohen CPA

If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient attention than to any other talent.

- Isaac Newton

Genius is eternal patience.

- Michelangelo

At the gate of patience there is no crowding.

- Moroccan Proverb.

Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.

- Alan Watts

Patience is a key element of success.

- Bill Gates

Patience is choosing to control your emotions rather than letting your emotions control you.

- Mark Merrill

Don’t ever take down a fence until you know why it was put up.

- Robert Frost.

A woman who has never seen her husband fishing doesn’t know what a patient man she has married.

- Ed Howe

Rome was not built in a day.

- Old Proverb

Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.

- John Quincy Adams

I’m impatient to reach wisdom, but for some reason, being in a hurry doesn’t seem to help.

- Ashleigh Brilliant

He who is impatient waits twice.

- Mac McGinnis

It is very strange…that the years teach us patience; that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.

- Elizabeth Taylor

Be happy with what you have while working for what you want.

- Helen Keller

People always seem to drive better when I’m not in a rush.

- George A. Brown

I’m extraordinarily patient provided I get my own way in the end.

- Margaret Thatcher

Impatience: Waiting in a hurry.

- Sarah Pollard

The haste of a fool is the slowest thing in the world. Whoever is in a hurry shows that the thing he is doing is too big for him. Impatience is one big “get-ahead-ache.”

- Thomas Swindell

You can’t plant the seed and pick the fruit the next morning.

- Jesse Jackson

Next Lesson: Procrastination is the "Thief" of Time

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