"Patience is a Virtue," They Said
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
“You have been impatient,” said my father, “since the moment you were born.” I exited my mothers’ womb two days past my due date, insisting upon entering the world while my mother was having an anniversary dinner. Her and my father were celebrating five years together, sitting around a table with my grandparents on a cold, dark February night when my mother looked at my dad and said, “We need to go, now.” My mother was in labor for a mere 45 minutes before I arrived, screaming. My father was simply glad that he did not have to deliver me.
From the time I was young, my mother has parroted patience. “Patience is a virtue,” said my mother as we stood in line at the bank, waiting for an available teller. “Patience is a virtue,” she would say, if we waited too long in the dentist’s waiting room, or if dinner was taking longer than expected to cook, or if I grew antsy waiting for her to wrap up a conversation with a fellow churchgoer. Church people have a way of stretching five-minute conversations into hours. They are quite content to sit by a window, Styrofoam cup of coffee in hand, and watch the world go by, occasionally repeating some irrelevant minutiae “Early frost this year,” or “Jerry's corn is terribly dry, I do hope it rains soon,” or “Did you hear about the proposal to increase property taxes by $0.08 to pay for new sidewalks? Absolutely ridiculous, I say.” And it was ridiculous because nobody walked anywhere if they could help it.
Patience is a virtue, sure, but I never saw much point in it. At its worst, patience seems to result in not getting much done, and I’m more of a doer than a talker, more of a mover than a sleeper, more of a hurry-it-up-Dave than a slow-it-down-Harry if you catch my drift.
I don’t do things for the sake of doing them, nor do I do things out of sheer boredom. I do things I love and leave everything else to the wind, which means that I can sit down and write a halfway-funny blog post with ease, but when it comes to scheduling my bi-annual dental exam, I drag my feet. I can run through the mountains for hours, but I hate cooking chicken. It’s so dull to cook chicken. There are so many ways to cook chicken and none of them are all that good, or all that interesting. Paprika, thyme, lemon pepper, balsamic vinaigrette, peppercorn, basil. Chicken thighs remind me of cat food, chicken breasts are terribly dry, and I find chicken wings entirely inconsequential.
Patience is best utilized when targeting long-term goals. I want to be a writer someday. A paid, full-time, making-a-solid-living writer. But writing isn’t exactly a lucrative field, especially if you insist upon writing about exactly what you want to write about. I could be a copywriter for diaper company, let’s say, but I’d also want to gouge my eyes out with a spork. So, I’m being patient and practicing my writing in the hopes that someday, someday, maybe, I’ll get paid for this shit.
Patience is a virtue if you decide to climb the corporate ladder. One does not just skip from an entry level clerk to CEO. You must do your time and kiss bottoms you’d rather not kiss and engage in pointless conversations around water bubblers and in board rooms. You must sign on dotted lines in blue ink, and wear pantyhose and blazers with shoulder pads. You must know the correct time to say, “Yes sir,” and the correct time to say, “That’s a godawful idea.” You must primp yourself and smile politely and endure countless hours of sitting in a dull, grey cubicle. Your hips will become unbearably tight. You might develop a hunchback. You will find joy in very small things: a new pencil eraser or cheap gas. You will live and breathe and smile and eat dry lemon chicken in a sparsely furnished break room, because you have ceased to be a person. You are a patient. And as a patient, you must know the value of patience. What you probably don't know is that patience is a journey that never ends. When you get to one destination, you’re always hankering for the next and if you’re too patient, you might not ever get there.
My father once said he is a bad waiter. I immediately thought of an Olive Garden, complete with crumbs beneath sticky tables and cheap, Costco wine. The wait staff dressed in black, plopping reheated bread sticks in the middle of a long table where a large, lower-middle-class family eagerly waits to stuff themselves with processed carbs. “Fill up!” a woman says to her many ratty children, “these are endless bread sticks. Eat all you want!” The kids cheer, dive into the steamy, soft bread, and manically laugh as their blood sugar spikes. Later that night, they will all endure a sugar crash, their parents satisfied by a successful night out with only one marinara stained shirt and two broken dinner plates.
What my father meant is that he is bad at waiting. I wondered if impatience is a genetic trait, if it is a dominant or recessive gene, how it would look in one of those Punnett squares we filled out in AP biology, back when I believed school was the most important thing in life; back when I thought a 4.0 GPA meant something; back when I thought I’d surely need to retain some shred of literacy regarding fruit flies and tectonic plates in order to be a semi-successful adult.
Sadly, adult life is less about the facts we memorized in grade school, and more about the people we know, the people we love, the people we work with, and the people we work for.
Patience is a virtue if you know what you’re working toward. Patience is useful on a long flight in the middle seat, when the rotund man next to you starts snoring during an episode of Family Feud. Patience is irrelevant if we’re talking about unanswerable life questions, like where the universe ends, or if it does, or whether lemon pepper or paprika is best suited to season chicken. Patience is a crutch if produced in excess, like acne that sprouts from too oily skin. If we are too patient, we will never rock the boat, never upset the domino that topples the rest, never move from the bottom rung, never declare, “I want to be a writer,” and pursue that dream with every ounce of our being.
Patience is okay, I guess, but it simply doesn’t suit my constitution, doesn’t run in the family, doesn’t seem all that useful for someone like me, the daughter of a bad waiter, the baby determined to be here, now. The woman who is bored by minutiae, who hates cooking and general domesticity, who needs a creative outlet like she needs air, and the freedom to run far and fast just to feel something.
P.S. Read about how patience can "radically" increase your chance of being successful at work, read The Power of Patience by M.J. Ryan, or listen to Guns n' Roses sing Patience.