Months of social isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic did weird things to me. The lack of external stimulation meant I had to pick my own brain for entertainment. This led me down an interesting path of self-introspection, for which my latest musings explored impatience: how we’re often taught to perceive it as a negative human trait, and why I believe it’s in fact a superpower in real life.
I am usually patient around people. I don’t mind when someone cuts in line, or when my earlier order takes longer than a neighbouring table’s. The conventional triggers of impatience do not bother me.
Upon deeper interrogation, I discover that my impatience shines in more formal settings. When a meeting has no clear agenda, or when a specific action isn’t called after a lengthy discussion, or when members of a meeting are clearly distracted, stretching the session to fruitless lengths.
These may seem a trivial matter for some, but when you are sacrificing other pressing matters in place of these triggers, you expect people to take things seriously. When there is a clear lack of urgency, that really grinds my gears.
But I started observing the positive impact impatience had on me. I don’t just sit around lambasting myself for being part of an incompetent organisation or complain about clients leaving me hanging. I take active steps to ensure these obstacles do not impede my own vision for growth. I learned that impatience could be more beneficial than disadvantageous. The lesson we were told as kids, that good things come to those who wait, may hold less truth than we appreciate.
Here are 3 reasons why:
Impatience creates urgency
Impatient people have a strict agenda and are driven to accomplish what they strive to do. They are uncomfortable sitting around waiting for change to happen. As leaders in an organisation, impatient people ensure decisions are made and actions are taken.
Impatience assumes all problems are urgent. This is perhaps the greatest motive of their desire to ensure everything gets done quickly, nothing escapes their watch. As Maya Angelou puts it, “they feel the need to grab the world by their lapels.”
Impatience stratifies your priorities
Impatience helps us distinguish what’s important and what’s not. What’s worth your time and what’s not. Impatience stems from the internal works of your brain, reflecting your inner desires.
You don’t become impatient from doing things you love. You become impatient for missing out on doing things you love. Impatience gives you perspective. Exploring this feeling can sometimes reveal your inner calling in life.
Impatience breeds action
Having a clear understanding of priorities and bearing a sense of urgency everywhere they go, impatient people naturally strive for action. While patient people can slip into indolence, impatient people are constantly motivated, sometimes risking the opposite. Inaction has no place in an impatient person’s books.
Persistence is sometimes a side effect of impatience, which in the right attitude can lead to desirable outcomes. This can easily be overdone, giving impatience its common bad rep.
As Benjamin Spall puts it in a similar article:
“When you’re impatient, you reject the notion that patience is a virtue, as without impatience you feel that you will never get anything done — at least at the pace that you expect of yourself.”
The idea that impatience is a negative character trait should be reframed. But the line between commendable and destructive impatience is a fine one, so practise impatience with caution. Question the consequences of your actions while visualising your ideal outcome. Are they in line with each other?
But that doesn’t mean patience is bad
As with most things in life, context is important. Knowing your place is a good first step. While impatience in business is good, it isn’t exactly a trait you want to take home to your family.
When someone comes to me with a problem, my default strategy is to give actionable advice. It’s effective & efficient. It’s a business solution disguised as “personal advice”. I think it’s an easy way out.
Sometimes, what people need is a listening ear. They do not seek advice. That’s why most therapists do not give advice to their clients. Your patience and compassion would be most valuable in these instances.
Putting it all together
Impatience should not be labelled as a negative character trait, nor should it be paraded around town like it’s the best thing in the world. Impatience can be good. It creates clarity, a sense of priority, and encourages action.
Instead of busting your butt figuring out how to deal with impatience, embrace it. Reframe its reputation. Tweak its flavours. Then pass this virtue off to the people around you.