Impatience has been a permanent stain on my character for as long as I could spell it.
Strangely, on the face of it, impatient people may seem like the most chilled out, smiley people you know; but put us in a compromising situation – with places to go, zips to zip and appointments to keep – and we morph into stroppy toddlers with a thirst for trouble. I’ve often wondered why some people do patience better and, as a result, lead far more peaceful lives. Are they destined to not lead the pack, choosing the path of friendly followers, while the handful of us with a short fuse actually get the job done – on time and well?
My aggressive adherence to schedules and obsession with beating the clock have proved career winners for two decades – no editor ever has had to chase me down for copy and, when I was a teacher, both heads of department and pupils knew that what needed to be done would be done – not by Friday, but a week in advance. I wore impatience like a crown and lived the lie that my life was infinitely better because of it.
But today, when I simply didn’t have it in me to help my grumpy toddler deal with his disappointment about the rain at school – meaning no usual swing-swing routine – I could have chosen the path of the uber-mom, who would have found a way to both teach emotional balance and eventually coax a smile. Instead, after a few failed attempts at empathy, reasoning and distraction, I simply gave up. What’s the point of flogging a lost cause?
Our competitive world worships at the feet of achievement and so, for naturally impatient people, it may seem that we’re built to win – after all, if Richard Branson had just stood around and gone with the flow, he’d never have built a pretty plane.
But since I feel unhappy when I’m feeling impatient, there must be a flaw in that modern argument. And science, as always, proves this to be true. If you’re a true-blue “impatient”, then what you’re really getting knotty knickers about is the irritating emotion you’re feeling when things aren’t going your way.
Like this morning, when my toddler was in a towering rage over an apparently simple thing like rain, I felt powerless (I’m no meteorologist and don’t know a workable rain dance), annoyed (everybody else under three is happy – why aren’t you?) and stupid (why did I make the outside swing part of your goodbye routine anyway?).
So really, when your boss storms at you for not being fast or smart or productive enough, or your super-smart tween gripes because you haven’t nailed the new TV remote system by lunch-time, take a moment to reflect on the fact that time is a man-made construct and that impatience – deceptively beneficial as it seems on the surface – is just a mask for fear.
We’re always so afraid of failing, of looking stupid, of losing our jobs or of being bad parents. But honestly? As long as you’re getting up and making an effort, the universe doesn’t really mind. After all, there’s always tomorrow. And the next day too.