Can a Control Freak Self-Teach Patience? I’m Trying
04.21.17
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You know when you’re late and sitting in traffic and really have to be somewhere but aren’t going to get there until later? You start sticking your neck out to survey the density of cars ahead of you, your leg is bouncing, you’re twiddling your thumbs, you’re asking why the traffic is like this, how it is possible that it could be this bad, but that does not make it better.

And because you’re so anxious about the traffic and your tardiness, you’re compelled to jump out and start running — at least then you will feel like you’re doing something — but the reality remains that you’re not going to get there on time, so no matter how fast you run or how much you yell, the circumstance doesn’t change. It is infuriating, but also completely out of your control. There is nothing you can do.

The only thing that will serve you right now is patience.

I have been thinking about that a lot lately because for as long as I have been working, I have been successful in eschewing patience. Every time it seems like I must finally learn it, I figure out a way to dodge it.

I actually think I’ve even made a case for impatience in running Man Repeller. Every time I notice a flaw, I jump down its throat, attempt to completely eradicate it, sometimes make myself sick, but within two weeks, my “work” has almost always paid off.

This process has led me to believe that patience is actually a synonym for passivity. That to be patient is to be lazy — to leave issues unresolved, faults lingering. But that is extremely distorted thinking (and, pro tip: a terrible way to manage). I know this to be true because I have been catching myself inside impatience spirals over the past couple of months. What usually ends up happening is that I make abrupt decisions based on fragments of data because I’m too impatient to hear or see the full story. Because these decisions are made before the whole picture is painted, there is almost always a process of undoing that dutifully follows. This makes it really hard for the people on my team to get their shit done and it annoys me, not because I feel for them, but because I have been too wrapped up in this patience-as-inferiority complex to recognize that the problem is me!

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The thing about work is that you can get by without patience. It won’t be pleasant, but it is possible — we control so many of the variables that inform whether or not we’re getting our jobs done. Not all of them, but enough to succeed.

When I’m not at work, though — when I’m home and nestled up against my personal goals — I am frequently reminded that I can’t run from it anymore. That patience is not just nice, but a requirement for sanity. For a person who is not patient, this is a difficult realization.

I’m obviously about to bring this back around to my lack of pregnancy — how I have convinced myself that there is something I can do, a lever I can control. Like if I push and push the way that I do at work, somehow a baby will drop into my uterus. And this is where it gets kind of interesting because I never really considered patience as pertaining to the issue of control, but that’s exactly what it is. Even in wanting to learn it, I am hoping, anticipating it will give me what I want but someone once told me that the gift of patience is nothing more or less than patience.

So I think I’m going to stop sticking my neck out, stop asking how the traffic could possibly be this bad and wondering whether I’ll ever get out. Instead, I’ll let my arms hang down beside me, maybe stick out my tongue and trust in what is perhaps the only thing I know definitively: I have never been stuck in a traffic jam forever.

Collage by Maria Jia Ling Pitt; photos via Getty Images. 

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  • Nope: The gift of patience is not only patience. I promise! (an Ex-Unpatient squeaking here)
    It is also the great feeling of things having happened, come around or been accomplished because you had the nerve to wait, even if just a little bit more. The results are simply more beautiful, more than often, and happiness-inducing. Like a difference between un coup en vitesse and une petite mort prolongé. Erm, sorry for that. Old women, you know.

    Anyway, patience can be and should be learned, but it is OK to be impatient from time to time. Especially in our private lives, for non-expensive purposes.

  • Holly Laine Mascaro

    Lol – were you also stuck on the trains this morning in NYC?? Nightmare.

  • Lindsay D

    I gave up caffeine and I noticed I am more patient. Not sure if it will help you but sending words of encouragement. xxx

  • Elli rvs

    man oh man patience if difficult (for me). I am on similar fertility journey as you and also get chronic migraine, both require patience whether I am “good” at it of not) so thank you for this piece. one thing that does bring me comfort is the idea that nature moves medium to slow so who am I to think that unless something happens fast it wont at all…?

  • Kay

    I so admire that you wrote about this, it is so difficult to face this stuff and doing it publicly is, well, brave. you are not alone in having that kind of impatience but what is rare is reflecting on it. I have a lot of feelings about this bc it’s loomed large in my life but from the other side. As a patient person(not all the time, but a lot), it is really frustrating to deal with the kind of impatience you’re talking about. From the patient side, it really does feel controlling, in the sense that the impatient person doesn’t want to listen to anyone else in order to be in control of narrative, so that their reality is the only one, they are never wrong because they don’t have time for information that doesn’t confirm what they already thought. Ironically it takes a lot of patience to put up with being consistently denied being heard and then smoothing over the realities that are being ignored in favor of the limited narrative- which is the other frustrating part, that impatient people expect a lot of patience from people around them. And then, like you were saying about thinking patience is lazy and passive, they look down on you for the work it takes to support them. I try not to put myself in that position anymore. I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life to write that so thank you for creating the conversation. It is amazingly cathartic to hear an impatient person take such a hard look at it. So much luck working on it, you’ll get there!!

    • Leilani

      damn, this is such a great articulation of what it’s like to handle impatience!

  • tanujja dadlani

    Hey Leandra! Side note – my mom had me after 17 years of trying, 3 miscarriages, several failed IVFs and a whole 9 months of absolutely no movement from mini me in her belly (yes I know that’s not where babies come from)
    Hang in there x

  • Molly D

    As millens, we’re fed and feed ourselves this notion that we can have whatever we want, like whatever we want, if we really try. And on many occasions, I’ve worked and controlled and gotten what I want, which is cool. But it makes the thing I want the very most all the more distressing when I can’t fucking force it to materialize for me. I know I need to give up control and be patient. But being patient for something that I don’t even know will happen can seem like I’m setting myself up for eventual disappointment. In my bad moments (6 hrs ago and basically still right now) patience seems futile and silly. I suppose it’s about being patient for any outcome, maybe a great outcome I can’t even fathom in the current moment. Gotta enjoy the whole ride, traffic included.

  • Juliana Salazar

    so happy to read/about the abundance of LM written articles this week!

  • AAh Leandra I feel you ! I’m also an impatient…and never looked at it with your perspective. This article is everyhing !
    And now I also admire you as a manager for always questioning yourself. I ish I could work at MR !!

  • Adrianna

    I used to say living in New York City taught me patience, but I think it was working in retail in Manhattan. I’ve realized that I’m really good at waiting because working retail was essentially waiting for 8 hours – while standing. (Waiting to open, waiting for a customer, waiting for the obnoxious customer to leave, waiting to stock inventory, waiting for lunch, waiting to go home…)

    I forget when the phrase “you can’t control what happened, but you can control how you react” started to stick with me.

    I don’t know if I’m necessarily impatient when it comes to not meeting some of my personal or professional goals. I recognize that I will work more hours at my hourly/overtime day job, because that’s easier than confronting The Blank Page and starting my personal projects.