Calling All of My Flakes, My Quitters, My Commitment Clunkers: The Secret to Finishing What You Started Is NOT Patience. (So You Can Tell All Of Those “Have Patience” Hoodlums to Kiss It.)
You know who I personally have it out for? People who tell you to have patience.
“Have patience, my dear,” they say—and then they always tack that goddamn “my dear” onto the end, as if they’ve suddenly transformed into a card-carrying ninety-year-old wizard. There’s no faster way to bring my lack of patience from a Level 5 to a Level Eleventy Hundred, than being called “dear,” “sweetie,” “doll,” or the worst offender of all: “honey.” I will cut a bitch.
Ancient Chinese martial arts aside (that I really can’t do anyway), I never liked being told to have patience because it seemed like a wussy way of doing things. If I was really any good, I wouldn’t have to have patience, because I’d be out there making it happen. Waiting seemed like a thing you did when you didn’t know what to do. I mean, I’m pretty sure that nobody won a Nobel Peace Prize by chilling in a corner.
And then I endeavored to write a book. A good book. A meaningful book.
One that contained an artful story arc, and tension in all the right places, and big, important takeaways, and gorgeous writing with humor in just the right amount.
I’ve spent three hours a day, nearly every day, since January 2015, working on this book. For someone who doesn’t have patience, I seem to have found a whole bunch of it, because IT FINALLY OCCURRED TO ME THAT WHAT PEOPLE HAVE BEEN TALKING ABOUT ALL THIS TIME IS NOT PATIENCE AT ALL. They’re using the wrong word! Whoever came up with the most annoying phrase of all-time was clearly talking to little boys; not adults who are trying very, very hard to accomplish something. Because what they mean to say, when they tell you to have patience, is not to calm yourself and wait passively—they mean to tell you to stay the course; endure; persist.
And perhaps a better word for that is stamina.
Have stamina, my dear, is perhaps more appropriate. (Though I will still cut a bitch.)
And while that may just be a matter of nuance, I thought it was worthwhile to mention, because the lessons I’ve internalized from devoting myself to a long-term project that practically requires HOLY MATRIMONY has carried over to other areas of my life in ways I hadn’t expected. For example, I noticed that I am no longer trying to get in shape by exercising as hard as I can for a month; now I’m perfectly content by putting in twenty-minutes of strength training each and every day, and letting the results accumulate over time without me having to control it—or even think anything more about it. I am no longer worried about having everything perfect in time for a launch, say, because I know that I will continue to make little adjustments as we go, regardless. In fact, I am no longer trying to hurry through anything, really—not even with my clients—because I have a much more refined appreciation of good craftsmanship, and what it takes to produce something that's really well done.
I suspect much of this is because I’ve seen the superiority of my writing now, compared to when I first started this project, and feel more confident than ever that the cumulative effects of repeating a behavior over time far outperforms a few stubborn outbursts.
And to that end, I wonder if perhaps we all owe it to ourselves to commit to a project bigger than we are; to let it shape us, and mold us, and influence the way we see the world. Everything these days is about getting it done as quickly as possible, checking it off the list, and moving onto the next thing.
But, what if you stayed?
While patience is a virtue, perseverance may be far more useful.