The Waiting Game: Why it Pays to Have Patience
Photo: Greg Segal
Whenever her friend made her wait, Michelle Burford got angrier by the second—until she realized that when it comes to being happy, there's no time like the present.While there are many things I adore about my old friend Dana—her brilliance with a joke, her fierce determination, her red satin Chanel clutch—she does have one flaw I've never gotten over: She's congenitally incapable of showing up anywhere on time. Whether we schedule dinner weeks in advance or decide on a last-minute bike ride through the park, she inevitably comes whisking around the corner 23 minutes late, muttering excuses and pretending not to notice how thoroughly miffed I am.
Try as I might—and, oh, did I try—I could not make Dana embrace punctuality. Then it dawned on me that instead of attempting to change her behavior, I'd be better off focusing on my own. Thus was born a whole new strategy: calculated delay. Whenever I met up with Dana, I began arriving 20 minutes late myself. That made her just about on time, and spared me hours of seething.
For months, my plan worked beautifully—until the morning Dana hit an all-time low: We were scheduled to meet for a kayaking class on the Hudson River, but she woke up late and dashed off a slew of cyberexcuses from her BlackBerry...52 minutes after I and all of my classmates had left the dock.
Paddling down a river for three hours gives a person a chance to think, and by the time I came ashore that afternoon, I'd sloshed my way to an epiphany. For ten years I'd been putting a piece of my happiness in the hands of a chronic procrastinator—letting her tardiness chip away at my good mood with every tick of the clock. That afternoon, as the waters of the Hudson lapped against my kayak, I realized I was so consumed with Dana's timing that I wasn't even experiencing the ride. The breeze, the sun, the currents, the glory of Manhattan rising from the river—all of it was erased by my anger.
Almost as surely as I'll be a chatterbox for the rest of my days, Dana will be late. Period. And depending on the circumstances, I'll be somewhere between prickly and enraged when she arrives. Yet as that initial visceral reaction subsides, I have a choice. I can continue to stew in my own pissiness or I can drop it and enjoy what's right in front of me. I now choose the latter—dashing off a text that says "I'm leaving," mounting my bike, and riding away—and that has made all the difference.
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