Patience. Where has it gone? How do I get it back?

I was K-12 student media judge last week. I worked with judges from across the state to evaluate media projects, in my case, websites, designed by students. I worked with two other judges to rate the projects and provide feedback to the creators.

My fellow judges were nice people I enjoyed meeting. However, the process moved too slowly according to my standards, and the comments that were written were not as well written as I would have preferred. Now, keep in mind, I teach interpersonal communication, organizational communication, and small group communication, so I had some sense of what to say to move things along or obtain greater input into how we were communicating with the students. Why didn’t I? I preferred to feel frustrated. Yes, how we feel is our choice. But, at the time, I blamed one of the judges. My problem, I realized even then, was simply that I lacked patience. I really did not want to find a way to work more efficiently with the team; I wanted to evaluate the websites myself because I felt I could do a better job in half the time.

In effect, I lacked patience. What makes the sin more grievous is that there was no hurry to get finished. We got some help from other judges toward the end of the day and left an hour early. I enjoyed reviewing the websites. Many were amazing. Some students had spent months learning about various concepts, like the weather and took photographs, made audio recordings, created art, and used website design tools. But, I was in a rush since the colleague with the pencil in hand seemed to move too slowly.

I thought we were supposed to learn to be more patient as the years passed. Aren’t we self-centered and impulsive in our youth then as we age, don’t we realize that we have to accept our own limitations, recognize that working well with others pays off, and be willing to wait for good things to happen? That was my theory, anyway. Reject the null hypothesis. My patience has diminished over the years. Before, I could delay personal gratification, work long and hard with others to achieve a goal, and rarely get upset when others made mistakes or slowed things down.

Yes, I once had a great deal of patience. One person, I recall, suggested that she had never seen anyone who had as much patience as I had while working with students. I never really thought about patience back then. I focused on an outcome and my emotions did not enter into the picture. But, at the same time as my patience back then was large, my ego was small. I don’t mean to necessarily say that I lacked confidence. Instead, I generally believed that other people’s perspectives were as valid as my own even if I felt they were wrong. I tried not to judge people, although I admit testing a few to see if they were hypocrites. I understood and accepted that people had different strengths and weaknesses. Everyone shared a common humanity. Besides, I thought, who really knew what this world means anyway? Not me. Who am I to judge?

Over the years my ego has grown. While this occurred, my patience has diminished. I am more judgmental. I have become less accepting of others in some respects. I am weary of those who deny basic scientific facts like climate change. I am angry at those who take advantage of others. I am upset by those who lie. The list could continue, unfortunately. Making a judgement about people’s beliefs and actions is not inherently bad; rather, it is the lack of patience for trying to address these problems or reconcile differences in beliefs that is a cause for concern.

As my time on the planet Earth grows shorter, I hope to spend it more wisely. But there’s a paradox–the more time spent evaluating what to do, the less time there is to do it. Judging has its place, but while judging, I am not living in the moment. When I feel frustrated over something that makes little difference or that I could change but chose not to, I am not free; I am a hostage to my emotions. The kicker is that I also like to complain about the lack of patience shown by others. There’s nothing that makes me more impatient than seeing others who are impatient. Have you noticed that we tend to complain most about the things we like least about ourselves?

Long ago, running helped me to learn how to set long-term goals and be patient. When running for several hours, alone, out in the country, the ego fades. I would only hear the rhythmic sound of my inhales and exhales and the sound if my feet hitting the pavement. I knew I had to pace myself. I could not increase my distance or speed too rapidly or I got hurt. If I wasn’t patient I’d have to sit on the sidelines.

I met lots of other runners out on the road or at races: some waddled along like ducks; others bounded like gazelles. But most everyone showed respect for everyone else. We realized we are all trying to achieve some common goals. No one looked down on the slow runner. He may be running slowly after having run 25 miles. He may be injured. His VO2 Max may be at a minimum. The slow twitch muscles in his legs may be really slow. His body frame may not be well suited for distance running. The runner may be a beginner. Running slowly does not necessarily reflect a person’s skill level, dedication, or effort. Running is unlike any other sport I know in this regard. No one judges other people based on their apparent ability. Instead, they admire the effort. They applaud the runner when the hard work and patience paid off. The race time may not have been a world record, but it may have been a personal record. The 10 minute per mile 10K runner may be happier at the finish line than the 6 minute per mile runner.

I’m back to running again. I’ve been away from the sport for more than ten years. I hope to recall how to be more patient and let the ego dissolve a bit into the moment. Evaluate less. Live more in the moment. Be patient.

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