My dad used to joke that he could never be a doctor because he had no patients. I deliberately misspelled patience to convey the word play because it is really difficult to tell a joke one dimensionally.
Okay, moving on before you lose patience with me.
Patience is tricky for me. At best, I am a conditionally patient kind of guy and those conditions are often only known to me. By this, I mean that I believe that patience isn’t simply practiced, it is also earned. I will do my best to explain using real life examples, but I am not going to promise that you won’t lose patience with me before I do. Here goes.
I have patience for student drivers and for kids who have recently obtained their license. I have no patience at all for people who hold up traffic, driving 20 miles under the speed limit in the fast lane while texting.
I have patience for employees who show up every day ready to learn something new and to challenge themselves. I have no patience at all for an employee who asks not what he can do for the company, but what the company can do for him.
I have patience for anyone who exerts an earnest effort, but falls short of his or her goal. I have no patience at all for those who set no goals and demonstrate no ambition, but expect the world anyway.
I have patience when a contractor calls to tell me that he will be late or postponed. I have no patience at all for the contractor who delays my project with no advanced notice or any explanation.
I have patience for great causes that may take some time to find their way and gain traction even if it means that I spend more time working on behalf of them. I have no patience at all for poorly thought out, unorganized efforts that go nowhere, but waste time indiscriminately.
Basically, I find that I have all kinds of time for people and causes that are genuine and not so much for those that aren’t.
I look at it like this. My time has always been precious to me and I am judicious with it accordingly. For the most part, I have become adept at assessing a person or a cause and then determining with accuracy whether I should be patient and invest some of my time and energy. I think that skill has helped me to derive more enjoyment from my time than I otherwise would have if I simply offered my patience unconditionally. I also think that practicing this skill has made me a better decision maker.
In the spirit of full disclosure, however, I can tell you that I am not always patient with myself and I absolutely react too impatiently to certain situations.
I am a horrible handyman, but I still approach every household project as though it will only take a few minutes and when that turns out not to be true, I immediately get frustrated. Along those same lines, despite having a very limited toolbox, I still somehow expect to always have just the right tool for the job only for my unfounded optimism to turn to instantaneous ire.
I love animals and I full well know that pets are a lot of work yet when our dog is in our backyard for two minutes and somehow comes back to the door filthy, it often is a true test of my patience.
So, I guess what I am saying is that even though the concept of patience is obviously something I have given a lot of thought to and have gone as far as to categorize it, even I can’t fully explain how I apply it. I think this is because somewhere along the way my patience or lack thereof intertwines with my tolerance. This then leads to the question of whether a person can be patient, but intolerant or impatient and tolerant at the same time. I think the answer is yes, which really starts to create some confusion!
Clearly, patience can and often does go hand in hand with tolerance, however, the opposite is far more interesting to think about. Using my previous example, I am apparently patient with our dog, but intolerant of the mess she creates. Similarly, I consider myself to not only be tolerant of, but interested in the many varied opinions of the people I interact with on a daily basis, but if one of those persons takes too long to state that opinion I may grow impatient with him.
In these instances, I need to be careful not to convey the wrong message. I want our dog to know I love her and that she is not in trouble just because she goes out and does what dogs do. I also need my long-winded acquaintance to know that his opinion is just fine with me even though he may not be as concise as I would like him to be when sharing it.
If I think of myself as patient and tolerant, but my pets and friends don’t receive that message, then the virtue of my patience and tolerance is completely lost because when it comes to matters such as these, the only reality is the perception of those that you care about. The challenge isn’t to make myself more patient or tolerant. The challenge is to make sure that I convey whatever level of patience and tolerance I feel in a clear and appropriate way even when I am the only party involved.
I am going to continue to work on my own patience and tolerance and hopefully improve upon it, especially the way in which I convey it to others. I value self-awareness in others and I need to make sure that I practice it myself. In my opinion, anyone who comports himself in a manner that indicates he knows who he is, how he portrays himself, and is respectful of others along the way is very likely worth my patience and tolerance.
This article is part of Scott Arney's educational series, entitled The Serial Decision Maker