Can a Control Freak Self-Teach Patience? I’m Trying


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!


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. 

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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