As promised in my last post for 2020, I’m looking forward to 2021 and to looking inward — how will I fare in honing my latest growing edge?
What is my growing edge for this year?
I’ll leave the predictions of the coming year to the seers and gurus and focus instead, on the inward looking part. And, as in other years, I’ll begin with claiming my word for the year. Is there one word that captures what I’d like to celebrate, focus on, or improve in 2021?
A few years ago, I chose ENOUGH for I was tired of personal growth. Ever feel like that? I wanted to celebrate that I was, simply, enough. As is. Take it or leave it. That was the year I noticed how often other people want to sell you opportunities to improve!
Last year, my word was Power and I wrote about it in late January because it had taken me awhile to find it. More accurately, I had been hesitant to advertise my word, afraid of being misunderstood.
This year my word came quickly because I’d been chastising myself for “not having enough patience,” as though patience is a virtue.
I latched onto PATIENCE quickly as my word for 2021 and, just as quickly, planned to announce it proudly. Then I took
a closer look at patience
Western Civilization has prized patience since … well, when has it not? Cato the Elder (234 – 149 BC) wrote, “Patience is the greatest of all virtues.” Did that make it so?
The Church thought so and in about 600 AD posted their seven virtues against Pope Gregory’s list of seven “deadly” sins. Anger (wrath actually, but who uses that word any more?) was matched against patience.
Patience: good; anger: bad.
Little Christian girls grew up to be patient and demure and psychotherapy was born (more or less).
But what is patience, really?
That’s what I was wondering as I got thinking about this post more intently.
The Dutch have a saying: A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains. Assuming I’d lost my patience somewhere along the way, I figured it was just a matter of finding me some.
What happened in the process surprised me. First, I began to think of virtues I’d be more troubled to have lost; HONESTY came quickly to mind. Could my impatience simply be my honesty rearing it’s head? How nice to think so.
I began to see patience as one of those umbrella terms that keeps us from knowing what’s really going on, a vented lid on the pressure cooker, if you will. But what is bubbling up under the surface we label impatience? For some it’s fear, which includes scared, nervous, and anxious. For others it could be sadness, which includes hurt and (emotional) pain. For me, it tends to be anger, which includes frustration, annoyance, and irritation. Or so I thought when I typed the first draft of this post.
Wanting to understand my patience better, I remembered the wisdom of Arnold Beisser’s paradoxical theory of change. “The natural state of man,” Beisser declares, “is as a single, whole being — not fragmented into two or more opposing parts.”
And so I set out, no longer to find patience, but to embrace my impatience. To learn from it. To see if might teach me.
I thought back to the last few times I’d felt impatient, most of them during zoomed committee meetings, when I was ready to make a decision and another member wanted more discussion.
The decisions we were making impacted lives. We don’t need to make the perfect decision, we just need to act. I said to myself. We can always change it later. IT’S SO OBVIOUS what needs to be done.
Frustrated and wanting to act, I failed to remember that action tends to blur our emotions, even for psychotherapists. (Which is why so many therapists emphasize sitting still, tuning inward, listening to your body.)
The more I thought about each incident, the more I recognized things weren’t going the way I’d expected them to go. An expectation, a goal I had held was getting dashed. I couldn’t
do, accomplish, achieve what I thought I could.
The upside to impatience
Cultural anthropologists like to say that it was impatience that turned our ancestors from hunters to gatherers. OK; I’ll buy that. In the modern world, impatience is what motivates me to pass the car ahead of me. It’s what motivated me to leave my job at Penn so many years ago. And to leave an unhappy marriage I’d been patiently accepting for far too long.
PATIENCE, I’ve come to realize, motivates us to stay the course, sit tight, discuss further. Sometimes that’s the best course to follow. But, just as IMPATIENCE can sometimes push us into rash or dangerous decisions, patience can keep us stuck. There is utility in both patience and impatience. And there is danger in both as well.
I needed both in my life I quickly realized. The trick is to know which one to choose, to appreciate the difference in what each one offers. And that took me back to the Serenity Prayer:
When is passing that car safe and when is it dangerous? When is leaving a relationship, whether it be a friendship, a marriage, or a project at work, taking care of yourself, and when is it codependent and foolish? When is publicly disagreeing with the president of your organization brave and honest, and when is it rash and ill-fated? It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. It depends upon your goal, your expectation, your hope.
The next time I feel that too familiar unease that I identify as “impatience,” I will strive to identify the assumptions I held that are being squashed. When I’m impatient, what is it I thought I could manage or control that I now realize I can’t? Or maybe I can and I just need the little nudge that impatience gives me?
My impatience has a lesson for me to learn and I want to learn to listen better, rather than to push it away. I may not always heed its call (I dare say I hope I don’t always) but I need to take the time to at least hear what it has to say to me.
And then I must remember to breathe.
Is patience an emotion or a skill?
I’ve come to see patience as a skill that enables me to identify the emotions hidden within impatience, a skill that enables me to choose how I will respond. This is something I’ll be working on all year, I imagine. As I do, I trust I’ll no longer berate myself; I’ll just dig a little deeper to find out what’s really going on.
How about you? Do you have a word for this new year?
INTERESTED IN chewing on the ideas in LEAPFROG with a small group of likeminded others? Contact me directly for more information. The monthly group begins January 13, meeting on Zoom at 7 pm. There are two spots left.