(Im)Patience: My Word for 2021

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.

Thanks to SallyTudor.com for the image.

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:

Serenity Prayer
With thanks to notaminutetowaste.com

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.

13 Responses

  1. susan scott
    | Reply

    Great post Janet thanks. Hence the value of those opposites, and learning how to discriminate between them. Impatience can be the spur to act but as you say, to discern what underlies it. I do not know what my word is for this year … patience maybe 🙂 I used to think ‘hope’ was an overrated word, but I am falling to its charms. So, ‘hope’ …
    susan scott recently posted…Solstice, travels, lockdown –My Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Yes indeed, Susan, opposites (polarities, we call them in Gestalt work) they are. And I for one am full of them. I too have found a new appreciation for hope.
      Janet Givens recently posted…(Im)Patience: My Word for 2021My Profile

  2. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    Happy New Year, Janet! I can certainly relate to the ambivalence you feel about your word choice. Your attitude toward patience, both the yin and yang of it, shows intention. But, you say, patience implies we are not in control, so true. Control is definitely an illusion. And I too embrace the serenity prayer these days.

    Yes, I’ve chosen a word for the year and you can find it on today’s blog post – ha!
    Marian Beaman recently posted…My Word: It’s Beyond Me!My Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Marian, and welcome back. I did find your post and commented, but then could not find the POST COMMENT button. Same with Susan’s post this morning (well, her last post from December). I’ll get back to them later; chances are it was at my end. And I think you wrote patience when you meant impatience? I can edit it, but thought I’d check with you first. Until next time.
      Janet Givens recently posted…(Im)Patience: My Word for 2021My Profile

      • Marian Beaman
        | Reply

        I’ll let the word “patience” stand. Either state of mind has to bow to a control beyond one’s reach. Thanks for asking. though.

  3. Arlene Smith
    | Reply

    This is a thought-provoking post. I am a person who tends toward slow, carefully thought out action. (I probably drive impatient people crazy!) I’ve never seen the virtue in impatience before. I’m always urging people to calm down, take it easy. Now, I will look at things from a wider perspective.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I’m so glad, Arlene. That’s exactly what I set out to do here: get my readers (and often me in the process) thinking anew about something. Welcome aboard.
      Janet Givens recently posted…(Im)Patience: My Word for 2021My Profile

  4. Joan Rough
    | Reply

    Happy New Year to you and yours, Janet. My impatience has alway leads me to anxiety, a place I really don’t like to inhabit. What it has taught me is how to accept and change what is before me in order to live a peaceful life. This seems to have come by living through this last, highly unpredictable year. Though much of it has been disturbing and scary I am very grateful for what it has brought about in me. My word for this year is actually two words as found in the Serenity Prayer: Acceptance and Change. Having learned so much about myself in 2020, I will further honor those words that have brought me much peace through the chaos around all of us.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Love those words, Joan. Sounds like 2020 was a good year for you. I’m glad (and I certainly don’t get to use THAT sentence very often).
      Janet Givens recently posted…(Im)Patience: My Word for 2021My Profile

  5. Bette A Stevens
    | Reply

    Happy New Year! 💞 LOVE is my word for 2021… Think it’s a great way to begin!

  6. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Hey Janet. I don’t really have a word for the new year. Perhaps I need one. I did have a handful or two of words from last year that I wrote on a paper and tossed on the New Year’s Eve fire, which has become something of a family tradition. Mostly things I’d like to change or get rid of. Anyway, thinking about patience, I suppose I’m a bit of a mixed bag. In general, I think I’m pretty patient, sometimes overly so. Yet there are things that trigger impatience, too. Like Arlene, when it comes to decisions and action, I tend to be pretty thoughtful and (perhaps overly) thorough. (I very well might be that person in the board meetings that would drive you bonkers!). Yet, I’ve also come to respect and admire people who are more readily able to make decisions, take actions, and get things done than I naturally am, particularly if they are able to temper their forward moving energy with good instincts and sound judgment. And that’s the trick, really, I think, which you’ve hit on — i.e., finding that balance between thoughtfulness and decisiveness. “Shoot, ready, aim” seldom works, but neither does sitting in the weeds all day and all night “aiming.”

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Tim. I never got a notification of your Comment. My apologies. IN fact, now that I write this, I haven’t gotten any in a few weeks. I’ll add that to my “weird things” list to go over with my WP guru (and full time alpaca farmer).

      As for your word, of course you have a word. Everyone has a word. We just sometimes don’t know it. It’s like Michelangelo and his sculptures. He just chipped away at all the extraneous stuff and eventually found what was there all along. (Does that metaphor work here? Not sure).

      I like the idea of tossing something into the fire, something I want to leave behind, let go of, destroy. Right now, that holds enormous appeal.

      Have a peaceful and healthy new year.
      Janet Givens recently posted…(Im)Patience: My Word for 2021My Profile

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