Ready, Set, Wait: The problem with impatience
Of my many flaws, my greatest, and most annoying by far, is my total inability to wait and sit still. In order to turn a personality defect into something that incites sympathy, I must also make the case that it is the most unfortunate thing to be bad at. This is because it is completely unavoidable. Almost any other flaw and lack of virtue can be avoided or lie dormant without acknowledgement from the wider world. But no matter who you are, people and the universe will always conspire to make you wait.
It’s not that I am advocating instant gratification in all circumstances. For instance, I don’t necessarily value the speed of a ready meal more than the lengthy ritual of cooking. There is satisfaction and beauty to be found in the care it takes to deseed and finely chop a chilli as opposed to bunging it in the science oven*. For me, the frustration lies in what I deem to be pointless waiting.
Pointless waiting is everywhere. A prime example of this is discovering an exciting new film trailer. You find yourself investing all of your emotions into this 2-minute wonder reel and decide you’ll go out and see it straight away. But then suddenly, right at the end, you experience the sinking realisation that it won’t actually appear in a cinema near you until - wait for it - December 2021. Why?? Why show it to me NOW? I cannot possibly retain my excitement about this film for that long. (There are, of course, always exceptions to the rule – I am beyond glad that I can avoid seeing or hearing about the new Cats film for a little while longer.)
The relatively recent phenomenon of technology, and the culture of instant gratification it supplies, undoubtedly adds fuel to this fiery impatience. In a world where you can buy that jumper you see on Instagram in a matter of seconds, without even leaving the app, why would anyone feel they should have to wait for anything? We want everything so quickly, we want it yesterday. Waiting feels obsolete to us now.
Technology’s all-encompassing influence has enveloped us in a seemingly productive yet damaging philosophy of ‘living your best life’ and consistent self-improvement. (Confusing at the best of times: tidy up, don’t give a f***, say yes to more things, say no to more things, leave your comfort zone, stay home and #self-care.) This cult of perfectionism plays into the idea that we should be utilising our time to be as ultra-efficient as possible. See: ‘You have the same number of hours in a day as Beyoncé.’ A friend’s father refers to this, rather chillingly, as “death maths”. If you can only read x number of books for the estimated remainder of your life, then why would you willingly spare that precious time to e.g. read this article??
There is simply no room for waiting around in a world as fast-paced as ours. Emails and Whatsapps have to be replied to within minutes (or people will think you’re dead!) Podcasts and audiobooks are consumed at 1.5x speed to fill the gaps between other activities. Waiting is accompanied and tainted by the guilt of being "unbusy" and a profound anxiety that time unfilled is a waste. If you can’t account for what you have done, each and every minute of the day, then you can’t possibly be thriving? Perhaps being forced to wait is the universe’s way of reminding us that we need to slow down and that, most importantly, we are worth more than the sum of our own productivity. But just as no one wants to be the first “greedy guts” to dive into a buffet, no one wants to be the “lazy so-and-so” who, for some reason, doesn’t fancy being overwhelmingly busy at all times.
My rule, as far as I can tell, as to what constitutes acceptable waiting, is that it all depends on how the waiting serves me. Becoming better at cooking equals a smug tick on the self-improvement checklist. Seething about the Wicked adaptation’s release date, however, does not. (The problem with this logic is that it can become a commodity, to be added to a list of achievements or used as a qualifier for a personality. I am not suggesting adding Headspace to your CV, or “Meditation” to your Hinge profile.) Why do I never stop to consider that maybe doing nothing serves us in other ways, ways that I cannot quite quantify, and more importantly, shouldn’t try to? In a time where our brains are overloaded with stimuli/content/information, and anxiety levels, in particular amongst young people, are at an all-time high, doing nothing could be the antidote we are seeking.
*in case you didn’t get this reference it’s one of Jennifer Lawrence’s greatest scenes of all time FYI
- Mia Sharp