Earlier this week, I found myself in a situation that has become quite familiar over the past few years: waiting to deplane.
I was returning home from a business trip. After a full-day meeting and then waiting in the airport for my delayed flight, I used the two-hour flight to relax, reading a book and writing a little, not paying much attention to the time passing or the people around me. But as soon as we arrived at BWI, I noticed how antsy people got. It’s always the same. All of a sudden, everyone is absolutely desperate to get off that plane. It doesn’t matter if the flight is 90 minutes or five hours: the urgency doesn’t appear to set in until the wheels have touched ground. I started grinning. It’s possible the people around me thought I was insane, but that’s OK with me.
But really. It does seem a little ridiculous, doesn’t it? We can be patient for hours, for however long the flight takes—I assume because we know there’s nothing we can do about the length of time in the air. We know, after all, that we can’t flap our arms to make the plane go any faster. But once we’re back on solid ground, we seem to think we should be able to speed up the process. What’s taking so long to open the door? Can’t those people get their bags out of the overhead bin any faster? Come on! I need to get off this plane, now!
People get so frustrated in those few minutes there on the tarmac. I totally understand it. I’ve felt the same impatience myself. But once you realize how ludicrous it is, how the process is still completely out of your control, then the scene can become a source of amusement rather than frustration.
About a year ago, while on vacation, I bought a book called The Power of Patience. Considering myself a Type A perfectionist, I thought the book may be able to offer me some helpful ways to cope with my Type A-ness. And in case you’re thinking, “Yeah, I’m just not a patient person,” here’s a quotation from the book for you:
“The most important thing to know is that patience is something you do, not something you have or don’t have. It’s like a muscle. We all have muscles, but some people are stronger than others because they work out.”
What’s that mean? It means anyone can be patient, with practice.
So why should we practice patience? There are a lot of reasons: lower blood pressure, a more contented life, better relationships. As the book says, “Patience gives us self-control, the capacity to stop and be in the present moment.” The book is loaded with very real examples of the role patience (or impatience) plays in everyday life, as well as in less ordinary circumstances, such as Nelson Mandela’s 27-year confinement. And so it is quite practical—easy to apply (or at least try to apply) to your life. There’s even a chapter with “twenty simple patience boosters.”
But being that I’m a person driven by logic almost as much as by emotion, understanding the “why” of something is often critical to my really “getting” it. And so one of the most significant tidbits I took from this book is this underlying idea: We get impatient when we wait—whether it’s in line at the grocery store or in the coach section of an airplane—primarily because at some point we decided that we shouldn’t have to wait for anything. Blame it on the invention of the automobile or the computer. Regardless, there’s no question that the speed of life has increased dramatically over the last century. But just because the things around you may usually be moving quickly doesn’t mean your happiness depends on that pace continuing, unhindered and uninterrupted.
A simple change of perception can make all the difference. When you realize that waiting is a normal—and, yes, even necessary—part of life, it takes on a whole new light. No longer is it this awful thing that you must endure, that makes you fume and grit your teeth. You may actually be grateful that you’re getting a break from all the hustle and bustle.
Ryan, M. J. (2003). The Power of Patience. New York: MJF Books.