I was recently reminded of a conversation I had with a former boss about the future—life, dreams, goals, etc. She had been in the same position for a number of years and had recently begun to transition into a career in counseling. I was also about to make my own transition—a large one—moving back to the United States and beginning a new career path. She asked me about my future—what did I want to do going forward? I didn’t know how to answer. We had a similar conversation before and I picked something that sounded good. “Oh, I’m studying programming,” I would say. This was true, I was studying programming, but deep down I knew that I didn’t want to be a programmer—maybe someone who knows programming and uses it to further a creative endeavor, but never to program on a daily basis.
However, this time I didn’t lie or even stretch the truth. “I don’t know.” It was hard to acknowledge, but after I said it, I felt a sense of relief—the frustration and embarrassment melted away.
I think she could sense my initial frustration because later she came to me with a few questions. How I answered was meant to determine my best success strategy, according to my personality type. A few days later, she returned with the results. She told me that I was the type of person who waits for opportunity—”What?!” I’m good at taking criticism, but I felt slightly insulted, and the embarrassment that had slipped away a few days before, made a comeback. However, this feeling didn’t last long, as she went on to explain that it didn’t mean I was lazy or lacked initiative, but that I come to opportunity organically, without actively seeking it. In fact, she added, if I actively sought or pushed for an opportunity, this could cause frustration (as it went against my personality type), and could possibly lead to failure.
This was the first time in my life that I recalled someone telling me that it was okay to wait for opportunity. Not only was it okay for me to wait, but it was necessary for my health and success. I had always thought that everyone needed to fight for success, a reoccurring notion in many societies, but something I never felt quite comfortable with.
Not everyone operates this way. A lot of people need to continually push for opportunity and success. Competition is used as a motivational tool. I’m not claiming to be immune to the pull of competition, but I’m more influenced by the desire to perform to the best of my ability, regardless of what others are doing.
So, I try to hold onto my boss’s advice no matter what. Maybe she wasn’t completely right (maybe she was), but it doesn’t matter. A lot of us already put enough pressure on ourselves, so adopting this attitude works to balance it out.
I don’t always do a good job remembering it. “You must be at this point in your life NOW,” and, “What are you waiting for? Push, push, push for success until you’ve exhausted every resource imaginable,” are thoughts that often dangle at the forefront of my mind. Then I tell myself to STOP. Strive for balance. Work with effort and diligence, but allow room for boredom, silence, fun, and creativity. Be patient and find peace in waiting.
Maria Popova’s article on the importance of boredom: “In Defense of Boredom: 200 Years of Ideas on the Virtues of Not-Doing from Some of Humanity’s Greatest Minds”
Leo Babauta’s explanation of why competition isn’t necessary and how it can be more destructive than beneficial: “Success Isn’t a Competition: Boosting Others Helps You in the Long Run“
Sunada Takagi’s thoughts on mindfulness and patience: Thich Nhat Hanh: “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”
This TED talk by John Wooden:”The difference between winning and succeeding” (~17 minutes) “Never try to be better than someone else, always learn from others. Never cease trying to be the best you can be — that’s under your control…If you make the effort to do the best of which you’re capable, trying to improve the situation that exists for you, I think that’s success, and I don’t think others can judge that…“
Shorter bits of inspiration:
“Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.” -Joyce Meyer
“Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.” -John Quincy Adams
“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach – waiting for a gift from the sea.” – Anne Morrow Lindbergh
“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” ― A.A. Milne,
“Why is patience so important?” “Because it makes us pay attention.” ― Paulo Coelho