The Long Run

120601_SN_runnersEX.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeWe live in a society of almost instant gratification. If we want a pizza we only have to make a phone call, send a text, or pull one out of the freezer. There are hundreds of television channels at our fingertips offering virtually any kind of viewing pleasure that we may seek. We receive almost instantaneous new alerts on our phones and have the power of capturing memories in photos with the click of those same technological wonders. While we accomplish other tasks we have machines that wash and dry our clothes, vacuum our floors and water our lawns. If we live in a smart home we don’t even have to walk to a light switch to illuminate our rooms, adjust the temperatures or show us who is knocking at our doors. Waiting is becoming more and more of a lost art in our daily lives and yet there are still remnants of frustratingly slow processes and situations that demand our patience.

I have to confess that I have never been particularly good at waiting. I possess a bonafide type A personality which makes me a control freak of the ultimate variety. In facing the realities of living I have had to learn how to curb my anxious and perfectionist tendencies and slow down my expectations for myself and others. Life does indeed march at its own pace whether or not I wish to move it along more swiftly. This truth becomes all too apparent in so many situations.

Like most people I was anxious to grow up and get on with life back when I was a young woman. I had a love/hate relationship with school. I actually enjoyed the classes that broadened my knowledge but desperately wanted to reach an endpoint. There were moments when earning a degree seemed so far away. I was exhausted from studying and so desirous of finishing, and yet it felt as though I wasn’t inching any closer than I had been before. I had to force myself to keep my eye on the prize because if I had followed the urges that often crept into my brain I would surely have chucked the whole thing.

The same has been true of so many life events. Illnesses have to run their courses. Finding a life partner is not something to be rushed. Climbing the ranks in a career takes as much patience as persistence. In fact most of our journeys are riddled with stops and detours that force us to slow down and dig deeply into our psyches for the strength to stay focused when we are not making a great deal of progress.

It is said that children who are willing to delay gratification are the most likely to be successful as adults. A famous psychological experiment gave little ones the choice of getting one marshmallow immediately or a whole bag if they were able to wait for an unspecified later time. The children who chose to forego the small treat for the larger one demonstrated the same self possession and fortitude as adults. To this day graduates of Stanford University traditionally toss marshmallows into the air to signify their ability to stay the course of hard work and study in pursuit of a reward far more significant than the temptations that might have drawn them from completing their educations.

It’s not that easy to teach our children how to develop patience but it is worth our efforts to do so. We can begin my modeling the behaviors that will help them whenever opportunities present themselves. We should show them how to set goals, perhaps beginning with those that may be accomplished in a relatively short time, and slowly but surely move the bar higher and higher until they are able to look far into the future and plan for the big dreams that they wish to pursue.

The same should be true of how to use money. I am as guilty as anyone of going for the quick fix of instant satisfaction. Instead we should train both ourselves and our children to create budgets and stay within them. We might help them to create categories for saving and spending and show them how to keep track of the ebb and flow of money. It is a lifeskill that will serve them well if they learn it when they are young. Far too many people enter adulthood without any conception of financial planning. Sadly most individuals end their work years without either savings or investments upon which to draw in emergencies.

I still lose my cool when I’m in a traffic jam even though I know full well that there is nothing I might do to change the situation. I despise the long waits in hospitals and doctors offices, wanting answers now rather than later. I grow weary of waiting for my plants to bloom again after a long and brutal winter. If I don’t lose weight in a week during which I have kept to a healthy diet I am all too tempted to just chuck my efforts and eat a huge piece of chocolate cake. Even as I tell myself that the world reveals all that I need to know at its own pace, my leg moves up and down with impatience. Being calm while carrying on is an art that must be reviewed and practiced again and again. Patience is a glorious virtue that we never seem to value as much as we should. Perhaps now more than ever in a world that sometimes appears to have gone mad it is the one trait that well serve us best of all.

So set your goals, pursue them and then find a quiet place in your soul where you may retreat when your anxieties tempt you to lose focus. Life really is a long run that requires endurance and a willingness to work through stress and pain. Those who learn how to stay in the marathon will ultimately win the race.

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