A few years ago my partner and one of my best friends nicknamed me Hamilton. They were out paddleboarding and somehow started joking and laughing about how I was always doing something; like I was running out of time. Hamilton was like a rabid dog of inspiration. He worked tirelessly to make changes and build our constitution and economy but his approach was not always welcome. He was too much and he pissed people off. In the end, Vice President Aaron Burr killed him in a duel.
Like Hamilton, I can be too much too. I’m forever taking a new class or introducing a new activity or challenge for myself. I find it hard to be idle and I have lots of ideas. Everything inspires me. I think it would be amazing to work at Costco. The people there seem so happy. I fantasize about becoming a school teacher or a librarian. When I travel I think to myself, “Maybe I should live here.”
There are certain strengths in my Hamilton personality. I get the job done. I don’t wait. But not waiting means I’m not very patient. When something doesn’t go my way — like not hearing back on an email about something work-related or not getting a timely response from a friend or family member to an idea or suggestion I make — I react impatiently. I cannot sit with the waiting.
For me, getting the job done means putting myself out of my misery by taking matters into my own hands. I want results and I want them now. Currently, I have a friendship that is limping along. This important person in my life is taking space from me and I don’t totally understand why. My other friends say that I just need to practice patience, to wait this period out and let this person have their own process. It may have nothing to do with you, they say, just let it go.
But for me waiting is like water torture. Why would I wait when I could take action, when I could possibly fix it? Why would I wait when I could fold the laundry, make granola, do a quick watercolor, write a blog, or plant the lettuce starts? I’m that person who sends an annoying reminder email when I don’t hear back in my personally designated time frame (that no one else knows about or understands). I’m the one who assumes a co-worker is mad at me because they don’t reply to my text about getting a birthday card and chocolates for the boss.
Waiting makes me crazy because I have to stop moving. When I stop moving there is stillness and with stillness comes space to feel things that I don't want to feel. Yesterday morning as I felt tempted to send another annoying text to my absent friend, I stopped myself and tried to get connected to what was really going on.
I wanted to change the course that this friendship was on. My impatience was raging and I just wanted to do something to fix the situation. But experience has taught me that this habitual reaction — to keep scratching at a closed door like a desperate golden retriever— only brings disappointment for me and irritation for the person on the other side of the door.
My pace is not everyone else’s pace. The rhythm of my life — to do things like I am running out of time — is only one way. When an idea or opportunity arises, I think, “Seize this moment! ” But someone else might think, not incorrectly, “What’s the rush?”
Productivity is widely valued in this society we live in. Patience is not. Waiting is viewed as a hassle, a hurdle, something we don’t want to do. It’s true. Who wants to wait several hours for their plane to be de-iced? Or sit shivering in a paper gown waiting for the doctor to see you?
But as I contemplate how my own impatience affects those around me I see the value of cultivating the practice of waiting. Waiting is like holding a bowl of water in an earthquake, watching it ripple and splash and then, as the ground settles, noticing it slowly start to settle. During the tremors, it is hard to hold the water in the bowl. It’s stressful and a little scary. But then once the water is still there is a calm beauty to the bowl.
I imagine putting the bowl of water on the counter and leaving it. I might notice the bowl of water as I move around the house doing chores but it’s not a big distraction, just something I’m aware of. Over time the water in the bowl evaporates and one day, as I pass the counter I wonder why that empty bowl is sitting there and I stick it in the dishwasher.
When I stepped away from my desperation yesterday and did not text my friend, it was hard at first. I felt an internal disruption, a discordance with my get the job done energy. This was different, to just wait. As the day went on I still felt the niggling desire to fix this problem, but instead, I just acknowledged it, and eventually, it passed. Today I notice that my desire to take action is running neck and neck with my newly developing muscles of waiting.
Not everyone lives life like they’re running out of time. I do, and Alexander Hamilton did. But many people don’t and people like me need to make room for them; we need to stop acting crazy, scratching at the door all the time. It’s true, Alexander Hamilton did get a lot done but look what happened to him.