Patience is a Job
Diligently applied, it pays off
“Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well.” — Jack London, 1919
Let’s get something out of the way right up front: life isn’t fair.
You might do everything you can to prepare for something, but things still might turn out against you. That’s life.
This is where resilience comes into play. Finding the inner strength and the outer support to not only continue, but to learn and grow at the same time.
The sister virtue to resilience is patience. Resilience is about bouncing back, but in order to get to that point, we need to understand patience.
“You are even unluckier for being oblivious to the fact that you have the power of patience to deal with your difficulties. You forget the virtues of character you have in reserve, just when problems that they can control present themselves, and you could use their help.” — Epictetus, 135
The Captive Commander
James Stockdale was a commander in the U.S. Navy when he was captured by North Vietnam in the Vietnam War. He was held as a prisoner of war at Hỏa Lò Prison (the infamous “Hanoi Hilton”) after crashing on September 9, 1965.
He would not be released until February 12, 1973.
Stockdale endured torture and four years of solitary confinement, along with 10 other members of what became known as the “Alcatraz gang.” When asked about his coping strategy and about which prisoners didn’t make it out, Stockdale said:
“Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We’re going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, 'We’re going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Stockdale knew that he had no control over the timing of his freedom, nor over who would cause it to happen.
He practiced patience along with resilience.
“Patience is the companion of wisdom.” — Saint Augustine
Quite a Job
Consider another figure whose name is literally attached to the concept of patience: Job, from the Hebrew Book of Job, part of the Jewish Bible. This is the origin of the phrase “the patience of Job.”
And here’s how it came about:
Job was favored by the Lord. One day, an angel with the title of “satan” (yeah, that guy, but in this case it simply meant “accuser”) suggested that Job served God simply because God protected him.
Well, God isn’t about to let Satan’s assumption stand. So what does God do? In order to prove how dedicated Job was, he removed Job’s protection and gave permission to the angel to take his wealth, his children, and his physical health (but not his life).
Throughout all of these difficult circumstances, Job never cursed God, but rather cursed the day he was born. And although he was distressed over his plight, he stopped short of accusing God of injustice.
Job reasoned that his miserable earthly condition was simply God’s will.
Just like Admiral Stockdale, Job knew he had no control over the outcome. He only controlled his response to it. And that response included patience and faith to get through it.
All situations are temporary. Waiting for a deal to be signed. The loss of a valued employee. A pandemic.
What makes us better leaders?
Our faith that these things will be resolved.
Our resilience in preparing and coming back stronger.
And our patience as we wait out forces beyond our control.
“No greater thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.” — Epictetus
Gabriel García Márquez wrote about a crew member being adrift at sea for 10 days in The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor. “By six o’clock my eyes hurt. But I kept watching. Even after it began to get dark, I watched with stubborn patience.” (Lapham’s Quarterly)
Someone had the patience to figure this out: the best way to cook a hot dog. (Food 52)
One thing that took a lot of patience in the ancient world: travel. Orbis, the Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World is a free resource that estimates how long a journey might have taken in the Roman Empire. You can choose season, modes of transportation, priority (speed, economy, etc.); it also estimates costs & difficulty. (Stanford)
“Genius is only a greater aptitude for patience.” — George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon. 1803
He “hadn’t lifted a major championship trophy since 2013 at Muirfield. Since September, he missed six cuts. In the eight in which he was around for the weekend, he never once finished in the top 20. He had fallen outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He started needing special exemptions just to get a spot in major championship fields.” Phil Mickelson’s return to victory as the oldest golfer to win a major was a lesson in patience. (ESPN)
Dealing with difficult situations and people — especially when we create our own messes — can help us learn humility, wisdom and patience. (Leadership Freak)
Urgency and patience overlap in that being patient creates the preparation and skills that are necessary when urgent action is needed. (Eblin Group)
Recommended Listening / Reading
“Simplicity is the end result of long, hard work; not the starting point.” — Frederick Maitland
🎧 The Mindful Kind, hosted by Rachael Kable, shares insights into mindfulness journeys and provides listeners with simple and effective practices to incorporate into their own lives. In the episode “Cultivating Patience,” Rachael provides six tips for becoming a more patient person.
📚 Thibaut Meurisse was an introvert whose shyness kept him from getting the results in life he wanted. Understanding how negative feelings and emotions work is the first step. Then we must learn how to reprogram those emotions and turn them around. In Master Your Emotions: A Practical Guide to Overcome Negativity and Better Manage Your Feelings, he provides 31 simple coping strategies, how to make your emotions work for you, a downloadable workbook, and more.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.