Baby steps for the patience-impaired

How to let go of immediate gratification for a longer journey


There’s no hiding the fact that we’re a generation of instant gratification. If you want to ruin a millennial’s day, slow down their Internet. Watch them stare at their loading Instagram feed with disgust, closing the app and then reopening it again in frustration.

Unlike the critics and haters from past generations who are perfectly okay with waiting for the mail to come, I don’t think this frustration with slow is all bad. Part of this intolerance for patience is actually quite amazing. We don’t want to wait until later to improve, challenge and support what should be done now. 

We are a generation that has witnessed real change — we saw the first black president inaugurated, the internet explode with endless sources for connection, the Supreme Court rule on same-sex marriage and Google take over the information world. I think part of why we are so impatient with elongated processes is that we’ve seen change, we know it’s possible and we’re less comfortable with passive waiting. We are a generation that wants to do something to bring about the future we desire. 

I don’t want to be patient with racism. I don’t want to be patient with sexism. I don’t want to be patient with sexual assault in the workplace or the school-to-prison pipeline and systematic incarceration of youth. I want those things to change now.

However, while I don’t think our impatience is a vice, I think it’s a complicated virtue that has to be managed with care. Because when we apply the desire for instant gratification to ourselves — our own bodies, minds, appearances, hearts — we can use our world-changing power in damaging ways. I believe that self-inflicted impatience is something our generation is really wrestling with.

I’ve seen our impatience with ourselves develop in two ways — each harmful in their own right. I’ve seen us run to quick fixes, whether they’re meant to fix our fat or our loneliness, as we try to accomplish in a single night or a month at the gym what might take us a year to complete through healthy means.

On the other hand, I’ve seen us give up on parts of ourselves, discouraged that we will never be able to change and try to simply accept aspects of our lives as fact. The culture of self-love can be wonderful, affirming our inherent beauty, worth and humanity, but it can also be an easy route to try to accept the things that we could overcome. We are a generation that either wants to fix something fast, or just accept it as part of “who we are,” when it doesn’t have to be.

How can we kindle the impatient fire that demands more — of the world, of society, of this country, of this University and ourselves — while developing patience for the best way to get there?

Last year, my schedule was running my life. I ate Cheerios and pasta and never allowed myself to workout — much less just walk and breathe. The thought of trying to change everything about the way I was living was overwhelming, but the impatience for settling when I knew this wasn’t the best way I could live churned inside of me restlessly.

I knew I couldn’t change it in a week. I also didn’t want to accept that version — the overworked, undernourished and anxious version — of me as simply “who I was.”

What no one ever tells you is that it takes a lot more courage to change things little-by-little than it does to change everything instantly. It’s not one moment of grand bravery — it’s the kind of bravery that has to get up and keep working slowly, consistently, every day.

It takes a lot more courage to try to learn a new recipe every month than it does to just go vegan and live at Juice Laundry. It takes a lot more courage to start lifting five-pound weights, then work up to 10, then 20, than it does to sprint four miles out of the blue because you don’t feel fit. It takes a lot more courage to slowly build rest, adequate sleep and play into your schedule than it does to drop everything on a dime for a crazy adventure or irresponsibly sleep for 15 hours. It takes a lot more courage to mourn the loss of a relationship, slowly allowing yourself to grieve and heal over months, than it does to attempt to instantly rebound.

We came into the University impatient dreamers, fast movers and experts on quick fixes. We love Band-Aid solutions because they can be applied instantaneously. They just don’t work when we really need a cast.

I think we are a generation that believes things can be better, and we want them to be better now. This propels us into grand, instant action. But what if we allowed it to propel us into evolution and onto a path of personal transformation? Imagine what we could change if we harnessed the mentality of possibility and let it drive us down longer roads, the roads of our own lives — our own grief, wounds and bad habits.

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