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As Long As It Takes (1): Oliver Burkeman on Patience

We speed addicts must crash to earth. We have to give up. You surrender to the reality that things just take the time they take, and that you can’t quiet your anxieties by working faster, because it isn’t within your power to force reality’s pace as much as you feel you need to, and because the faster you go, the faster you’ll feel you need to go.

If you can let those fantasties crumble… something unexpected happens, analagous to the alcholic giving up his unrealistic craving for control in exchange for the gritty, down-to-earth, reality confronting of recovery.

When you finally face the truth that you can’t dictate how fast things go, you stop trying to outrun your anxiety, and your anxiety is transformed.

Digging in to a challenging work project that can’t be hurried becomes not a trigger for stressful emotions, but a bracing act of choice. Giving a difficult novel the time it demands becomes a source of relish.

“You cultivate an appreciation for endurance: hanging in, and putting the next foot forward,” [Stephanie] Brown explains. “You give up demanding instant resolution, instant relief from discomfort and pain and magical fixes. You breathe a sigh of relief, and as you dive into life as it really is, in clear-eyed awareness of your limitations, you begin to acquire what has become the least fashionable but perhaps the most consequential of superpowers: patience.”

It’s fair to say that patience has a terrible reputation. For one thing, the prospect of doing anything that you’ve been told will require patience simply seems unappetising.

More specifically though, it’s disturbingly passive. It’s the virtue that has traditionally been urged upon housewives, while their husbands led more exciting lives outside the home. Or on racial minorities told to wait just a few more decades for their full civil rights. The talented but self-effacing employee who waits patiently for a promotion, we tend to feel, will be waiting a long time. She ought to be trumpeting her achievements instead.

In all such cases, patience is a way of psychologically accomodating yourself to a lack fo power, and attitude intended to help you resign yourself to your lowly position in theoretical hopes of better days to come.

But as society, accelerates, something shifts. In more and more contexts, patience becomes a form of power. In a world geared for hurry, the capacity to resist the urge to hurry – to allow things to take the time they take – is a way to gain purchase on the world, to do the work that counts, and to derive satisfaction from the doing itself instead of deferring all your fulfilment to the future.

Oliver Burkeman – 4000 Weeks

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