I recently went on a trip with two of my young sons. We went by plane and actually had to change planes on a layover. We rented a car once we got there so we could go to the places we wanted to go and do the things we wanted to do. One of my sons noted at one point during the trip that there was a lot of "waiting" involved. And indeed he was right. On the trip out, we waited for the shuttle bus at the parking lot, at the security gate in the airport, waited to board the first plane, waited to leave the first plane, waited to board the second and de-plane it as well. We waited for the rental car and to check into our hotel. He was right; there was a lot of waiting.
I had a conversation with a co-worker who said he read something that stated that we spend 20% of our lives waiting. I don't know if that is accurate or not. I think it depends on how we define it. There are nights when I "wait" for sleep, sometimes for hours. I don't know if that category of "waiting" was included or not. But certainly we do wait for many things.
Why do we wait? I think we wait for things to happen. We wait for information to be shared. We wait for people to come and be with us. We wait to be entertained. We wait to be able to exchange money for goods and services. We wait for good things to happen and we wait to find out potentially bad news.
When we are in line with others, we are all waiting for the same thing, right? The same movie, the same opportunity to buy yogurt or a shovel, to register our car, to deposit a check or make a withdrawal. What we do while we wait, however, that is completely up to us. And I think it is worth considering that what we choose to do while we wait, sometimes, just sometimes, might be more important than what or who we are waiting for.
Several years ago I read the commencement speech that David Foster Wallace gave at Kenyon College (read or watch). He talks a little about waiting and describes our "default setting" on how we deal with waiting. I know my default setting for waiting is impatience at the lowest setting and frustration mixed with anger at the highest. Wallace, whom I freely admit is the source of any deep thought I may be conveying here, suggests that these new graduates become aware that they can choose how they react in these situations. He tells us this simple, basic truth that I certainly should have known but didn't freely accept – when I am in a situation, like waiting, that typically is frustrating for me, I can choose to think about other things, things that will not result in me being frustrated, impatient or angry at all. In fact, I can make choices that leave me feeling exactly the opposite way. I can choose to think of things or about people I care about. I can choose to try to connect, even in some small way, to those I am waiting with. I can choose to say something kind to people who are around me or to the overworked clerk or security agent who appears to be the bottleneck causing the wait. I can choose to think about things, or do things or say things that will cause me, and maybe even others, to feel better about this whole waiting situation. I can choose happiness in those moments of waiting.
My intention is not to advocate for one particular reaction over another. I don't know that there is one "way" we should be while we wait. I don't claim to be able to do this very well – to be able to react to waiting situations in anything more than impatience. Most of the time, it seems, I'd rather just react the way I've always reacted in the past instead of choosing a different way. But now I know that I can. And I wonder if the realization that this choice exists, the ability to choose happiness over impatience while I wait, is most important of all.
Reed Soper was born and raised in southern California. He considered attending the Lord's University but opted for BYU instead where he met Kathryn Lynard doing his home teaching. They married in 1992 and have seven children. Friends and loved ones often describe Reed as "difficult" or "a slow learner." In his spare time, he likes (virgin) pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. Don't miss Reed's previous guest posts.
Image credit: Colin Gordon (used with permission).