Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed that lots of women have been demanding change recently. We’ve been participating in Women’s Marches, sharing the hashtag #metoo, and running for office. Like many other people, I’ve become more politically active in the last year than any other time in my life. Some days this can feel deeply empowering. On other days, I just feel angry and tired of waiting. In other words, I’m impatient.
Webster’s dictionary defines impatient as, “Restless or short of temper especially under irritation, delay, or opposition.” By contrast, it defines patient as, “Bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint.” It certainly sounds nicer to go through life feeling “calm” and “without complaint” than “irritated” and “restless.” However, there is a big difference between patience and complacency. Yes, some situations will get better if you just wait for a while. In other situations, action is necessary, even if it means making yourself or others uncomfortable. When I’m not sure whether being impatient is worth it, I ask myself the questions listed below. I have learned (sometimes the hard way!) that they will help me choose the best path to reach my goals.
Question 1: Is This Situation Truly Time-Limited?
It is almost always easier to put up with difficult circumstances if there is a clear end date. This was one of the biggest lessons I learned when I transitioned from graduate school to the job market. I was occasionally unhappy in graduate school training placements but always knew I would move on in a few months. This made it relatively easy to avoid conflicts, power through heavy workloads, and table questions about pay or advancement; I just needed to wait patiently.
Those behaviors make much less sense now that I am in the regular workforce. These days, if I’m feeling dissatisfied or impatient in my job, that’s a cue I need to take action. I’ve learned to resolve conflicts with coworkers and have conversations with my supervisors about opportunities for advancement. There have also been times when I’ve evaluated the situation and chosen to look for another job. Having difficult conversations with colleagues or asking for more money doesn’t feel fun in the moment. I also can think of about 500 things I’d rather do with my evenings than write cover letters. However, being proactive has helped me develop better relationships with coworkers and get more interesting and higher-paying work.
Question 2: Is the Status Quo Hurting Me or Someone Else?
There are times when a situation is so intolerable, you have to leave. My mother made the difficult decision to immigrate to the United States from the USSR in 1979. Just applying to leave the USSR during this time put my mother’s whole family at risk of government retaliation. When she left, my mother was unsure whether she’d ever see my grandmother again. Nor did things get immediately easier when she arrived in San Francisco. She started out with $300 in her pocket, a nine-year-old daughter to feed, and no English. Yet, through all of this, my mother knew the risks were worth it. Coming to the United States meant my sister would grow up in a country without Jewish quotas on university attendance. My mother could now get fresh groceries for her family without waiting in a three-hour food line. And she could freely practice her religion without fearing violence or arrest.
My mother’s story has a happy ending. Her perseverance paid off. She learned English and built a successful career as a vocational school teacher. She was also eventually reunited with my grandmother and had a second baby (me!). If there’s one thing my mother’s life taught me, it’s not to passively wait for things to improve. Also, when you grow up with childhood stories like that one, it’s easier to put one’s own problems in perspective.
Question 3: Have You Carefully (and Creatively) Thought Through Your Options?
Sometimes the biggest barrier to making a needed change is simply not knowing what options you have. A few years ago, my husband and I realized we needed more income to make ends meet. We had just moved to a new area, and he was still working on building a customer base for his business. I had recently switched jobs, so I couldn’t really ask for a raise or make major career changes. This left us both feeling stuck, frustrated, and broke for a few months.
Thankfully, we used some creative problem-solving techniques to come up with a solution. We took an inventory of our strengths and resources and realized we had a few things going for us. We had some money in savings, my husband is incredibly handy, and we knew a trustworthy real estate agent. So, we decided to take the plunge and buy a fixer-upper that we resold for a good profit two years later.
There were certainly times during that two-year period when I doubted the wisdom of our decision. In a single week, our dryer exploded, our water heater broke, and we realized the whole bathroom needed to replaced. My husband also spent two years literally living in his “office”, which makes work-life balance challenging to say the least. However, while there was no instant gratification, the risk was ultimately worth it. After selling the house, we had enough money for my husband to stay home with our son for a year. That time together has been a priceless gift for all of us.
Question 4: Are You Willing to Be Patient with the Hard Parts of Change?
After reading that subtitle, you’re probably asking, “Wait, isn’t this article about having a lack of patience? The reality is that impatience is an incredibly valuable emotion, but a lack of patience alone will not fix all your problems. Impatience is a signal that something isn’t working and can provide a nudge to take action. However, rocking the boat almost always has consequences, even when you’ve carefully weighed costs and benefits. This is why people like Rosa Parks and Susan Fowler are heroes. They saw injustice and decided to do something about it, despite knowing there would be a significant personal cost.
At this year’s Women’s March, I saw a number of people carrying signs with a powerful Angela Davis quote, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” I think we can all work toward developing the kind of impatience and courage called for in this quote. So, here’s to all of us being a little more impatient for change…and to having the perseverance, endurance, strength, time and patience to make that change actually happen.
Rebecca Fraynt has a PhD in Clinical Psychology and is an all-around healthcare nerd. She lives near Seattle with her husband, toddler, and two rescue chihuahuas. When she's not working or chasing her dogs or child around the house, she's guzzling coffee, reading, or binge watching Star Trek.