We are impatient people. It is difficult to wait for answers, solutions, times to change, the winds to shift, to get our heart's desires. We all know the angst of hoping the significant other will propose marriage, waiting for the wedding day, the college diploma, the job offer to come, the divorce to be finalized, grief to wane.

Waiting is like a two-edged sword. We are either beset with waiting for others to decide the fate of our lives, or we are engulfed in waiting for ourselves to be our own prime movers.

As others tarry, we suffer the angst of second guessing. The longer we linger, the more depression depletes our energies. In either case we are laid low, bewildered by a consummate sense of being out of control.

When our wishes are not satisfied and/or realized, we feel put upon. It is as if by some unwritten law, we should not have to wait, as if instant gratification of our wishes is our due.

How often does it happen that we easily give up when the mere act of waiting becomes tiresome, burdensome, and overwhelming? How often do we submit to, "What's the use?" or "Who cares?" How often do we yield to feelings of helplessness, limit our options, and refuse to change?

It is as if impatience has us cornered at every turn. In our push-button culture that begs for easy answers and quick "fixes," it is understandable that disappointment and disillusionment are woven into the very fiber of our being, without our even being aware of the acute stress engendered in the process. Because answers are often so elusive or seemingly not there at all, we grow restless. We feel trapped. We stay stuck.

For sixteen years I have studied under Jean Houston's inspired tutelage. Her extraordinary grasp of our human potentials and innate capacities are capsuled in her message of hope. "Hold to the vision and you can make the seemingly impossible possible."

Drawing on Dr. Houston's enlightened charge, I developed the concept of Active Waiting; a pragmatic model for achieving the high art of patience. In contrast, I see a Passive Waiting mode as the precursor of impatience and ultimately of despair.

Patience is defined by Webster as "being able to wait calmly for something desired." Impatience, on the other hand means, "feeling or showing annoyance because of delay, opposition."

Active Waiting is a constructive process--a conscious use of time. It incorporates a change in attitude from negative to positive, from "I can't" or "I won't" to "I can" and "I will." Active Waiting can be an uplifting experience. Once you are aware of the fertile possibilities of this process, a manageable level of patience can be achieved despite crisis and chaos. As you integrate the following guidelines, you begin to restore your balance, integrity, and sanity. You start to face each day feeling and acting more like a winner.

Active Waiting Guidelines:
1. Hold to your vision and accept that your life is in process.
2. Acknowledge that you are impatient.
3. Look at waiting as a period of incubation.
4. Understand that incubation is the void where nothing seems to be happening
5. Be aware that this void can last weeks, months and years.
6. Recognize your frustration at being obliged to wait--shake hands with your frustration and negativity.
7. Then immediately make a l80 degree shift and focus on the meaningful goal you want to achieve and say, "I can wait. I can be patient. I can persist."
8. Do not be afraid to feel your suffering when the going gets rough.
9. Know life's experiences, good and bad, are opportunities for new learning.
10. Acknowledge that no experience, good or bad, is ever wasted.
11. Develop your spiritual faith.

Passive Waiting, on the other hand, is a "go nowhere, miss the boat, abandon your dreams of accomplishment" kind of experience. You wallow in negativity and are embittered as life seems to pass you by. And you question the futility of it all.

Spinning your wheels for lack of motivation and purposeful direction, causes you start to feel and behave like a loser. Passive Waiting is enough to undermine your pathways.

Passive Waiting Tenets
1. Believe nothing in your life will change.
2. Remain negative; expect the worst.
3. Continue to be afraid of being hurt.
4. Lie to yourself--deny and or minimize your traumas.
5. Doubt yourself--Say, "I don't know what I want."
6. Blame yourself, or others, or the fates for your predicament.
7. Believe you are helpless, inadequate, and remain immobilized.
8. Get a multitude of opinions--stay confused.
9. Do not trust your hunches and devalue your own judgment.
10. See yourself and your life as not important.
11. Do not ask for support or help.
12. Stay "spiritually bankrupt."

Tim's Story

Tim, 42 years had been inundated by a dark cloud of depression he couldn't shake. He was vacillating, waiting for Sally, the woman he loved to accept him or not.

For months on end Sally had been sitting on the fence and then without a word of explanation, she abruptly rejected him. Tim was impatient as his fondest expectations looked like a "wash-out." He felt as if his life was futile, lacking in depth and meaning without his cherished friend at his side.

Depressed, he said, "Why bother?" and admitted he had been pestering Sally for answers when none were forthcoming.

Knowing how discerning Tim could be, I asked him what he thought Active Waiting meant. Insightfully, he replied, "It's using my time constructively." At once he raised his slumped body and sat up straight, and immediately cast off his negative mantle.

Tim was ready to apply Active Waiting in conjunction with counseling. He learned how to patiently wait for Sally to make the first move. It was a long hot summer before she finally reached out to him again. He learned to be in charge by giving her the impression she could have all the time and space that she needed. He resisted the temptation to push, cajole, or move their relationship any faster than Sally would tolerate.

As he became more sensitive to her needs, but took stock of his own personhood as being of value and worth, he redirected his energies and turned his creativity into his work, which had been languishing.

Sally changed her mind again, but for the next six months the couple's relationship continued to flounder until Sally finally called it quits for good.

Though saddened by the loss, Tim was busy launching a new consulting firm and the success he has achieved has gladdened his heart. Enthusiastic about having improved the quality of his life, Tim spoke of what he had learned, "Lee, I want you to know with Active Waiting I've found out more about patience than I ever knew existed."

Not long ago Tim married a beautiful young woman who embraces his goals in life and together they make a splendid team. When last we met, he grinned and said, "I'm glad I waited because now I've got the best."

When you acknowledge your life is important, when you recognize that your enterprising goals are of merit, then activating your creative energies and using your time productively can make waiting an affirmative experience. Active Waiting is the means for achieving patience, a goal worth your wait.

Originally published in Journal of Family Life, Volume 4, Number 2, 1998.

Author's Bio: 

Lee Raffel, MSW, author of Should I Stay or Go? How Controlled Separation (CS) Can Save Your Marriage (Contemporary Books 1999), has 27 years of experience as a psychotherapist, specializing in couple counseling. She is a clinical member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, a clinical hypnotherapist, and board certified diplomate in clinical social work, psychotherapy and behavioral medicine. She is a frequent radio and television guest and has hosted a program: Should I Stay or Go?: Straight Talk About Troubled Relationships for Renaissance Radio -- North American Broadcasting Company. She has been interviewed for the "Today" show on NBC and has been featured in the Family Section of the Chicago Tribune. She continues her private practice through Awareness Counseling Services, Inc., Port Washington, Wisconsin. As founder of Fresh Perspectives Training Institute, she presents personal and professional development programs for organizations including the Medical College of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Family Therapy Training Institute of Milwaukee. Her provocative insights and timely solutions show us how a healthier resolution of the stay-or-go impasse can be achieved.