Home > Playing in Life's Ballpark > #11 — On Rediscovering Patience: “But I want it now!”

#11 — On Rediscovering Patience: “But I want it now!”

Charles “Casey” Stengel began his career in major league baseball as an outfielder.  After that, he went on to become a manager, spending time with both the Braves and the Mets.  He is best known, however, for leading the New York Yankees to four World Series titles during the 1950s.  Casey was considered a student of the game, and in his own unique way, a student of life.  Referred to in the press as “the “Old Professor,” he would regale reporters in the clubhouse after a game with his views on baseball and other things.  More often than not, these reporters would leave just shaking their heads.  Yet no one could argue with Casey’s results.  Reportedly, he would tell his hitters early in a game, “Don’t swing at the first pitch.  Wait him out a little.  Let him show you what he’s got and what he plans to do with it.”  Casey understood the value of patience.

In today’s world, with the advances in technology and the emphasis on “instant” communications, it sometimes seems as if the idea of being patient has been forgotten.  At a time when there is a television in every room, a telephone in every pocket, and we are encouraged to be “wired” in all kinds of ways, people have come to expect a response to every electronic signal within the span of a sound bite.  During the course of my work as a therapist, I have seen more than a few potentially successful personal relationships founder because someone failed to respond immediately to a text message and was accused of being “unresponsive.”  In other cases, the dry and often terse nature of electronic messages leaves out many of the personal characteristics, such as tone of voice, body language, and the ability to sense and correct a misimpression.  Hastily dispatched messages often appear caustic and hostile even when that is not the intent.  Naturally, the receipt of such messages can prompt a response in kind.  The result is frequently an electronic battle of words that is almost always unnecessary and harmful. 

Now more than ever, I find myself encouraging clients not to jump to conclusions or make assumptions.  Trying to interpret the meanings and implications of the verbiage you receive through instant messages, e-mails, text messages, tweets, or other electronic bleeps can be a chancy business.  It is, of course, a sign of generations passing that I am so often surprised when advocating care in personal communications seems so foreign to so many.  Still, I continue to recommend patience.  Deeply personal connections can too easily be distorted or lost through electronic correspondence. 

Nevertheless, the modern explosion of technology has caused this culture of impatience to become ever more pervasive.  Whether it is relief from pain, the latest luxury, or some other kind of development, we all want what we want, and we expect it right away.  Many of us seem to have forgotten that development requires its own time.  You can’t get to December without first living through the eleven preceding months.  You can’t grow an orchard without first tilling the soil, planting the sprigs, and tending the plantings while nature does its work.  And no matter how hard you work at it or how many women you assign to the task, under normal circumstances you can’t arrange for someone to give birth in fewer than nine months.

Yet despite the obvious dictates of nature, I often see evidence of this impatience in my therapy practice.  People will sometimes come in and, after a cursory review of the issues that brought them there, they will ask, “How many sessions will I need?”  This is a little like asking, “How many visits to a gym will I need in order to get into shape?”  The answer, of course, is that it depends on the individual situation and effort.  As in so many areas of life, the results we get tend to be proportional to the work we are willing to do. 

Sometimes, after working in therapy for a while, people will demand to know, “When will I be fixed?”  Naturally, the best answer I can give is one they often find unsatisfactory:  “You will know when it happens.”  Again, in therapy as in life, the kind of change involved in healing and growth is the change that happens when you are not looking, when you are busy doing something else.  Imagine staring into the mirror and watching your hair grow.  It’s right there.  You know it’s growing.  Yet you can’t actually see it doing anything.  But go away and do something else for several weeks and then come back for another look in the mirror.  Now you can clearly see that there have been changes.  This is how healing and growth are accomplished.  This is how development happens. 

And the change that occurs while one is patient is more likely to be substantive change, not merely superficial.  I experienced this myself when I was preparing to begin my counseling internship as the final part of completing my graduate training to become a therapist.  I was to be working in a large and very busy psychiatric practice, with many different kinds of cases and with professionals representing all the different mental health disciplines.  Since this was the start of a career change for me, I found that I was as old as many of the senior clinicians and even older than some.  As a result, I started to feel very impatient, as if somehow I was behind and needed to catch up.  But then an advisor in my graduate program offered a suggestion that has been of great value to me ever since.  He said, “If you’re at the beginning, don’t try to be at the middle or the end.  Instead, make the best beginning you can, then go on to whatever is next.  Don’t worry about the end; just do the best you can wherever you happen to be.”  That simple suggestion freed me to focus on my therapeutic work without the burden of impatience over whatever progress I might be making. 

Being patient and simply knowing that development will inevitably continue on its own frees us to focus on the lives we are living as we are living them.  And the more we actively engage in our lives from day to day and moment to moment, the more we make room for the kind of change that produces lasting benefits.  This was some of the wisdom Casey Stengel offered his players.  He reminded them that you can’t win a championship on opening day.  You have to play all the games (154 back then) and you have to play them one game at a time.  Impatience can be costly in baseball just as in life.  Casey understood that the season lasts as long as it lasts and that you cannot win without going through the full season, playing all the games.  In reflection, this is a pretty good way to approach life.  Of course, Casey also said, “Good pitching will always stop good hitting, and vice versa.”  Maybe someday I’ll figure that one out too.

  1. Rosemary Bacchus, LPC
    February 20, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    Very helpful. Thanks for the wisdom. Rosemary

  2. Martha Tata
    February 22, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    Once again, you have hit it “out of the park”. I love this reminder that growth and development deserve their time to occur. The analogy of the baseball season happening one game at a time will stick with me. As will your gracious transparency about your early career. thnks, Martha

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