Saturday, October 27, 2012

Impatience is not a Virtue

Sad to say, but I am not a patient person. I am a 78 on a turntable made for 33 LPs (let the young people try to figure that one out); a Mazda Miata in a bicycle lane; a gazelle in a world made for hippos. (Well, maybe a very small, somewhat chubby gazelle.) I live my life at warp speed, partly because I have so much to do, but mainly because I like to go fast.

Because I expect to zip about, I tend to underestimate how much time it will take me to do anything, and attempt to cram way too many tasks into any given stretch of time. One way I cope with my over-expectations of productivity is by multitasking. For example, I put the kettle on to boil for tea, and rather than stand there and wait for it to boil, I go do a quick task like like water the plants or go to the bathroom and then come back and make the tea. While I wait for it to steep, I wipe down the counter. When I arrive at work in the morning, the first thing I do is turn on the computer. Then I take off my coat and boots and upack my briefcase. That way I don't have to wait there doing nothing while the computer powers up. I do work related reading in the doctor's office waiting room, do mental calculations while driving, and measure my distance walked and calories burned using a phone app while rushing between meetings.

I also am habitually late, as I routinely underestimate how long it will take me to get from point A to B. Pausing to turn on the phone app when walking, or mentally rehearsing my upcoming speech while driving do not have a postive impact on my tardiness.

I also hate to wait. (This is where the impatience comes in.) Therefore I attempt to estimate precisely how long it will take to get somewhere so I won't have to waste time waiting once I get there. But because of my optimistic assumptions about how quickly I will travel, I tend to underestimate the time I need, and arrive late. My kids will attest that I was always the last parent to arrive to pick them up from school. I would wheel into the lot in a great cloud of dust or snow and see them standing there forlornly in the empty schoolyard, waiting. However, when I attempted to reform and get there early, I would end up waiting endlessly in the lot until every other parent had left, and then they would finally come dawdling out of the school. Their perspective was "Mom's always late; why hurry?"

So, this afternoon I went out to do a couple of errands. Okay, to tell the truth, it actually was quite a long list of fairly complicated tasks, and some of them involved getting to certain places by a certain time (e.g., I had to get to the bank before it closed). The second thing on my list involved going to a postal outlet. I had to mail some things and also renew my change of address to redirect our mail. I got in line behind an elderly man. He was very slow to complete his business. My impatience kicked in. Finally it was my turn. I paid for my package of envelopes, bought the stamps, and gave the clerk my items to mail. Then I began to fill out the change of address form, and discovered that I could no longer recall my old address. I pawed through my purse but nothing in it still had my old address on it. I had to leave, drive home a few blocks away and get my address book and return. I raced past cars moving at the speed of turtles. By this time it was 1:08 PM, and I had to be somewhere on the far side of town by 1:30.

When I returned to the postal outlet, the desk was vacant and it took a long time for someone to come out of the back. It was a different clerk, a very slow, methodical one. She slowly typed the information from the form into the computer, hesitating painfully over the spelling of our names. After a great of typing and staring at the screen, the system did not seem to be accepting the data. She asked me for the address notification form, which I had left in the car. Gracelessly, with a great exasperated huff (dragon breath) I said I would run out to the car and get it, and run I did. I came back with the form in hand feeling a little embarrassed about how rude I had been, and explained to the clerk that I had to be somewhere shortly and was in a hurry. It was now 1:23. More slow typing and screen-staring. I watched the minutes roll by. 1:24. 1:25. 1:26. Finally, I was allowed to sign the document, pay, and leave. It was 1:29. The whole postal outlet experience had taken 45 minutes and I had expected it to take five.

I know my impatience seems ridiculous in retrospect. I managed to get everything that was on my list done. I probably should not have even tried to accomplish so much in one short afternoon. But the experience left me feeling grumpy for hours.

I am most regretful about the uncharitable thoughts that I had about the old man, the slow-moving drivers, and the methodical clerk. Probably the excursion to the postal outlet was the highlight of the old fellow's day. It was a chance to have a few friendly words with someone. Someday I will be that little old person, moving slowly because of arthritis, and lonely for a bit of conversation. I have good quality studded winter tires, but probably many of those drivers don't and they were just doing the right and safe thing by slowing down. And that postal clerk was just doing her job (although I do suspect that Canada Post has a plot to torture customers by providing excruciatingly slow service; slow service at the post office seems to be the norm, not the exception). Okay, scratch that. I do not feel regret about my thoughts about the postal clerk, only about my own rude behaviour.

Impatience is not a virtue. Probably I should learn to be a little more zen. I need to learn to live in the moment without them being grumpy moments. I could take up meditation or yoga...but I don't have time. I just have so much to do.

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