Recently my four-year-old daughter told me that she didn’t like her plain wooden toddler bed. She wanted it to be pink. I promptly bought a can of Benjamin Moore Blushing Bride paint and proceeded, without sanding first, to slap on a quick coat 20 minutes before she got home from preschool. Needless to say, the paint has already begun to chip. What’s more, the brushstrokes are visible. And every time I enter her room and look at her bed, I’m reminded of my least favorite personality trait: my impatience, which can lead me to be in such a mad hurry that I can’t be bothered to do a proper job. Although I’ve gotten better in the last few years, that old urge to make haste still takes over more often than I’d like to admit.
Just the other day, I went to a department store to return a shirt. Finding myself stuck in the back of a line of 10, with only one employee in sight, I became one of those embarrassing customers who demand to see a supervisor, then the supervisor’s manager—until someone agrees to open a second register. Traffic jams, elevator doors that don’t close quickly enough, and slow-loading Web pages are other annoyances that routinely test my composure. Even though everyone says that the world today moves faster than ever, with all our texting and IMing and DVRing and hyper multitasking, I have to say: Much of the time, it’s still not moving fast enough for me. If I’m not careful, I end up mentally fast-forwarding right past the good things that are happening in the here and now. It took me ages to learn how to slow down and make the craziness stop.
I was always in a hurry. I grew up with two bright and precocious older sisters and spent my childhood waiting to hit the developmental stages they had long since moved past. Making matters worse, I was a late bloomer all around. I didn’t display any particular intellectual talents. I didn’t receive an iota of male attention until I was practically in college. I didn’t get a single curve before then, either. (I’m still waiting for breasts.) The only thing I was a whiz at was tennis, where the balls came fast and furious. At the height of my Jock Days—I played singles for my high school team—I wondered how anyone could bear to play softball, particularly in an outfielder position. The sport seemed to involve an agonizing amount of standing around waiting for the ball to come your way, if it ever did.
Once I hit adulthood, I grew deeply frustrated when major life events didn’t happen in a speedy fashion. In my early 30s, I longed to marry, while my then boyfriend insisted there wasn’t any rush. Six years went by. I grew frantic (yes, more so than the average woman that age). In that span of time, we bought a house together but no ring. The low point was my 35th birthday, when he took me to an antique-jewelry store and offered to buy me a bracelet as a token of his affection. (A bracelet? I wanted a shotgun.) When the ring finally came, I cried with joy—and with relief that the waiting was over.
But it wasn’t. Just after we were engaged, I found myself in another frenzied rush, this time to get pregnant. (I know, I know—not an unexpected reaction, but I swear this wasn’t a biological-clock thing, just one more example of my being in a perpetual rush.) I knew the statistics said there was only about a one-in-four chance of conceiving in any cycle. Still, month after month of disappointment put me in a panic. Even when I got pregnant, I could hardly relax enough to appreciate the news. I realized that, having achieved my latest insanity-producing goal, I would just find another one to hurry toward.
Over time I have developed a technique. Whenever I start to feel ants in my pants, I remind myself of the adage that everything of value takes time. Corny, but it works—especially when I lose patience with myself for…being impatient.
Take my writing career. Legend has it that Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road in three weeks. Well, good for Jack. I need one to four years per book, and I’ve accepted that.
I’ve also become philosophical about the fact that I will never be done renovating my home. We’ve owned our sprawling Victorian for seven years, but my “House Reno To-Do List” continues to fill a page and a half. Single-spaced.
I still face a struggle to embrace the present. Every time I start looking at the clock, I try to channel my restless energy into realizing how lucky I am to be alive and healthy and surrounded by family and friends. Moreover, I’ve come to believe that my impatience actually helps me appreciate the good stuff in life. It turns out that the more fervently you await something (and, yes, husband and kids, I mean you!), the more you savor the rewards.
Lucinda Rosenfeld is the author of, most recently, the novel I'm So Happy for You ($14, amazon.com). She is also the Friend or Foe advice columnist for Slate. She lives with her family in Brooklyn.