There has been such a radical shift in human
behaviour since the advent of the digital age that we seem to have forgotten one of
humanity’s time honoured traits: Patience.
Philosophers, writers, business leaders; there is a common belief that patience constitutes
one of a small handful of key ingredients to achieving success.
Patience is predicated on a simple belief, but a powerful one.
Patience is, in a sense, the simple recognition that things take time. That achieving greatness,
creating a masterpiece — it all takes time. It takes an ability & willingness to
be frustrated. To overcome difficulties. To persevere.
Since the digital age, more specifically since the smartphone became so ubiquitous, we have
seen an attack on the time-honoured institution of patience from two fronts:
1. Society promulgates the myth of “overnight” success
The examples of success readily available to us through the media or through anecdote
are almost always billed as being “overnight” successes.
We hear about companies like Uber, exploding in popularity within a couple of years. We
hear about the 21-year old founder now worth over $1 billion. We hear about a teenager
on The Voice reaching international stardom in a few weeks.
What we do not hear about, however, are the years of hard work, of practice, of working
in the void, with no audience & no encouragement. What we do not hear about, in short, is the
protagonist’s patience. And thus, when we consider our own inadequacy
& failure, we struggle to find the answers. Because we expect things to happen overnight.
Because we lack persistence. Because we are impatient.
2. Our brains are being re-wired by the constant distraction & interaction with digital devices
Our attention span is now down to 8 seconds, social media usage per day per American adult
is now above 2.5 hours, we tap our phone 2,617 times a day.
Social media & smart home usage is not only a drain on time, but it also changes the very
chemical make-up of the brain, which, it must be remembered, is a malleable organ that’s
development is ongoing, even in adulthood. We have trained ourselves to focus in such
short bursts, to switch tasks so regularly, to master the art of busying ourselves, that
many of us are almost entirely incapable of selecting a single goal & pursuing that goal
with persistence, with patience. And so, our time-honoured respect for patience
has started to fade, to be lost to history. And with it we have lost so much of humanity’s
potential to create great works of art. The great novels never written, the perennial
films never conceived, the world-changing companies that were never given enough time.
War & Peace, arguably the greatest novel ever written, took Tolstoy 6–8 years to conceive,
to develop, to write & re-write. That’s a man that knows the value of patience.
And not just of persisting in order to write a novel of that length & complexity.
Tolstoy also clearly had a great awareness of the nuanced outcomes of patience as well.
Beyond persistence, he understood that ideas take time to develop. That you need to write
a first version to get the breakthroughs & the insights that will make the next version exceptional.
And respect to the man. He took a risk, dedicating nearly a decade to something with no clear
idea of what the novel may become or what the finished product would look like. He just
worked hard, took his time, remained patient. And it paid off, with War & Peace being labelled
the masterpiece of Russian literature by other renowned writers of the period (and many since).
Tolstoy may be an exceptional example of the fruits borne of patience, but the lessons
to take away are relevant for everyone, regardless of your goals in life.
If you want to create great work that is perennial, then you must learn to shake off the residual
belief that patience is no longer important, that it’s had its day.
Remember that the best ideas, the breakthroughs, the masterpieces — all of them take
time, they take work, they evolve & develop. So when thinking about that next career move,
that new relationship, that new business: Bide your time & be a little more patient.