Society’s Problem With Patience

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet”

— Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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 is the state of endurance under difficult circumstances such as: perseverance and/or the ability to wait in the face of delay; provocation without responding in negative annoyance/anger; or exhibiting forbearance when under strain, especially when faced with longer-term difficulties.)

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.

 Why we are so impatient

Since the digital age, more specifically since the smart phone 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.

  1. 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 is also changes the very chemical make-up of the brain, which, it must be remembered, is a malleable organ thats 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.

Leo Tolstoy — just growing a beard like that requires a lotta patience Why patience is important

“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” — Leo Tolstoy 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), such as Goncharov, Turgenev, Leskov, Dostoyevsky and Fet.

(Fun fact: Leo Tolstoy’s 1,225-page epic features hundreds of characters, numerous plot threads, and a battle sequence that lasts more than 20 chapters. It took him a full year & 15 drafts to write the opening scene.)

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 it’s 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.

Fast-Track Your Product Career

Get our free 7-day Mini MBA straight to your inbox:

Henry Latham

Henry Latham

Founder, Prod MBA

Read More