One of my all-time favourite books is ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’ by the legendary Dr. Seuss. In it he writes about the waiting place.
“You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place. The Waiting Place…”
“The Waiting Place…for people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or the waiting around for a Yes or No or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting.
With all due respect to the marvelous Dr. Seuss, I beg to differ about the waiting place being a most useless place.
More about that in a minute.
In the meantime, we are waiting. A lot. Constantly. More than ever before.
- for the pandemic to be over
- for normalcy to return
- to return to the (physical) office
- to hit the dance floor at our favourite neighborhood spot (ahem, that’d be me)
We’ve always waited of course. We’ve waited for elevators, test results, kids to come home, kids to leave home etc. etc.
We as a species can have a tough time with said waiting.
In one real-life waiting related example, travelers were complaining that it took too long for their luggage to arrive at the baggage carousels. Can you guess what simple solution the airport put into place that didn’t cost a dime?
They moved the luggage carousels farther away from the arrival gates. Yes farther. Which meant it took longer to walk to the baggage carousels, which resulted in, you guessed it, less waiting time. The longer walk meant more time for the baggage to arrive at the carousel before the passengers did.
Decades ago I remember being impatient waiting for the rotary dial to return so I could dial the next phone number.
And lord help you if you had a number with a lot of zeros in it as those took the most time to dial.
In another example, people in a housing complex were frustrated by supposedly long waits for the elevators. A psychologist diagnosed the frustration resulting from boredom. The solution?
A snazzy new faster elevator system? Nope.
Installing mirrors. Yes, mirrors. “Previous complainers actually applauded the building staff for improving the speed of the elevator service” even though nothing had been done to the elevators. People just weren’t bored anymore because they were busy looking at themselves in the mirrors.
The second example is from Jason Farman in his excellent article How to wait well, where he advises “instead of fuming in subjugated irritation, turn wait times into chances to connect, muse and think big about the future.”
He says waiting is usually imposed. That is to say, someone or something is keeping us waiting. It’s not usually our choice. And things that we don’t feel we have control or agency over can be tougher to handle.
But if we dig in a little, Jason illuminates some surprising benefits to waiting.
Let’s ask ourselves some questions while waiting:
- Why are you waiting? Keep your mind’s eye on the goal, what you are trying to achieve (e.g. a bill of clean health from a test result, having a friend arrive on a zoom call so you can catch up over lunch etc.)?
- How are you feeling about waiting? We can run the gamut from bored, anxious, irritated, overwhelmed, angry, helpfulness, fearful or other. Identify how you’re feeling and name it.
- Speaking of benefits, figure out how your waiting is beneficial. Surprise! If you change up your mindset, you can be the benefit. Waiting can benefit you – giving you some badly needed, important pause time.
- Are there any power and privilege issues at play? Waiting can reveal power and privilege issues, says Jason. Waiting for a COVID test result, that your healthcare has fully covered because you’re fortunate and safe enough to be able to travel is very different than waiting for a COVID test result for example that you’ve scraped the bottom of the barrel to pay for, for your wee one who is showing symptoms and your healthcare access is close to nonexistent.
Context is everything. “Waiting in line for a Disneyland ride bears no resemblance to waiting for justice for war crimes.”
Focus on how you are (or aren’t!) with waiting.
Ultimately try your hand at changing the equation. Make waiting time productive…. but before you scramble to shoehorn in another chapter on your e-reader while waiting, in a never-ending attempt to be ever more productive, that’s not what I mean.
Make your waiting time productive not by doing more but by doing less.
‘Waiting pulls us into the present’ says Jason.
Take a look around, take a few deep breaths, make up some wild stories about the people around you etc.
“Waiting, and the daydreaming and boredom that accompany it, unlocks the ‘default mode network’ of the brain. This is sometimes called the ‘imagination network’ and links us with creative approaches and solutions that we couldn’t have found if we sought them out; they only arrive when our thoughts are in a moment of pause.”
“Use wait times as an investment in the social fabric.”
Aka waiting is cultural – as I found out years ago in Kampala, Uganda.
Moreover, the benefits of waiting in a global pandemic can mean investing in your community’s health … by waiting to ______ (fill in the blank: get the vaccine, go to your favourite restaurant, go dancing in a crowded bar etc.).
Within your local and global context, I wish you some wonderful waits. Take advantage of your chance to do nothing, or once again “to connect, muse and think big about the future.”
Now go on and learn, laugh and lead
- Practice daydreaming – ‘Let the soul dangle’: how mind-wandering spurs creativity
- Who hasn’t been left waiting on hold on a call?! You may even recognize this hold tune. Regardless if you do or don’t, take pleasure in how this guy ‘waits.’
- Next time you are forced to wait, deliberately practice doing nothing, connecting, daydreaming, musing or making up wild stories about people around you. And if there’s a mirror, make sure to check yourself out and admire the view.
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