Remember the screeching beeps of dial-up internet?
Remember driving to Blockbuster to rent a movie? Or leaving a message on someone’s home phone?
If you’re under the age of 24, probably not. Not that I’m old; I’m 28. And like anyone else my age, I’m a huge fan of all the advancements we’ve made since those painfully archaic times.
Today, our lives are undoubtedly more convenient. Individuals, communities, and companies are thriving — and relying — on tools that provide immediate gratification. In our everything-on-demand society, we can get what we want, when we want it, with the tap of a finger. (Caveat: By “we,” I mean those of us fortunate enough to be in a socio-economic status where we can afford these little luxuries. I know not everyone can.)
Uber hails you a black car in less than two minutes. Seamless delivers dinner to your door. Tinder or Bumble helps you find love (or at least a date) after a few swipes. Those, along with all the other apps glowing on your smartphone screen — Netflix, Classpass, Amazon Prime — promise to make everything easier, faster, and more satisfying than ever before.
Which is all great, right?
Well, not so fast.
What if we’ve become so conditioned, Pavlovian-style, to be instantly rewarded that we’ve completely lost our ability to be patient? To delay gratification?
Imagine waiting a few minutes for Netflix to load. This is absurd, we think. Getting your food delivered after the 30-minute window? Unthinkable. Not getting a response to your text within an hour? WTF.
About a month ago, I made a pretty major life change.
I moved from New York City to Atlanta. In all honesty, I figured everything would be fairly nice and easy. I thought the transition period would be minimal. I believed I’d get right back into the “swing of things,” and these massive changes — new city, new job, new apartment — wouldn’t really affect me.
But after a few days, I started to miss my “old life.” I hated not knowing where the closest yoga studio was, or which grocery store would be least crowded on Sunday. I felt discombobulated in my brand-new apartment, and I started to worry. I thought something was seriously wrong.
Why don’t I just know these things? I thought to myself. Why the hell doesn’t this feel easier?
When I started my new job, I found myself facing a whole new corporate structure and rulebook that was totally unfamiliar to me. I struggled to understand the systems my new colleagues explained to me. Where is the closest printer? Why do they do it that way? Why can’t I just do this MY WAY?
It all felt so strange, and… difficult.
Which was a totally new feeling for me.
I don’t want to humblebrag, but OK, I’m going to humblebrag. In addition to the countless apps and websites that make our lives easier these days, I’ve also worked hard and have been fortunate enough to have things come relatively easy for me. I did well in school. I got into the college I wanted to go to. I moved to the city I’d always dreamed of living in soon after graduation. I didn’t get every job I wanted, but I scored a series of pretty awesome gigs, each one better than the last. I made friends easily and quickly. Through my work, I got free gym memberships, invitations to events almost every night of the week, and a feeling that I was hyperconnected to all that was cool and happening in New York City.
When I had to decide whether to pick up my life and move to the South (where I grew up), I sort of just went for it. Of course, there were months of deliberation and lots of long talks with friends and family. But really, choosing between an overpriced shoebox in a chaotic city that drained my energy (and feeling in my feet) versus a more affordable lifestyle in a manageable city near my family (with better weather) wasn’t that difficult.
My only mistake? Believing that starting a life in a new city would be as easy as uploading a photo to Instagram.
A couple weeks after I moved, I was talking to someone — not a close friend, but an older, wiser acquaintance. I felt like I’d made the wrong decision, I told her. I explained how I didn’t quite understand what I’d be doing at my job; how I didn’t know my way around my neighborhood yet; how I missed the routine I’d established back in New York.
She asked me how long I’d been living in my new city.
Two weeks, I replied.
Two weeks?! Of course you’re feeling uneasy, she said. This is a HUGE change.
And then she said what I needed to hear most:
“Be patient with yourself.”
That’s when it hit me. I needed to give it time—my new city, my new job, my new neighborhood. I needed to give it all a chance. Perhaps some parts of my life aren’t going to be as great as they were. I’m sure I’m always going to miss some things about my “old life.”
But talking through my feelings helped me realize something really important: I had been so caught up in this age of immediate satisfaction, in getting what I want pretty much all the time, that I had become incapable of delaying gratification.
I‘d been conditioned to expect everything to happen easily and quickly, and that’s just not the way life works.
So many of us have gotten accustomed to tapping on a screen, and then whatever we want magically appears in front of us: a car; dinner; a date. It’s actually a little scary to think about younger generations who grow up fully immersed in this technology-centric world, without ever feeling what it’s like to have to wait for something to materialize.
Now, I know I’m still in the midst of a big, ongoing waiting period. But, unlike experiencing a delay on Netflix, I’ve realized it’s OK to go through a delay in life. It’s OK not to have it all figured out. It’s OK to let a few days, or weeks, or even months pass for things to fall into place. It’s OK that I can’t snap my fingers and know everything I need to know about a new city or a new job.
No matter what life change you’ve gone through, realize some days are going to be easier than others. Allow yourself time to readjust, to recalibrate, to rethink the way you do things. Know that it’s not going to be easy, but if something good comes out it (and chances are it will), it’ll be worth it.