Patience Is a Waste of Time

Young woman participant of charity obstacle course climbs up and over the net barrier.
Young woman participant of charity obstacle course climbs up and over the net barrier.

Though you may not agree with the title of this article, do you have the patience to engage me?

The Spartan Race now touches over a million lives a year. As the founder and CEO of the race, my mailbox is flooded with success stories every day. Soon I began to wonder if there was an equation, a unique set of skills and traits that led to success on the obstacle course and off.

I traveled all over the world with a camera in tow to speak with some of the most spectacular human-beings on the planet: from authors to ultra-marathoner runners, from CEOs to scholars. My goal was clear-cut: figure out where success comes from. I listened to the incredible stories. Now, I'm doing what I rarely do - sitting down to break down the characteristics vital to success.

I love the famous cookie test. Put a kid in a room with a cookie (or a marshmallow) and give them two options: enjoy this cookie now or wait, and in a few minutes be rewarded with another cookie. While interviewing these highly successful people, the cookie test came up time and time again. Many were able to hold out for two cookies, while others bit right into the first.

With that in mind, let's discuss the importance of patience.

Patience is a waste of time

Those who believe it is a waste of time - those fast-acting, no-nonsense, I-wait-for-no-one types - would define patience as the waiting for someone to beat you. In a fast-moving world, patience is indecision; the hopes that something will happen. Have you heard the one about the man who drowned while waiting for God to save him? He told all passing boats that he was taken care of.

I sat down with Jeff Clark, CEO of Kodak. He knows that it will take time to get Kodak to heights where it was not long ago. A businessman with terrific instincts, he also knows there's a time to strike. About the cookie experiment, Jeff said "sometimes we have to have a couple cookies along the way to continue to build consistent overall economic performance..."

Let's face it, we live in an impatient world.

Kids will eat the cookie and their parents will holler in traffic. I'd argue that impatience can be rational. After all, impatience is related to an unwillingness to lose - or waste, as the title suggests - time. Precious, limited, non-refundable time. While time is money, money is not time. So we express ourselves: honking and screaming.

Carpe diem may as well mean: seize the cookie.

And let's not forget the famous Wayne Gretzky quote about missing 100% of the shots you don't take. If you don't take a shot when you have one, you may not have the chance to take a shot at all.

How many people do you think had the idea for a social network before Zuckerberg? A hundred? A thousand? More? Guess what: they got beaten. What's the use of patiently perfecting if you'll soon be irrelevant?

Patience is a virtue

To those who value patience - those who weigh their options, slow-to-act, methodical, long term thinkers - would define patience as a calculated decision to wait for the right moment.

I see grit, a trait all these fearless leaders have in common, as the combination of patience, endurance and bravery in the face of time and adversity.

In a society where many lose their patience, it's refreshing to meet those with that viewpoint. I've oft said that if someone goes a few days worrying about their next meal and shelter, their whole state of mind changes. Patience helps with perspective. Traffic? Kids yelling? No problem.

These patient types wait for two cookies. Then, consider if waiting will result in two more.

We don't always have a choice to be patient or not.

Ella Kociuba, an elite athlete, was 12 when she was thrown from her horse and broke the L4 and L5 in her spine. She couldn't walk and was almost paralyzed. At 13 she was told she may never again play sports or ride her horse again. A fighter all her life, she fought back but it took years before she could run again, let alone become elite. If you think that Ella didn't want to walk the day after the injury, you don't know squat about her. Sometimes we are thrown (literally) into a situation where we are forced to exhibit patience. An impatient mindset and an inability to re-frame ones mindset can be detrimental. How many athletes are impatient and rush back too soon from an injury?

Patience in the right hands is power.

There is no science behind patience. Like all good things in life, is about balance.

The key is the thought process behind the decision, as well as intent. Inactive patience is laziness. Patience with a plan, coupled with perseverance is a commanding weapon to hold in your utility belt.

When given a choice we must evaluate whether or not an opportunity will be around tomorrow. I had no patience when it came to marrying my wife - why wait when the best opportunity is in front of you? On the other side, I show incredible patience with all businesses I have worked on, including Spartan Race. These take time and when they struggle, it's easy to want to just ship.

Patience has been my friend and my enemy.

It is by no means a waste of time. It's about balance. Too much or too little can be detrimental. Ángel Sanz, a former basketball player, told me that "a goal without a date is nothing but a conversation."

With a goal in mind though, whether you exhibit patience or not, all you can do is make a decision and move forward in full-stride like a true Spartan.

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