Coming to Grips with Waiting

In Nathaniel Philbrick’s chilling tale In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, Philbrick describes the fateful events surrounding a whale ship that was attacked twice by a giant whale. While relating the predicament of the whale hunters as they floated aimlessly at sea and attempted to ration their food for three entire months, the author writes:

“Success in a long-term survival situation requires that a person display an “active-passive” approach to the gradual and agonizing unfolding of events . . . [T]he key factor . . . [is] the realization that passivity is itself a deliberate and “active” act.”

My brother has this totally figured out. Often, when we are staying together at my parents, he paces around the house. He also does this alone in his own apartment. He can do this for a long time. I call it the Benjamin pace. It is not an act of boredom; it is a deliberate act.

For the last year, my husband and I have been unemployed and we’ve been waiting. We waited in our house, then we waited while we tried to sell our house, then we waited in my parent’s house. The thing we waited for the most was more information. This, more than anything, gave me anxiety. One day, I said, “Jake, I’m going to sleep. Wake me up when we have more information.”

Of course, we applied for jobs, attended networking events and interviews. We went on walks. I did not pace, and Jake did not pace. I think that would have helped.

For an action oriented person like me, realizing that “passivity is itself a deliberate and “active” act” was a weird thought. Lazy people or maybe stupid people or unskilled people wait for things to happen – that’s what I thought. But I’ve learned that calculated people, hard working people, and disciplined people these people wait too. Waiting is part of being human.

This year I have learned the art of waiting. Now we are almost settled into our Alexandria apartment, and I’m actively and happily waiting for different things. What would life be without waiting?

I have also learned that there are a few things you should not wait for. You should not wait in the middle of the road hoping to get hit by a bus, for example. You should not wait for someone to save you from your own circumstances. You should not wait to win the lottery.

It is not waiting or acting that separates the successful from the unsuccessful, it is knowing when to wait and when to act - knowing when to pace around the house and knowing when to get in bed and go to sleep.