Do You Hate Being Forced to Wait?

Rita J. King
January 17, 2019

Waiting builds value, if we see it as an opportunity.

Rob Walker interviewed me for his new book, The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday. It's coming in May but you can pre-order it: Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Knopf). The book presents a series of exercises and prompts and games and things you can actually do (or reflect upon) to build attention muscles or just get off your phone and enjoy noticing stuff that everyone else missed. In the meantime, he writes a newsletter. Today, he wrote about being forced to wait.

"Earlier this week," he wrote, "a work-related appointment left me in the lobby for almost half an hour past the time we were scheduled to meet. I found myself thinking about an interview I heard the other day with Jason Farman, director of the Design Cultures & Creativity Program at the University of Maryland. He has a book out that I'm interested in called Delayed Response: The Art of Waiting From the Ancient to the Instant World. (Useful WSJ review.)"

In the interview, Walker notes, Farman made several interesting points. We associate waiting with powerlessness: losing time to someone or something beyond our control. But maybe sometimes, he suggested, we should consider those moments when we are forced to wait as being made up of time that belongs to us. Also: anticipation and delayed gratification can be a really positive thing, so in a way, under the right circumstances, waiting builds value. Farman further noted that although we tend to hate waiting, it also happens to force us to "live in the moment," which many of us are always claiming to want to do.

So, stuck in that lobby, Walker resisted the urge to burn time by flipping through Instagram or answering email, and instead declared himself temporarily unreachable. He took a tiny vacation — studying the room, eavesdropping on the staff and just letting my mind wander, which is what I do when I find myself being forced to wait.

"When I was finally summoned to my appointment, I was in a good mood," he wrote, "instead of the resentful one I'm normally in when forced to wait."

He recommends that people see being forced to wait as an opportunity. I agree with him wholeheartedly.


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