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Patience, Work and Limits
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.

Recently, during a visit from my mother, I was sitting with her in front of the computer, going through some of her Facebook connections updates and photos with her. After about an hour of searching for a particular set of photos she thought should be there -- but couldn't be found -- I closed the page, signed out of the site and said, "Well that's enough of that. Let's try something else."

Mom was miffed. "You are so impatient!" she said.

I just looked at her and, patiently, calmly replied, "You know, I've been going through this search for over an hour now, even though I find it both boring and useless. I don't see how doing any more of this will be fun or help us find what you want. So, I'm ready to stop."

"How is that particularly impatient?" I asked her. (Remember, I said this to someone I love and want to please, so my tone was merely gentle and matter-of-fact. She understood that I was surprised by her reaction, and my question was from curiosity.)

I saw doing an hour of something I didn't really want to do as being patient and generous. She saw my stopping before she was ready as being impatient and a bit selfish.

Neither of us was right or wrong. We simply have different ideas of where the boundaries are.

Because Mom was very interested in what we were doing, her tolerance for the frustrations of the search were greater than mine. And because she expected me to be as interested as she is in the doings of our family, she was disappointed that I said "no more" when I reached my own limit. That's a normal and usual human reaction.

Yet, as matter-of-fact as my response was, my mother was still disappointed with the limit I set. So, I went on to a different site and looked at something else we could share that we both liked. Later, we went back to searching for the photos she wanted and found they were not on Facebook as she thought, but elsewhere, and she was pleased to find them. My setting a limit and taking a break made it possible for me to go on with further patience to look at the pictures. Mom was happy again.

The reaction of feeling let down when others say "no" or show no interest or enthusiasm is about the same in most aspects of the workplace as well. And it affects relationships with management and co-workers.

Imagine that you have a manager who has a great deal of enthusiasm for a project he's assigned to you. It is his own idea and creation. He went to a great deal of work to get approval for the project. Now he has entrusted his cherished baby to you to nurture and grow. You, on the other hand, think his idea is stupid, find the details of the work senseless and don't particularly care for the other team members assigned. But you can't say no. You can't refuse the work. That is not a limit you get to choose. Unless, of course, you prefer to quit or be fired.

You probably don't have to imagine. Being assigned unpleasant, unwanted, resented work is extremely common. Few people have the patience of Job, so you're not likely to be one of them. Nevertheless, to be healthy, you must set some boundaries -- limits -- on how much you give to the work. It's the best way to maintain your patience for doing it.

Most people in this situation opt to "grin and bear it." But there are other options.

For example, you can decide up front how much time to give the project. Yes, it's true that you must devote the hours necessary to complete the project. But you can control how you give that time. You can schedule regular breaks and take unscheduled breaks when it gets to be too much for you. You can choose not to take work home with you, either literally or figuratively (such as discussing it or complaining about it to friends and family.)

You can build in your own rewards and incentives. That is, you can promise to treat yourself to something you want at various stages of completion. It could be something as elaborate as a vacation at a resort at the end of the project, or merely a candy bar after four hours of concentrated effort.

It doesn't matter what you choose to do to help yourself maintain good spirits and a decent patience level. What's important is that you realize that you have limits to your tolerance, that it is normal and healthy to have those limits, and that you must find ways to give yourself a break when your limit is reached. You must also find ways to motivate yourself to return to your tasks with renewed patience and be able to stretch those limits. Because, unlike my story, you have to deal with your boss, not my dear, sweet Mom.



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