I have a confession: I’ve recently become a podcast junkie.
Since the beginning of the year, when my life turned upside down, I have committed to making 2018 my breakout year. It’s a declaration, a vision, I have come to own over the past few weeks. And like many visions, I have no idea how I’m going to make it happen.
Cue the podcasts. I have delved head first into all media concerning self-improvement, purpose and passion. I know I have just scratched the surface. Nevertheless, in the short time I have devoted to finding my path, I have listened to tens of hours (likely more) of the spoken word from life coaches and other gurus. I find their perspective on all things life hypnotic, a far cry from the uninspiring mantras I have encountered in many of the companies where I have worked.
During one such podcast, I listened intently to a life coach as he rattled of his accomplishments, not out of narcissism mind you, but in an effort to inspire the rest of us. This entrepreneur has done it all. He has competed in grueling athletic events. He recovered from a life-inhibiting injury. He built a business from scratch. He wrote a book in two days . . .
That last mention gave me pause. A really long pause.
My career as a writer has been fifteen years in the making, with its roots in the broom closet of a dorm I had at UC Santa Cruz. Since then, I have cycled through many serious attempts to establish myself as a professional writer. Nearly all of my efforts have resulted in rejection and the realization that my craft — my voice as an author — needed much more development than I was willing to admit at the time (or even now). Such humility at every failure turned out to be a godsend, strengthening my resolve to buckle down and do the thousands of hours of work necessary to move the meter needle of my talent just a smidge.
So when I hear some voice from cyberspace proclaim that he or she can push out a book in less time than it takes me to do my taxes, I stop and take note. I usually protest, with my mind racing with imaginative scenarios in which I confront the blasphemer in some I-going-to-teach-you moment.
I did just that. Then I considered the seeds of a deeper problem. One that manifested itself in the aforementioned podcast and in nearly every aspect of our lives.
The loss of delayed gratification in our lives.
No one wants to wait nowadays. Ever. For anything.
What is worse is that we project this unrealistic expectation onto everything else we think about or encounter.
Want a life partner? Don’t put the work into having a conversation with someone. Pull out your iPhone and swipe. Want to be invest? Stocks and bonds take too long. Put all of your funds into the latest cryptocurrency. Want to succeed? Don’t work hard and gather a lifetime of contacts via work associates and community leaders. Hire a coach and accelerate your happiness.
Before I continue, I want to be clear that this isn’t a gripe session. Believe me, I have had moments — and still do — when I wish I could have fast-forwarded through the waiting and uncertainty to some greater end. Time wasted on endeavors that proved fruitless seemed at the moment another barrier to my goals; they became a memory I wanted to forget not embrace. For countless individuals, the fastest route to success and happiness is a welcome respite for having paid their dues for so long.
Rather, what I want us to consider is that in the wake of such haste, whether ours or by others we have observed, what have we lost?
I have some ideas . . .
Up until recently, a person who worked hard during the course of a lifetime and made millions was worthy of our respect. Now, only those who become overnight successes are worth examining. Get-rich-quick schemes were once shunned. At present, any bookstore has shelves (or Amazon has search results) of scores of books on how to create wealth with minimal effort. And I suspect every one of those titles was churned out by a ghostwriter who spends their career focusing on quantity not quality.
We have developed gratitude for any coach, device, or lifehack that can save us time, space or money. Such a habit has eroded our admiration for that which has taken time to mature, whether it be a seasoned professional, a work of art resulting from years of mastery or any byproduct of the tried and true method of doing a job right no matter how long it takes.
In his masterpiece Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell expounds the “10,000-Hour Rule.” That book was published nearly ten years ago. Few overnight successes today reference it, though, and those of us who have lost all appreciation for delayed gratification do not bother to consider putting such time into a craft. We choose instead to focus on strengths we have now, those we can exploit and monetize in the immediate future. My own experience with success workshops and conferences is fraught with examples of gurus who have encouraged me and the rest of the attendees to market ourselves no matter our expertise. Currently, my day job that pays the bills is in Human Resources. “Great!” said one guru. “Write a non-fiction book and brand yourself as a consultant.” As many who have read my blog posts know, I also write. “You can teach a writing workshop,” said another coach. In addition to posting on blogs, I pen novels. “You can coach others on how to write a book.” And I do screenplays. “Say you’re from Hollywood.”
You get the idea. In each conversation quoted, not once was I asked if I considered myself good enough to teach others. My talent or skill was of no consequence. I guess the saying, “Those who can’t do, teach,” was applicable in the minds of those who encouraged me, for better or worse. For all their intentions, however, we must not forget the moments in our lives when we have witnessed excellence in others and been in awe. I’m talking about those days when you picked up a book so good you didn’t want to set it down. Or when you came out of a theater having watched a movie you couldn’t help talk about for days. Or watching an athlete do a feat some considered impossible.
That is skill. Talent. Not the result of intention or positive thinking alone. The end product of long, hard work.
You knew this was coming. A hallmark of delayed gratification is patience, a trait that many seem to gloss over. Waiting does not seem to be in our collective repertoire anymore. Speed is key in everything. What our predecessors used to spend years, months, or weeks waiting for we now expect to receive in days or hours. There are almost too many examples to list (i.e. anything via Amazon Prime comes to mind).
With the loss of delay has come a host of not-so-good traits and qualities we often fail to own. Impatience. Heightened expectations. Anxiety. Unrealistic goals. Jealousy. And with those also the loss of developmental skills. Perseverance. Grit. Confidence. As we lose our grip on the concept of patience, we also lose a sense of longstanding commitment to that which needs to be earned, in part, over time. For too often in life, you just cannot rush excellence.
I could have just written “happiness.” That struck me as being inadequate, even flimsy and dull. The “true” portion I inserted for extra consideration, and here’s why:
Delayed gratification breeds several admirable qualities, such as the aforementioned admiration, skill, and patience. It also sets within our minds expectations that are reasonable with results that are lasting. For instance, if you just married the love of your life, in retrospect the two years you spent navigating the waters of online dating seemed worth it, didn’t it?
However, if in that same scenario delayed gratification was absent from your mindset, two years spent dating loser after loser would threaten your sanity. Each failed relationship would not come across as a learning experience or a stepping stone to something greater. They would feel like burdens. You may become embittered and withdrawn, so much so that when the moment finally came when you met the love of your life, you might spoil the opportunity with your cynicism.
True happiness cannot be rushed, no matter what we believe. It may come sooner for others, later for more still. It does not have a timeline to adhere to or an expiration date (i.e. think of all the times you believed “I have to marry by 30”). It is a reward that materializes and comes into your life, having paid no attention to time, pain or expectations. Delayed gratification can put the wait for such a gift into a richer perspective, for it provides the time needed for consideration of what we value and cherish, not just now, but in the long run.
Delayed gratification. It is not procrastination. It is not complacency. Nor is it dreaming or waiting for something better to come along. It is an art, a skill that arises from determination and patience, foresight and hard work. It is a product, a sensitivity that exists in the ether between having done something and receiving your earned reward. Sometimes that middle-period is longer than expected. That’s fine. You should wait for somethings in life. Even — or especially — the best things, the ones you’ll hold dear for years to come.
Back to my podcasts. My interests have altered slightly since the beginning of the year. I still gravitate towards those that expound principles of success. But added to my list of must-listen are podcasts that preach meditation. So for the past few weeks, I have taken whatever time I can spare to pull myself aside, close my eyes, and breathe. My mind often wanders during such periods. Thoughts — both positive and negative — invade my consciousness. Have I taken out the trash? I should have started the laundry. Did I answer that e-mail? Post that post to my Facebook author page? Did I? Did I? Did I?
I have a long way to go before I master clearing my mind for more than two seconds to focus on the void meditation preaches about, the one I desperately need. I’m content with that challenge, though. For I know that with practice, my ability to meditate will improve. I will find that clarity. That comfort. That sense of inner peace.
All in due time . . .