Why wait? Let’s live for the moment

I’ve been waiting eagerly to write this column. Now that it’s arrived, I’m relieved, at least for now.

I once read we spend 18 percent of our lives waiting. How absurd. It depends on what waiting means. There’s big waiting, like “waiting to exhale” for the right partner, and little waiting, like cooling your heels for a restaurant table.

Expectations are everything. Saturday traffic on College Avenue aggravates because we remember speedier traverses. Wait times at Disneyland are legendary, but the park works to reduce the pressure: informing, never underestimating, and distracting with anticipatory entertainment. Let’s line College Avenue with Shrek and Woody on big-screen monitors. While we’re at it, let’s rename doctors’ waiting rooms and call them break rooms.

Waiting is as individual as pain thresholds. When we lived in Boston, we felt lucky if a restaurant’s wait time was only 30 minutes. But my dad would rather drive 20 minutes to another restaurant than wait 10 minutes for a table. Yet I confess to occasionally avoiding a traffic jam by taking a more time-consuming route because at least I’m busy.

Waiting torments us because it seems the objective is simply to chew up minutes ASAP. Satisfaction only comes at the end, and if that’s later than expected, we feel cheated.

So here’s a solution: redefine the objective of the wait. If the goal becomes to finish a chapter, knit a few rows or write a letter, you’ve redefined the wait and robbed the real sources of delay of their power.

I once drove 12 hours from Fort Collins to Tulsa so engrossed in a recorded book that upon arrival, I sat in the driveway for 20 minutes to hear the breathtaking conclusion (e-mail me for the book title). Now that’s what I mean by redefining wait time.

My daughter acts as if she’s been waiting all of her 15 years to get a driver’s permit. We’d heard horror stories about delays at the local DMV, so we drove to Loveland. Since I’d brought my reading, I’d have been happy to “hurry up and wait,” but they whisked us along.

People view waiting negatively, “killing time.” When expectations from within, from friends and family, or from society suggest an appropriate waiting time before landing a “regular job,” getting married, or starting a family, the wait takes an emotional toll. If the event never arrives, how long must we wait before the pressure subsides?

My wife suffers from “hurdle anticipation,” as in, “if I can just cross that hurdle, then life will be normal again.” Of course the hurdle, typically a work project, keeps changing, and life is never normal.

Blame modern lifestyles for why it’s difficult to “live for today.” From complexity comes scheduling, and scheduling beats us over the head with what’s to come. I envy my dog. She can only anticipate in tiny chunks, like the time between pressing her nose against the door and the time someone opens it.

It’s bad enough when we expend energy waiting for our own lucky breaks, but then we become emotionally invested in other people’s waiting. My friend is chomping at the bit for a new direction in life, and I’m suffering vicarious anxiety. Do we ever stop waiting?

Have you successfully overcome the frustration of waiting? E-mail me. I can’t wait.

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