The Thing About Waiting

The problem with waiting is that it doesn’t usually feel like waiting.

It feels like failure.

I’m not sure why we think that everything that is not yet success is automatically failure. But we do. I’ve more or less written two books in the last two years, but they still need more revision, and most of the time I feel like a failure simply because I haven’t sold them yet. My brother and a good friend have both moved paperwork mountains to take exams and apply for grad school this year… and daily struggle with doubt and insecurity as they wait to hear back.

Whatever your thing is, you’ve probably sorted through your fair share of rejection and waiting.

I don’t even think rejection is necessarily that bad for us. Water that spreads without boundaries is called a flood. Nobody wants a flood seeping through their back yard, but plenty of people pay good money to live on a river. Rejection is never fun, but it does shape us, give definition and purpose to our course. Rivers don’t usually run efficiently from Point A to Point B. I’m not sure why we think we have to. Nothing else in nature stresses over its wasted potential.

Of course, it’s easy to give ourselves pep talks. It’s easy to try to cajole or argue or reason ourselves into feeling better. I’m not sure that works either.

Mostly waiting is hard.

Really, really hard.

And waiting is one of those things we don’t think to glamorize or schedule or allow for. We focus on deadlines—like when this draft will be done or when those applications are due. We forget to pencil in that indefinite period of waiting that is inevitable when you’re trying to do anything large (or anything that requires the cooperation of another person, for sure).

I think we get so hyper about effort, we tend to forget about everything else.

But I’m at the point now where all the things I want most in life aren’t things I can get or do for myself. I can influence the outcome (on a good day), but I can’t make them happen. I can’t.

It’s not a totally foreign concept to me. This is after all what dating and marriage are all about, no matter how much we like to think that finding a partner is easy if you follow the right formula of engaging in the right social events, putting yourself out there, being friendly, working on your flaws.

In the end, our powers are always limited to yes and no. We have the choice to say yes or no, and so does everyone else. Someone has to say yes back. That’s how it works.

We don’t like it. We pretend it isn’t true. We want so desperately to believe we can control something—anything—because most of us (if you live long enough anyway) will experienced the pain of being unable to control something that nearly destroys us. Or does destroy us. That’s an option too.

But the truth is still the same. No matter what is is, we don’t get to control it. Even if we do our part all perfectly and efficiently, there’s still a lot of waiting involved in life. It can be productive, happy waiting. But it’s still waiting.

And the problem is still the same: Waiting doesn’t usually feel like waiting. It feels like being trapped.

It feels like being out of options.

Especially if you’re waiting for your belief to come back. I think when it comes to writer’s block or career woes, loss of belief is the real culprit, not individual rejections. If rejection is just the twists of a riverbed, loss of belief is a Saharan-scale drought. There might be a correlation between the two, but they’re not the same thing. One does not automatically lead to the other, and there is no formula of say 50 rejections to every episode of writer’s block.

Naturally, we wish there were.

I’m pretty sure most of our efforts for formulas and theories and facts are motivated by a fundamental desire for control. If we know the rules of gravity, we feel in control of gravity. Gravity can never surprise us again.


I’ve been mulling on all this for a few months now, and I wish I could offer some great insights into the problem or a list of ways to be awesome despite.

But I can’t.

All I can say is that sometimes what feels like failure or being trapped or hopelessness is only waiting. And waiting is painful. One of the most painful things in life—especially when we blame ourselves and try to control the things we were never meant or able to control. But if waiting is painful it’s also companionable. If waiting is a boat, I’m pretty sure we’re in the same one. And I have a hunch that it’s a really, really big one—not the flimsy life raft we might be tempted to picture. We’re talking Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas size if it has to fit everyone who doubts, everyone who scrambles for control, everyone who  hurts.

That, as Gandalf says, is an encouraging thought.

Unless you have social anxieties like mine, in which case you can totally feel free to picture a really small boat with only your besties and maybe a picnic basket.

That’s cool too.



3 thoughts on “The Thing About Waiting

  1. I like your thought about how we see waiting as failure. It’s made me think about how the reverse might also be healthy to contemplate. What would happen if we could see failure as waiting and not final?

  2. Pingback: The Hijacking of Jesus Christ

  3. Waiting = Failure. Nice. I feel like I need to think about that in relation to my own life in order to see what that means for me. I have a feeling processing will reveal significant stuff.

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