20th Mar 2023
3 Min Read

The power of patience

Lucy Clapham
Lucy Clapham
People & Change

Senior writer Lucy Clapham talks about the virtues of patience (without virtue-signalling that hers was truly tested while trekking up Kilimanjaro).

I have successfully climbed Kilimanjaro – Africa’s loftiest peak and the world’s highest free-standing mountain. Quite an achievement some might say. I certainly couldn’t have managed it without the expert assistance and support of guides and porters. But also (and I’m allowed to say this, I’ve done it), my own grit and determination and – crucially – by learning to be patient.

And while scaling all 5,895 metres of Kili – step by laborious step – I got to thinking about patience: how it helps us be better people in general, but also how it can help us at work.

Is this article a shallow excuse for me to harp on about my holiday? Possibly, but bear with, as there’s a lesson in it for all of us …

“Pole pole”

I spent eight days on the mountain, steadily working my way up from lush forest to scrubby moorland to dusty alpine desert and finally to the sub-zero summit itself. And it was all done at a sedate, even pace. The daily message from our guides was to go “pole pole” – Swahili for ‘slowly’.

Over some of the steeper ground and certainly at the higher altitudes, we had no choice but to go slowly. But even on the flat and some of the downhill sections we maintained our careful, measured speed.

Being used to a more frenetic environment where everyone’s busy, busy, busy – in and out of work – it frustrated me that we continued to plod on easier terrain. My normal walking pace is pretty brisk and my temper is even quicker to flare. “We might as well be going backwards!” I complained to my walking partner.

Just as quickly though, I was eating my words when the altitude finally got to me. My legs were leaden, every footstep was an effort – even on the slightest of gradients – and my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest. It reminded me that they set the pace for a reason. In that moment, I appreciated the power of patience and decided it was about time I exercised it.

Flexing restraint

According to poems, proverbs and children’s author Dick King-Smith, patience is a virtue; a good quality for someone to have.

In today’s modern world however, it’s a characteristic that seems to be eroding – and perhaps unsurprisingly. The instant gratification we’ve become used to from our technology – and that’s encouraged us all to work at even higher speeds – has made us short-tempered, irritable and shortened our fuses even further.

But as the wellbeing wave – sparked by the pandemic – continues to crash into every aspect our lives, maybe now’s the time to put some emphasis on exercising patience, alongside the practical mental health tips we’ve heard so much about over the last few years.

Being more patient can support our mental health, lower our stress levels and help us help others – without the need for a yoga mat or spandex.

Good things come to those who wait

When you start to think about it (as I did while carefully trooping up the mountain), the benefits of exercising patience seem obvious. It helps you feel more in control, measured and capable, as opposed to being harried, stressed and under pressure when you’re rushing.

And as well as helping us in our personal life, these more calming traits can support us in a work setting. Patience has long been regarded as a key to success; something that generally doesn’t happen overnight after all.

But it also helps us think more strategically and become better leaders. Again, when you break it down, it seems obvious. No one wants a boss that’s short tempered or easily irritable.

Our leaders are there to do just that – lead – which they should do by example and by being there for their teams. That means taking the time to listen to them, consider their opinions and talk through questions, worries, issues. And that all adds up to … patience.

In fact, one lockdown study showed that when leaders demonstrated patience, their people’s self-reported creativity and collaboration increased by around 16% and productivity by 13% – pretty powerful stuff.

Life lesson

I’ve been making a concerted effort to exercise patience – at home and in front of my laptop – since returning to the UK. (My colleagues are wonderful so my resolve has mainly been tested behind the steering wheel and while wrestling with our glitchy TV remote).

Granted, the path I took to remind myself of the virtues of patience was pretty extreme, but the lesson remains: making the space for it makes us better people and can help us to get what we want in future, mountaineering goals or otherwise.

As one Swahili proverb puts it: “Patience attracts happiness; it brings near that which is far.”

Pictures courtesy of Chris Booth Photos.

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