I sat across from one of the most powerful people in the school board – the secondary school superintendent – when I heard the words that would haunt me for the rest of the semester: “I have never given a perfect review in a debriefing meeting in all my years as a principal. You were perfect. And if I were you, I’d be upset to hear I was perfect but didn’t get the job. You WILL be department head. Your time will come.” This was obviously not my time, as the principal had decided to go with the internal candidate at this stage of the hiring process.
I was devastated. “I’ve put in so much time! My time is supposed to be now!” I thought to myself. I was more than qualified, and I had paid my dues. After the initial disappointment and a significant amount of reflection, I had come to the conclusion that perhaps what I was lacking was not qualifications or ability, but in that moment, perspective.
In our current culture of instant gratification and with so many young professionals taking courses, getting more degrees, and becoming overqualified baristas, any time we experience what we perceive as a setback, we are quick to say… “But it’s my time now!” or “I have been working here for 5 years. Why haven’t I been promoted yet?”
Epictetus, a Greek Stoic philosopher, once remarked “No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.” Perhaps in a more agrarian society, we used to understand this rather simple fact, but in our fast-paced, on-demand lives, we have come to expect everything on-demand – our lattes, Netflix binges, relationships, and inevitably “making it”.
My real moment of clarity came at the beginning of the very next semester.
I walked in on the very first day of classes and one of the students said “I heard you are the fun teacher. The one that does all the simulations and stuff.” I was dumbfounded. Who had told him this? Why had the rest of the students nodded? I realized at that moment that after 14 years of teaching, my name had started to precede me.
Think about that number for a moment. 14 years.
It seems like a long time I thought to myself. But is it really?
- The Taj Mahal took about 20 years to build.
- So too the Khufu’s Great Pyramid at Giza.
- To compose the 55 minutes of music in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, it took him just over two years.
- The Wright brothers toiled for over 3 years before they managed to fly a plane – for all of 3 seconds.
- Michaelangelo took 4 years to paint the Sistine Chapel.
- And we won’t even talk about how long it took Guns’n’Roses to write and release Chinese Democracy.
The truth of the matter is, it takes a great deal of time to build the credibility, reputation, wealth, or lasting impact that we so desire in business. The Stoics would remind us that all of those things are fleeting anyhow, but one thing is for sure: having patience in what we do and staying the course is what matters.
As a high school history and economics teacher, I regularly deal with young people who want everything and they want it now.
It’s not their fault. They have been born into a world that has just about anything you can ever want “on tap”.
- No need to wait ’till next week to watch the next episode of Homeland. You can sit and watch the entire season NOW.
- Don’t want to wait in line to pick up coffee? Order NOW and dash to the front of the line.
- Want to listen to that new song? No need to drive to the record shop, you can listen NOW on Spotify.
However, in my “other life” as an author, social media manager, and musician, I see the same patterns and trends developing. We are an “instant” society.
In the words of Freddie Mercury, “I want it all. And I want it now.”
But how long did it take me to grow my blog from a couple of editorials and a wish list full of interviews to hanging out with rock stars and eventually co-authoring a memoir with one of those rockers? Well, years. Just over a year to start the process, almost two years to write a book and two more years of hard work after that. And it has taken me about 7 years at my current school to have my name enter my classroom before I do.
Perhaps the superintendent was right: my time will come.
In hindsight, I realize that I would not have been the best fit for the school I was so desperate to call my new home after all. The culture there would have stifled me and caused me to lose some of my “fire” and inspiration. This realization came to me only after months of soul-searching and reflection, and it reminded me that often, having patience is what eventually leads to the successes we are so driven to achieve in life and in business. It’s certainly easier said than done, but I can tell you without a doubt, that if you do the work (for the right reasons, not just for the glory of having the title or the clients or the money) your time will indeed come – sometimes when you least expect it to.
Featured image is a custom illustration by Dale Berkebile