The Ancient Art of Waiting

I’m terrible at waiting.  I don’t like it.  I’m a big believer in taking action and getting things done.  That’s good, right?  Not always.  Sometimes taking action can be a big mistake.  Sometimes the hardest thing to do is nothing.

I’m not talking about procrastination or laziness.  I’m talking about the discipline to not undertake wasteful, superfluous tasks, thus being able to focus on, and actually do, the things that will truly make an impact.  It’s about avoiding busyness and choosing effectiveness.

Right now I’m waiting.  Our agent is shopping our book around and, since we don’t know which editor we’ll be working with, there’s nothing to do on the book for now.  We want to collaborate with an editor, not steamroll them.  If we keep pressing forward, we will not leave room for their contribution.  Or we may have to undo things we felt were improvements.  So we’re doing nothing.  Which I find very difficult.

But to make myself feel better, I’ve figured out how this process makes me like a Spartan warrior.  According to The Art of Manliness Spartan warriors were known for waiting.  Their active stillness was deliberate. They were allowing the right moment to arrive.  They were in control. While facing off on the battlefield, their enemies would lose their nerve, buckle under the pressure of waiting and charge, flailing in a fear filled rage. Their enemies squandered energy and lost focus of their actual goal.  The Spartans engaged in combat with calm poise.  The Spartan’s waiting was impactful.

When I wait for the right moment, it is an action.  So you see how I’m like a Spartan warrior, right?

While waiting, I’m reading a book:  The Reminiscences of a Stock Operator.  (I’m sure Spartans would have read this book if they could.)  It’s about Larry Livingston.  Livingston is a boy who starts out updating stock price chalkboards.  After endless seasons of calculating and posting stock prices, he realizes he can predict what a stock will do before it does it. Over the ensuing years, he becomes a multi-millionaire.  But then, through a series of bad business decisions and bad market conditions, he finds himself not only broke, but $1,000,000 in debt.  True story.  He has to turn things around.  He has to turn a corner.  A former colleague hesitantly agrees to float him 500 shares.  No one else will help him.  Livingston has one shot.  It has to work. 

He sees his opportunity in a stock that carries all the perfect indicators of an imminent and fast rise.  So what does he do?  Nothing.  He waits.  He knows at what point the stock will break open, but it is not there yet.  He waits like a Spartan.  He sees it coming.  He has one chance.  If the trade doesn’t work, he’s done.  He’ll have no more friends to ask.  So he waits.  He waits six weeks.  When a man is broke, his back up against a wall, and knows that something has to work, six weeks is a long time.  Waiting is hard work. 

At the right moment, he executes the trade.  It breaks open just as he thought it would and keeps going.  He continues trading and his trades snowball, building on each other.  Within two years he restores his fortune, repays his debts and makes sure he has learned from his past mistakes.  As he looks back on his career he says, “Those six weeks of waiting for the right moment were the most strenuous and wearing six weeks I ever put in.” 

I think we do all we can, and then we wait.  We wait for love, money, jobs, customers, help, forgiveness, reassurance.  Whatever it is, if we wait in the right way, we are taking action.