Since I started working as a counselor after getting my degree, I have realized how little patience I really have.
I spent a lot of time both in classes and in my internship thinking about the problems my client might have and how best to approach them. However, with people outside of the counseling room, I find myself much more prone to aggravation and frustration when things seem to be working less efficiently than I think they should. The other day I was having some issues with the self-checkout machine at a local store. After a few moments, I began inwardly cursing the machine and its creator when an employee came over to help me. Some of my frustration spilled over into my tone in talking to her about that problem. I had intended to convey my pique with the machine, but this lady took it personally. I recognized too late that I might have chosen better words to express myself. She sorted out the issue, and on my walk back to the car, a thought struck me.
It was not the machine that I had been upset with at all. I was upset because the few moments wasted standing in the store were cutting into my time on a Saturday.
It was the lack of progress toward the next thing that was bothering me, and I didn’t even have a “next thing” planned that day. My internal feeling of stagnation triggered a sense of minor outrage that then affected another person’s day. But why is that feeling of stagnation or no forward progress so hard for me? I believe it is because I get a great deal of my sense of self or identity in the things I do or how I do them. When things don’t go smoothly, a little bit of that sense of self is challenged. The lady was simply reflecting back to me what I was feeling, an undermined sense of self or power.
Simply put, I needed more patience to deal with the situation. I needed not just patience with her or the machine, but patience for myself to slow down and do the self-awareness checks I so often encourage my clients to do. It is so important for me to recognize that my agency, identity, or power, or lack thereof, is not defined by those moments when things don’t go right, big or small. Those things are practiced and displayed in those moments. The patience required to handle them better, however, comes from pausing and remembering. Regardless of how I handle this situation in the present moment, I am worthy of the same kind of care I seek to display to my clients.
My impatience in these kinds of moments is likely this lack of self-care in action and keeps me from caring for others in those moments as well. This is why cultivating patience for myself as well as others, is the way not only to becoming a better counselor, but also a better human being.
By: Sam Bearer, PLPC