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The Patience Mystery Revealed

There is the famous story of the Zen master sending his disciple to fetch drinking water. The disciple comes back without it to report that it is all muddy, undrinkable water in the river. The Zen master gives a bottle and sends again. Once the dust is settled, the water is crystal clear

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The workplace is intense these days as the pressure to perform builds. Our individual and collective effort to exercise patience is being tested today more than ever before. The more you start paying attention to yourself and those around you, the more you start realizing that most of us are living in a routine of rushing that doesn’t seem to have an end.

Kabir, the famous Indian Sufi saint had the following to say: 

Buddha, while declaring patience to be the highest asceticism, advised, “Be patient, everything comes to you in the right moment.” There is a famous Chinese proverb that goes: “Patience and the mulberry leaf become a silk gown”.

Abundance of nature has led Africans to spend more time in contemplation than fighting for survival. There are thousands of proverbs and aphorisms around the continent, but the major ones on ‘patience’ are the following: Patience is the key which solves all problems - Sudanese proverb; To run is not necessarily to arrive - Swahili proverb; Always being in a hurry does not prevent death, neither does going slowly prevent living - Ibo proverb.

The wise Sun Tzu in his now famous treatise, ‘The Art of War’ teaches us something more besides passively waiting for the enemy. He teaches us to incite, lure and tempt the enemy into action.  As per Sun Tzu, patience is about preparing ourselves first and then waiting for the right opportunity to arise. Some feel that waiting is the harder to do than attack or defence. Here are the quotes about getting ready and then wait…

[03.21] (4) One who is prepared and waits for the unprepared will be victorious;

[04.01] In ancient times, those skilled in warfare made themselves invincible and then waited for the enemy to become vulnerable.

[05.15] They offer bait that which the enemy must take, manipulating the enemy to move while they wait in ambush.

[09.11] When the rainwater rises and descends down to where you want to cross, wait until it settles.

[10.08] For steep ground, if you occupy it first, occupy the high on the sunny side and wait for the enemy.


3 powerful ways modern leaders can practice patience in the workplace are by 

  1. Changing lenses to perspectivise: the subject’s lens, an objective by-stander lens and that of a trusted resource.
  2. Mindfulness, Listening and objective analysis of the situation
  3. Being Responsible Yourself


In modern times, we as a collective set seem to be people out of control. We need to learn to pause as per Maria Shriver in her now famous graduation commencement speech. She said, “Pausing allows you to take a beat — to take a breath in your life. As everybody else is rushing around like a lunatic out there, I dare you to do the opposite”.

Important therefore, is to pause to take the time to find out what’s important to you, to pause before you report something you don’t know is absolutely true, to pause before you put a rumour out there as fact, to pause before you hit the “send” button, to pause before you make judgments and to pause before forwarding the untrue and inflammatory trivia.

Gita, the ancient Hindu text states that, “Our own mind acts as an enemy if we do not control it. Little by little, through patience and repeated effort, the mind will become stilled in the self. The confusion and chaos generated by anger leads to memory loss. Never lose your focus and never underestimate the virtue of patience."

Elon Musk says, “Patience is a virtue and I am learning patience. It’s a lough lesson.” Leaders who are unable to practice patience find their leadership challenged and their careers short-lived. 

“However long the night, the dawn will break,” as goes the famous African proverb.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Piyush Sharma

Piyush Sharma is a modern management practitioner and ancient philosophy enthusiast

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