The Challenge of Patience


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(Photo: Cassidy Kelley.)

[I] was working in a café when I realized my true professional calling: leading coffee education and trainings. I had all the skills necessary to be a success—I was comfortable speaking in front of large groups, I had a couple years of experience behind the bar, I was passionate about people and their development, and I had a sparkling sense of humor that made me a delight to listen to. I had even read a book called Now, Discover Your Strengths that showed me my strengths aligned perfectly with a career path as an educator.

I excitedly shared my epiphany and supporting evidence with my manager, who told me that no, I wasn’t ready to do that, and handed me a different book to read: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.

A little on the nose, don’t you think?

Frustrated that my career vision wasn’t being supported, I started looking for other jobs at places that did value me and my particular skill set. One company seemed genuinely excited about the prospect of having me on their training team, and they offered me an interview. I nailed it. I made a clear and concise case for why my experience aligned with their needs, and they were sold. In a couple weeks, I was told, the job will probably be yours.

Thirteen months later, I started my first day as their new trainer. In the intervening year, I held two other jobs, pretended to move to Kentucky (a column for another time), and finally received a job offer. Every morning between my interview and the day I was offered the job, I woke up wondering if this was going to be the day. Four hundred days of waiting. My patience was tried, but also rewarded.

Patience is the state of mind you live in between the time you know you’re ready for a job, and the time you actually get it. Often, that takes longer than you think it should. While you’re waiting, there are a couple mistakes you might want to avoid making. I already made them for you! Learn from my foolishness.

What if I hadn’t taken the gift of a book as a slap in the face, and instead saw it for what it actually was—an attempt to help me develop into the person I wanted to be?

First, don’t stop developing yourself. You think you’ve arrived at the necessary qualifications to get the job you want, but maybe you haven’t. Maybe your skills are great, but you lack experience. Experience, frustratingly enough, takes time to develop. Knowledge is awesome, but wisdom—the ability to apply knowledge—is much more valuable.

I can speak very comfortably in front of a group of people, but the ability to handle interruptions, off the wall questions, distractions, uninterested audiences, and a host of other issues came with practice and time. When I “knew” I was ready to be the trainer for that first company, I was wrong. It took time and a lot more practice for me to get to the point where hiring me to train baristas was a wise decision for any company.

Second—and this may be even more important—don’t fill your resume with short stints at a bunch of companies to show how experienced you are. Stay somewhere. The company you work for now may not be able to promote you or give you the job you want, but leaving because you think another company will can lead down a slippery slope. Chasing the promotion carrot from job to job and company to company shows commitment to no one except yourself. While you most certainly should advocate for yourself, showing loyalty and commitment will go a long way toward getting you to the place where you’re as promotable as you believe yourself to be.

If I had stayed at some of the companies that I left because they didn’t see me the way I saw myself, I would have a much more enviable resume than I have today. Almost twenty years with Disney? Wow. Over a decade with Starbucks? Neat. Who knows where I could be with those organizations if I had been patient. What if I hadn’t taken the gift of a book as a slap in the face, and instead saw it for what it actually was—an attempt to help me develop into the person I wanted to be?

Back then, the only thing I thought about was myself. What does the company I work for owe me? What position have I earned that I deserve to get on my timeline? I look back now, and I’m thankful that I had managers see through my selfishness and give me a chance to grow. I didn’t deserve it, but they showed me grace anyway.

Don’t be like me. Be better than I was, and be willing to wait. Of course, don’t stay at a company that mistreats or abuses you. I’d never advocate for that. But be willing to consider the possibility that others will eventually see you as the incredible person that you are. You just need to be patient with them.

You may look back someday and be grateful that you were.

Nathanael May is the director of coffee and green coffee buyer for Portland Roasting Coffee.

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