Patience vs. Complacency

Patience vs. Complacency

I was talking to someone the other day about a work issue. He is fairly junior and is working on a project that does not particularly engage him. A few months ago, he asked his supervisor if he could split his time between the boring project and a new project that looked a lot more interesting. His supervisor agreed and planned to move him, but external events intervened and he had to stay on that project. Just this week, however, things changed again and it looked like he could move. So he went and talked to his supervisor again about shifting part of his time to something that aligns better with his skills and interests. The conversation went well. His supervisor was supportive, and it sounds as if the move will happen in about six weeks.

So far, so good. But he is very stressed about what to do next while waiting for the move to occur. He is concerned that, once again, something will derail his request. Based on our discussion, however, it sounds as if he has handled the matter well and done everything that is in his power to do. So we started talking about the need to be patient while waiting for the transition to be worked out, and he said, “Isn’t patience really just another name for complacency?” This got me thinking….

What is patience and what is complacency?

According to my handy on-line Merriam-Webster dictionary, “patient” means:

– able to remain calm and not become annoyed when waiting for a long time or when dealing with problems or difficult people
– done in a careful way over a long period of time without hurrying

And “complacent” means, “marked by self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.”

In other words, “Patience good. Complacency bad.”

Now I would say that the person to whom I was talking was not being complacent. He had thought things through, had taken good steps, and now has to wait. He was the opposite of self- satisfied. Furthermore, if he became impatient – i.e. was not able to remain calm and instead bugged his supervisor – he was likely to sabotage the good efforts he had made to date.

That being said, I think his question is an excellent question for our time. Most of us have seen our patience drop markedly with the advent of smart phones, faster and faster Internet connections, and 24-hour access to almost anything we want. We have forgotten that 25 years ago most people didn’t even have a computer or access to the Internet. Now we can basically have the Internet beamed into our brains via Google glasses.

And with all that technology, our tolerance for waiting for anything has dropped precipitously.

On the other hand, this growth in information often feels overwhelming. So much information comes at us so rapidly that we can’t make decisions and we don’t know which direction to turn. As a result, instead of making choices about our lives and what is important to us, we often just distract ourselves by absorbing random information.

Which brings me back to the question of patience versus complacency. It occurs to me that it is important to step back on a regular basis and ask yourself whether not taking some form of action is the right decision – i.e. you have done what you could and should do and now are being patient. Or whether it is the wrong decision – i.e. you are overwhelmed, stressed out, have stopped paying attention and are being complacent.

So next time you are waiting on someone to complete a project, or you are not sure whether you are where you could be in your career, examine the situation through the patience/complacency lens. It might help you decide what, if anything, to do next.



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