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Patience, Extended Social Distancing, and Other Impossible Things

Updated: May 17

When I was a child, my mother liked to tell me I couldn’t be a doctor because I had no patience. (If you’re wondering where my puntastic sense of humor originated, say hello to my mom!)


To this day, patience is still not my strong suit. I’m the totally professional adult jumping up and down and shouting at her computer that cannot seem to access the printer, which is one of the many reasons I started working from home before it became the thing to do.

I have been known to repeatedly stab at elevator buttons to try to get Otis to arrive faster, refresh online tracking pages in the hopes that my deliveries will appear sooner, and I have gotten remarkably close to flinging computer components out the window when they will not behave. (How can you not access printer, Mac? IT’S RIGHT HERE NEXT TO YOU!)

In short, I have always lived up to my mom’s joke about my chances for a career in medicine. I simply have no patience.

Unfortunately, patience is probably the world’s most important commodity right now, meaning I need to learn some slow-down tactics pretty damn quick. Here are some that I’m going to focus on in the next couple of weeks:

Take the Long View


While patience has never been my strong suit, there is one arena in which I am capable of more than my usual amount of patience: investing.


For some reason, setting money aside with the intention that I am not going to touch it for quite some time—and it’s going to do some impressive growing while I wait—has always come much easier to me than the kind of patience that is capable of sweetly asking a 6-year-old to put on his shoes for the 17th time in two minutes when one is already running late for school. (Not that I’m talking about a real situation that happens on a nearly daily basis in my house when school is in session).



I suspect part of my ability to take the long view with investments is the fact that I love being able to cross things off a to-do list. Once I’ve invested my money, whether it’s in a high-yield savings account, in a taxable investment account, or in my 401(k), all the action that I need to take for that money is already done, and I can let it leave my mind. Much like when I put dinner in a crockpot in the morning, I took care of the hard stuff (actually investing the money) already, and can just look forward to results when the time comes. I’m not frantically waiting for the money to GROW ALREADY since I don’t expect it to do so right away.

So what does that mean during this topsy-turvy time? There several ways to take the long financial view:

1. If you’re freaking out about your investments, remember that waiting for things to re-stabilize is a perfectly valid solution, even if your brain is screaming at you to DO SOMETHING. You don’t need to do anything and probably shouldn’t do anything.


2. If you’re wondering, as my friend Mae is, if you should cease contributing to your 401(k) or other investments during the coronavirus shutdown, taking the long view is also helpful. Do you have reason to believe that you will need that money for living expenses? If it seems likely (or highly possible) that you will be furloughed or laid off, then pausing your contributions and setting the money aside in a savings account could be the smart option. That will give you a cushion to help you if you need it, and if you don’t, you can always transfer the money into your investment account after things stabilize.


3. Don’t assume that things will be easier for your future self. We have a tendency to assume that our future selves will have more money, more time, more patience, and more willpower in the face of temptations than we currently do. Taking a long view of money means recognizing that we’re going to be just as cash-strapped, time-crunched, impatient, and lacking in self-discipline tomorrow as we are today. Set up systems in place now to make sure you make good decisions with your money later. For instance, that could mean having your tax refund or stimulus checks (if and when those come through) deposited in your savings account rather than your checking account, so you’re less likely to fritter them away with small purchases.

In terms of non-financial patience, taking the long view will also help make social distancing easier. We’re in for a long time at home, according to all the reputable sources. So, thinking about what routines, systems, habits, and reactions will make the long-term situation most livable is what’s going to help you maintain your patience over time.


I’ve already found that taking my dog for a walk first thing in the morning, and taking my kids out to play Pokemon Go in the afternoon, ensures that we’re all feeling our best. The dog isn’t antsy, the kids have something to look forward to each day and know what to expect, and I get at least two hours away from the anxiety-box (aka, my phone). On the days when I jump right into work or skip our afternoon jaunt to finish up my work, it may be easier in the moment, but it shortens my patience and will not be sustainable over time.


Properly Identify Where Your Impatience Comes From

Anytime I am in the midst of really good frustration yell—the kind where my ears turn red and I’m flailing my arms and legs about like the mature individual I am—I can tell you exactly where my impatience is emanating from: The no-good, dirty-rotten, productivity-stealing computer/slow driver/incorrect password/bad weather/etc is to blame for my outburst of extreme impatience.

Except it’s not. What’s causing my impatience is not the world outside of my head. That may be triggering my response, but it’s not the cause of it. No, my impatience is my own response to something not working the way I expected it to. Ultimately, my expectations and my response to seeing those expectations thwarted are what’s causing my impatience. Which means I actually have control over it.



This is way easier to understand in the abstract - when you are not currently in a death battle of wills with your computer to get it to recognize the damn printer that worked not 24 hours ago, MAC! But taking a moment to remember that nothing is specifically working to ruin your day can help you recognize that it’s your own response that’s doing the day-ruining/rage-vein-popping/blood-pressuring-raising. Just because you truly believe your printer is being a rat bastard doesn’t mean it’s out to get you. Take a moment, take a breath, walk away from the situation, and definitely don’t come back with a hammer, no matter how satisfying the idea of smashing a broken printer may be.

Since you are the author of your impatience, that means you can rewrite it. No matter what triggers it. This ain’t easy, but it can help keep you from making reactive, rushed, or angry choices.

Focus on Something You Love

One of my least favorite aspects of modern parenting is the constant admonitions to treasure every moment! I can recall being a walking zombie with two children under the age of 4 and hearing well-meaning veteran parents remind me of how much I would miss having tiny kids around someday.

This message is almost always proffered in a kind of finger-wagging way when it comes to parents. “You’re not appreciating what you have enough, parent whose under-eye bags have bags and whose clothes are covered in food, spit-up, and other substances too horrific to contemplate!” However, there is a germ of good advice hidden within this kind of message.


Specifically, when things are at their most overwhelming is an excellent time to stop and take stock of what you like about where you are. When my kids were babies, this meant taking a big snork of their sweet-smelling baby foreheads anytime they were quiet and calm. As they got older, it meant taking the time to focus on the sweet things they said or the feel of their tiny hands in mine. I wasn’t treasuring every moment, because diaper blowouts are a thing, but I was trying to hold lovely moments of their infancy in my memory. Those lovely moments made the harder stuff feel worth it.

In the midst of this weird and frightening time, making sure you stop to appreciate the lovely little things that you love about your current situation can help you weather the harder stuff with patience and grace. For me, I am very glad to be released from the twice-daily time crunch that was school drop off and pickup. I love hearing the wild and imaginative games the kids are coming up with while stuck inside. I appreciate the strange new routine our family has found.

None of this appreciation takes away my impatience, but it gives me something to focus on when I’m about ready to blow my top. The situation we’re in is overwhelming, but there are still little moments that I am glad we get to share.

Finding Patience in an Upside-Down World


Tough times have a way of magnifying both our virtues and our faults. Rather than simply allowing the current situation to determine my level of patience (or lack thereof), I’m going to do what I can to make sure I slow myself down and give the best of myself to those around me.

What are you doing to embrace patience during this time?



Note from Emily:


Things are chaotic right now. People are losing jobs or learning to work from home, kids are schooling online, and money is tight for a lot of families. 

I want to help. Book a free 15-minute call with me and we’ll create a plan for how you can weather this difficult time. I can guide you through getting your financials in order, creating a plan for your stimulus check or just help you prioritize your bills. 

Simple, easy, no catch, no push to hire me for more. I just want to help you be as financially secure as possible through all of this. Find a time and book your call here.

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© 2020 by Emily Guy Birken