How To Wield The Power Of Patience In The Face Of Career Doubt

By Jennifer O’Callaghan

This past year, I’ve had endless advice flood my social media feed about how to pivot your career and come out on top. In the days of zoom fatigue and disconnection from colleagues, I’ve combed these posts, seeking the work hacks that would stand out from the rest. Perhaps in the form of a listicle with assertive steps to grasp a sense of control during a shaky time. But, to my surprise, the takeaway that really stayed with me was in the form of a simple quote from Sir Isaac Newton. As he put it, “If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been due more to patient attention than to any other talent.” 

These words stopped me in my tracks. Perhaps, because, by nature, I’ve always been impatient. As a fiery Aries, when I get a brainwave, I have to execute quickly, so I don’t waste time or fall behind. From a certain angle, this could be viewed as proactive, but on the flipside, this logic has caused me to abandon projects too quickly and overlook valuable experiences that weren’t obvious at first. I’d always held the mystical idea that once I found my passion, things would automatically fall into place.

Just like in the film ‘Working Girl’ when Melanie Griffith’s character gets her first big business deal against all odds, and lands the corner office by the closing credits. But real life is different than that. Things tend to evolve in a more gradual, and disjointed way. In my fairy tale depiction, I made the assumption that an opportunity wasn’t worth chasing if it didn’t appear immediately.

We live in a world of instant gratification, though not one of instant fulfillment. To find your soulmate, all you need to do is swipe right. With a great filter or the right dance moves, you can become an overnight TikTok celebrity. We’re used to getting everything at warp speed. With advancements in technology and the way we live, current society has taught us to focus mainly on where we are at this moment, not where we’ll be in the future. Needless to say, this school of thought isn’t the best way to plan a fulfilling career.

The fact is that finding your purpose on a deep level takes time. When building success happens slowly and steadily, it can be more trusted and attainable in the long run. My career trajectory has zig zagged all over the map. Sales, tv reporting, finance, acting. It’s been a series of merry go rounds and detours that have sometimes led back to where I started. Now, I’m happy to say I’m on a road that holds true meaning. But first, I had to let go of these pesky mental habits, and replace them with much healthier ones. 

Don’t get Hung Up On The Setbacks

Career progression isn’t just an uphill battle- it’s an up and downhill battle, meaning that nobody improves in a straight line. The peaks and the valleys are what actually help you move forward in life. Peaks remind you of where you’re headed. Valleys push you to keep going.

Life’s setbacks don’t spare anybody, even the most successful people. Spanx founder Sara Blakely has always been vocal about embracing failure along the way. 

“When I was growing up, my dad would encourage my brother and I to fail. When I did fail at something, he’d high-five me,” she told Business Insider, “ What I didn’t realize at the time was that he was completely reframing my definition of failure at a young age. To me, failure means not trying; failure isn’t the outcome.” 

It’s important to go through these inevitable pitfalls, as long as we don’t wallow or get locked into negative spirals. It’s about adjusting expectations, and understanding nothing worth having comes without weathering a few storms. 

Take It One Accomplishment At A Time

Have you ever taken on a huge task all at once, convinced you could handle it, but later, found yourself  overwhelmed, and ready to quit? Biting off more than you can chew at once leads to a loss of motivation as soon as you hit a bump in the road. But, sometimes all it takes is some proactive calendar shuffling. If we break our goals down into bite size tasks and combine them with a truly realistic timeframe, we can accomplish more than we realized possible.

Another advantage is that we’ll keep building momentum and a heightened morale through each small accomplishment. It may take longer, but with our goal in smaller pieces, the effect will build gradually, until we’ve advanced by leaps and bounds. 

Find True Meaning In What You Do

You’d be surprised how much harder being patient is when you’re not passionate about your goals. Believe me, I’ve been there. I spent two years chasing a career in finance, solely because I believed I’d make better money. But if I was truly being honest, I didn’t have a passion for the industry, or even a strong curiosity about the stock market. I realized this one day when I observed a colleague light up with excitement when we discussed stock portfolios. At that moment, I knew I wanted to find something that made me come alive in the same way. Thank goodness my answer eventually came in the form of writing. 

Inspired action is different than aimlessly throwing things at the wall in hopes that something will stick. Take time to develop goals centered around your passions, and observe as each accomplishment leads you closer to work you care about.

Working in the rewarding but sometimes unpredictable world of publishing and media, I’ve had projects begin, pause, die, and then resuscitated to start the cycle all over again. I remind myself to embrace the failures the same way I do the successes. The world works on its own clock, and keeping a steady and patient mind is important when navigating rough seas. In dealing with a world pandemic over the past year, things have felt uncertain for many of us. But we must hold onto our faith and knowledge that as long as we stick with what we love, we will find our reward.

Jennifer O’Callaghan is a Toronto-based journalist and entrepreneur. She has a background in broadcasting and theatre. She also loves to write about creativity and self empowerment. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.