In June of 2011, when I decided that I would spend two years of my life cycling around Eurasia and learning to be a journalist, I never would have guessed that the hardest part would be the waiting. But that is what is has been. Before I left, there were five months of waiting—waiting on sponsors to come through, waiting on equipment, waiting on deep winter to pass. Now I am in Kyrgyzstan, waiting, for a month, on an elusive Chinese visa.
It seems that waiting has been a key part of everything I’ve ever tried to accomplish. When I worked as a fundraiser in college, I spent days waiting on contacts to call me back, waiting for the perfect moment, in meeting after meeting, to make a big donation ask. Now that I am a journalist, I spend days waiting on a key source to give me an interview, hours posted on the scene to get a clean photograph.
This phenomenon is not reserved for my professions. Mountain climbers watch the weather for days, even weeks, before making a summit push. Good investors hold their fire until the perfect confluence of events—a freeze in California that drives up the price of orange juice, a Fed announcement that drops the interest rates—before making a major commitment.
In any case, the difficult part of waiting is not the emptiness. Time can always be filled with distractions, or other projects. Rather, it is the restlessness that strikes when momentum is gone, the pessimism that can infect a project too long idle. It makes my soul scream. Sometimes, when I’m waiting, I get up early and make lists of things I don’t really need to do. I stress over this or that detail that I cannot change, I scramble my mind desperately for any little task that I can accomplish that will move a project forward. Sometimes I find one, but sometimes I invent one and convince myself it is mission critical.
The problem with my reaction is that most goals are not like physical journeys, where progress can be nibbled down mile by mile. No. The path to accomplishment is marked by major events, and most times there aren’t very many between me and my goal. This might be an interview with an insider source that breaks the story wide open. A green light from a major editor. A bureaucracy that finally clears a visa and pastes the sticker into my passport.
To be sure, these major events are the product of persistence. But they are also the progeny of luck, and a confluence of events that I do not fully control. To get that visa, the embassy has to be open. To get that interview, the source has to be in town and willing to talk. Maybe the source has to be feeling lucky that day. Who knows? I know all I can really do is wait and keep trying, until things align in my favor. They almost always do, with enough time.
The idea that good things are worth working for is forged deep into our culture, hammered into every child from the moment they can begin household chores. But it is only half the story. The truth is that good things are also worth waiting for. Sometimes it’s better to stop hustling and lie in wait for the right moment, the perfect alignment of events with which to seize a major milestone.
Sometimes, as you watch, you’ll discover a new opportunity or idea you’d never thought of. A new way to the finish line. Or sometimes you’ll just stop stressing and have fun. Who knew Kyrgyzstan could be so awesome?