Overcast sky, humid and still air, chaotic flow of humans, and broken subway gantries. “What a perfect start to the morning,” I thought to myself just as a sweaty man nudge me aside to jump the queue to the one, lonesome operational gantry.

The line will clear ever so steadily as several commuters ready their subway cards or phones to tap on the gantry scanner, but every now and then, there’ll be one or two commuters who only decide to whip out their cards at the last moment, often fumbling and delaying the queue.

When that happens, I’ll hear a few tsks and annoyed faces while I curse internally, letting out a deep but silent sigh with my mouth closed. When I finally cross the gantry, my next hurdle is the escalator – not every commuter knows to stand on the left so people in a hurry can pass. Either that or someone will suddenly stick their bag or leg out to the right side.

The frustration really gets to my head as the escalator slowly descends to reveal that the train is here, but several inconsiderate people are blocking the escalator’s “express lane”. As the inevitable beeping alert sounds off and the doors slowly close, I just stare in frustration that my morning commute just got even more unpleasant.

When we have a specific expected outcome from our efforts, it frustrates us when it’s either revealed that the outcome is going to be different or we’ll need to put in more effort than expected.

Impatience hits us real hard when we’re too eager to achieve that expected outcome, and any challenges or roadblocks that we encounter get blown out of proportion, making us irritable and aggressive even.

Even the most patient of people would fall victim to their zeal in reaching their intended destination. In the best-case scenario, a reminder to practise self-awareness could bring one back on track. But the more committed one is in the pursuit of an elusive goal, the bigger the disappointment when the expedition eventually fails.

In today’s context, time is so compressed we have countless of options at every moment. We can be listening to a podcast and browsing Instagram while commuting, replying chats with multiple people and groups. Just one second more than usual of loading time while switching between our mobile apps is enough to stir some impatience internally.

The illusion of control we have over our surroundings because of technology makes us feel as though time is just at our fingertips. Want a meal? Just call for delivery. Running late? Whip out a private hire app and get picked up within minutes. Need a new laptop? Order online and pay a small premium for same-day delivery.

Any delay in our intended schedule would make us feel as though we’re getting shortchanged, owed a living, and robbed of our precious time that can be used on something else that gives us that dopamine fix.

After what seemed like hours, I finally step foot in the train cabin, finding a standing spot just in shoulder distance away from the handgrips, in case I lose my footing as the train sways occasionally mid-journey. I pulled out my phone and play my favourite Korean song playlist while engaging in my morning read.

I have a mini heart attack as I see the reception strength of my mobile data weaken. I quickly opened the mobile browser to load the article I was looking forward to reading to realise it’s a few moments too late. Impatience gets over me, overpowering all rational thought – I try switching the airplane mode on and off, turning my mobile data off and on, to no avail.

Of course – the subway is in a tunnel where my choice of telecommunications provider’s data connection enters a black box. Although I have other reads available offline, my plan to read it matters so much in this very moment that it’s impossible to change my intended action. So I just have to wait for my mobile data to come back online.

As I exit the gantry, I pull out my phone once again to check the bus arrival time – that way, I know whether I need to walk faster than usual, stick to a comfortable pace, or take a stroll.

Five minutes to the bus’s arrival. To be on the safe side, I pick up my stride so I would reach in no longer than three minutes. I place my full concentration on avoiding every other person in my path so I can reach the bus stop in my expected timeframe. Every few steps, I would look at the bus arrival app again, tapping on the refresh button, to make sure I’m ahead of the bus.

Impatience stems from an unconscious selfishness wired in our survival instincts and “lizard brain”, the amygdala. Everyone has an innate leaning towards self-preservation as the default response to what happens to us, especially when we’re in a foreign environment.

Some people who have more patience are more resilient to the modern entitlement most of us suffer from because of our ignorance about privilege. While we all don’t want to appear impatient since it’s not a desirable trait, the unconscious selfishness deep in our brains tends to come to the forefront when a situation doesn’t go as we played it out in our heads.

In other words, we usually get impatient when the outcome falls short of our expectations, especially when it involves effort that seems more than reasonable and required.

Just as I’m reaching the bus stop, I tap on the refresh button and to my horror, the word “Left” replaced “3 MINS” beside the bus number I’m supposed to take. I quickly sprint to the bus stop, which was just 50 metres away to see the bus already more than 10-car distance away.

Perspiration forming at the back of my neck from the sprint and slight rage at the app’s inaccuracy, I stood helpless and defeated at the bus stop as I see that the next bus is a good 15 minutes away. What’s worse is it’s highlighted in red, a colour code for possible delays because of heavy traffic.

As I think back in frustration, I blame the people on the escalator at the subway station for preventing me from getting on the earlier train, the sweaty man who jumped queue, and the people who fumbled with their cards and phones only when it was their turn at the payment gantry.

Albeit at the root of it all, my impatience is the only reason why I feel I’ve been wronged. We can only control how we react to our situations, not how the situation turns out because there are so many ways it can go the way we least expect.

About the author

Vance Wong

Brain-picker. Cinephile. Koreaboo.

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by Vance Wong


Vance Wong

Brain-picker. Cinephile. Koreaboo.