Impatience was one of my worst traits. Back then, I was easily annoyed by the things people do, and I’d be unapologetically sarcastic when I didn’t like what someone said. However, I discovered that when my impatience got the better of me, I really didn’t like that version of myself.
A few years ago, I travelled to Japan with my mother for the first time. We only had a few days in Kyoto, and we decided to cram all the major temples within a single day. After weeks of planning our itinerary, the day finally arrived. We laced up our shoes and began our mother-daughter adventure.
It started off badly. I underestimated the bus routes in Kyoto, and found ourselves lost in the middle of a local town. We tried asking for directions and followed the map, but still couldn’t find our way to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
Amplified by exhaustion and hunger, I got really frustrated after wasting so much time figuring out the routes. When my mother asked about lunch, I replied rudely, “Well, I don’t know. How about YOU take this map and tell us where to go? I’m tired of answering all of your questions!”
Whenever I think of that moment, I’m still shocked at my own reaction even after all these years.
Almost as soon as I snapped at her, I felt remorse. Did I just yell at my mother for asking about lunch? I’ve never felt more of an asshole in my entire life. From that moment on, I knew I need to change. I decided to address my impatience once and for all.
To be honest, it wasn’t easy. I’ve always been an impatient person. Changing my behaviour was challenging to say the least. Ironically, I needed the one trait I didn’t have to change my behaviour – patience.
While I’m still trying to improve myself, here’s what I’ve learned to help cultivate patience in any situation.
When dealing with difficult people
This is the hardest part for me because difficult people are so damn annoying to deal with. During my younger barista days, dealing with people was part of the job. While most of the people I met were cheerful and pleasant, there were a few who really got on my nerves.
I once had a customer who yelled in front of the entire cafe about the smoked salmon sandwich he ordered. “Are you kidding me? How dare you serve me a cold salmon sandwich? This is the worst restaurant ever!”
My initial shock turned into burning humiliation. I blushed crimson with embarrassment, and rushed to the kitchen with the customer’s serving of cold salmon. In a rage, I told my store manager about what happened. How dare he shout at me like that? How can he not know that smoked salmon is served cold? Has he not eaten sashimi before in his entire life?
After listening to my side of the story, my store manager did one thing that surprised me. He picked up the freshly-made, warm sandwich from my hand, marched to the customer, and gave the customer his sincerest apology.
What my manager did to diffuse the situation was replace the frustrated party (me) with another calmer and more patient person (him). My manager knew that if it had been me who served the customer again, I might blow up at his face. The last thing he wanted was for the situation to escalate.
The basic rule of dealing with difficult people, is to remove yourself from the situation. Give yourself the space to cool down and vent all those built-up emotions to an unaffected party. If you find that you’re not able to cool down, get someone else to step in for you.
When your food arrives late
There’s a reason why “hangry” is an official word. This one time, my family and I had dinner at Oldtown White Coffee. Once we were comfortably seated, I ordered my usual: Ipoh Chicken Hor Fun.
Waiting 15-20 minutes for my food is acceptable, but that day, my order never made it even after 45 minutes. My family was already mid-way through dinner, and I was still waiting for my Hor Fun to arrive.
The moment I saw the same Hor Fun being served to a table later than mine, my blood boiled. I called the wait staff and raised my voice. “Where’s my food? I ordered the same food and they got theirs first!” The wait staff apologised and finally served my order 10 minutes later.
You might be thinking, “Hey, that was the right thing to do”, but there’s always a better way to solve an issue without raising your voice at someone. When we paid our bill, one of wait staff approached me again to apologise for my late dinner.
“We’re short-handed today because it’s the second day of Chinese New Year”.
She was right. The restaurant swelled when I left, and the wait staff were doing all they can to serve the dinner crowd. I felt horrible. The situation definitely could’ve been handled better.
The next time I experienced this situation, I took the time to analyse why my food hasn’t arrived. How many wait staffs are managing the floor? Has the table before mine received all of their orders? How long have I been waiting for my food? It’s helped me be less emotional about my order.
Just to clarify, I don’t mean you should wait for your food in silence until the cows come home. If you’re not being served within 20 minutes or so, remind the wait staff politely about your order.
Being patient allows you to stay polite regardless of the situation. Being emotional and angry hurts others as well as ourselves.
When you’re stuck in traffic
We all know Malaysian traffic is insufferable. During rush hour, it’s easy to get frustrated when you’re caught in a standstill. Since traffic jams in Malaysia are unavoidable, you might as well take it easy and have fun with it.
Personally, I use this time to practice my imaginary version of Carpool Karaoke, (without James Corden being in my driver’s seat). Despite my awful mezzo-soprano range, I enjoy belting 90s classic or Top 40s loudly when I’m on the road. Other times, I sing to Westlife, Shania Twain, The Corrs, and other sing-a-long from the 90s.
Aside from lifting my mood, it distracts me from focusing on the slow crawl ahead.
Recently, I gained a new habit of listening to podcasts too. My current favourites are The New York Times’ Modern Love (real-life stories about love and loss), 51 First Dates (two BFFs who went on a 51 dates experiment), and Girlboss Radio with Sophia Amoruso (Girlboss founder interviews inspiring women in business and beyond). While looking for new podcasts, I’ve discovered that there’s always something new to learn.
For knee-slapping laughs, comedians Kevin Hart and Jay Pharoah’s Spotify tracks crack me up. It makes the slow crawl through the LDP bearable, and even fun sometimes.
When you argue with your loved ones
As much as I love my family, we sometimes annoy the hell out of each other. Some days I’ll have a fantastic time with my siblings, while other days we’re at each other’s throats.
One time, my father and I were debating about my new car. What started as a small discussion escalated into a heated argument. Being his daughter, I inherited his tendency to never back down. Consequently, we bickered and the situation escalated with me slamming my bedroom door. Someone had to give up, and I decided to throw in the towel first.
I wish I could share a wise way to resolve family conflicts, but my family is wired differently. When Elton John wrote “Sorry seems to be the hardest word”, he probably wrote it with my family in mind.
We never apologise to each other. Ever. We cool down, let it slide, and pretend like nothing happened. Does this method work? Crazily enough, yes. Maybe because we’re not very expressive. Or maybe because we argue so much that it’s became normal. Or maybe, Elton John was right.
Still, I wouldn’t want to impart you with potentially bad advice, so here’s my official tip if you’re dealing with a difficult family member.
Just like my first point earlier, first, remove yourself from a heated situation. Second, try to calm down and analyse the situation within your own personal space. Third, place yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to see things from their perspective.
When you feel that both of you are finally ready to talk to each other, hold hands while facing each other and sing Kumbaya into each other’s eyes.
Sorry, I meant to say share your feelings with each other and come up with a solution that benefits both sides.
Wait, did I just say sorry?
When you have to queue forever for something
Screw, nasi lemak. If there’s another thing that Malaysians should be proud of, it’s our freaking patience for queues.
Seriously. Has the world seen us queuing for nasi kandar at midnight? Have they seen us queuing at the petrol station before a fuel price hike? Have they seen us queuing (or more like, stampeding) for iPhone demo units at Switch’s Warehouse Clearance Sale?
Someone give us a gold medal!
While Malaysians are blessed our patience for queues, there are times when our supply runs dry. Oddly, it happens when we’re in the bank, immigration office, or KFC.
Once, I waited 45 minutes to return my Zalora parcel to the post office. Part of me wanted to roll my eyes or yawn loudly, but I did what everyone else did: Play with my phone. Sure, it’s a great distraction, but there’s no reason why it can’t be productive too.
While I waited for my turn, I managed and organised the little things on my phone. I used this time to reply emails, unsubscribe from annoying newsletters, and delete screenshots of motivational quotes from my phone. If I’m still in queue, I’ll sort out my Spotify playlist and remove songs I don’t listen to anymore, like Luis Fonsi’s Despacito.
Not only did my turn arrive before I knew it, but I also developed a positive way to avoid impatience. Time flies when you’re being focused and productive. In hindsight, maybe having our phones is the reason why we Malaysians are so damn good at queuing.