Throughout our lives, we’re told to be a little more patient. From our parents when we complained while waiting in line for a rollercoaster, from our friends when they’re taking forever to get dressed (seriously Sarah, you don’t need to spend two hours getting dolled up for the movies), and even from our managers when we think we’re ready for a promotion or to take on new responsibilities.
But how often are we really in the wrong? And how often is our impatience, well, acceptable?
The thing is, like some “bad” qualities, impatience can be a good thing in the right setting. It’s a driving force for some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, and one could argue nothing would get done if we never questioned how fast something should take.
Here are three times your eagerness can be bad for your career, and three times it’s actually beneficial:
It’s Hurting it If: You Expect Big Results Right Away
You know this, but the higher your expectations, the more disappointed you’ll ultimately be when they aren’t met. So, when we’re impatient that something’s taking too long to get off the ground, or our careers are moving too slow, we never fully appreciate the small strides we make along the way.
Achieving some of your biggest goals will take time—and often, they’ll take multiple tries and consist of many failures. Rather than twiddle your thumbs expecting everything good to happen right now, be patient that things will happen at the right moment, when you’ve put in the right amount of effort.
It’s Helping it if: You Know Things Should Happen Sooner
That said, some things go on longer than you know they should—maybe you’ve done this before in past jobs or know from experience that something’s off.
Let your impatience question systems that are outdated, inefficient, or slow—even if you can’t directly change them, you can often start productive conversations on ways to do things better.
It’s Hurting it If: You’re Too Quick to React
You sent someone an email yesterday, and they haven’t gotten back to you yet, so you send them a follow-up email. Then another one two days later. Then you ping them on Slack to see if they got your message.
In the day to day, being impatient in how you communicate will only lead people to ignore you or dislike working with you. No one likes a nag.
Give people the respectable amount of time to do something, and trust they’ll get it done (and when they don’t meet your deadlines, then you can follow up).
It’s Helping it If: You’re Proactive
However, if your impatience just means that you’re eager to get involved and help out, that’s OK.
The people who spin their impatience into a positive thing do so by focusing on what they can do rather than what they need from others.
Otherwise, when you find yourself getting antsy over someone else’s delay, ask yourself: What systems can I create to encourage people to work faster? What pieces can I do without them? What can I get started now to make it easier for them to finish later?
It’s Hurting it If: You Want to Move Up Before You’re Ready
If you’re six months into your job, you probably won’t get promoted. If you’re 23, you’re probably not qualified for a C-level position. If you’re three weeks into a new role, you probably won’t get to represent that next big account.
These are unfortunately the realities of your career. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule (we all know a friend of a friend who got promoted after only three months), but for the most part, you shouldn’t expect a raise or promotion or some other big career opportunity before you’re truly ready for—and you’ve earned—it.
It’s Helping it If: You Find Ways to Challenge Yourself
That said, some of that impatience might just be a form of ambition. Maybe you’re not qualified for a position bump, but you’ve mastered your job and are ready for more responsibility, so you talk to your boss about taking on new projects. Or, you pick up a side gig. Or, you decide to learn to code so you can fix your site’s problems on your own.
Impatience can be an amazing thing when it’s converted into drive. It forces you to think of new and different places to take your career, push yourself a bit further, and ultimately achieve your goals.
Impatience gets a bad rap, and sometimes for good reason. However, when you choose to turn it into something productive and motivating, it can have a huge, positive effect on your career.
The key is knowing when it’s acceptable to push forward, and when it’s better to wait it out.
Photo of person checking time courtesy of d3sign/Getty Images.
As Editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. Her work has been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., Motto, CNBC's Make It, USA Today College, Lifehacker, Mashable, and more. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author