What Are You Waiting For?

City street with a long line of parked cars and a line of cars at a stop sign

Have you ever wondered how much of your life you spend waiting in line? A line at the grocery store. A line at the post office. A line at the passport office. A line at the stop light. A line at the movie theater. And the best of all, a line at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

You’ve probably waited in line for documents, food, drinks, tickets and answers. Some of these are worthwhile. I don’t mind waiting in line for a great meal or a ticket to my favorite sports team. On the other hand, there are things I don’t really care to wait in line for, such as mailing a package or getting a license renewed. But the worst is waiting in line to give someone else my hard-earned money (even when it’s an exchange of money for goods or services). For example, when I’m at a department store, hardware store, or grocery store and I have to wait to check out, I can lose my patience quickly. Why? You’re a store, I’m trying to give you my hard-earned money and you’re making me wait. My time is valuable. Ugh! The same thing applies to paying tuition. I remember once waiting in line for almost 30 minutes to pay my tuition. Ugh!

Yes, I know that it’s an exchange and some of you may think that I’m spoiled and experiencing a 1st World problem because I should be thankful I have the money and have an opportunity to attend classes and get an education. That makes logical sense, but my emotional self sees waiting in line as a major loss, a cost. Perhaps what all this really reveals is the value I place on things, services and my time. It’s an equation after all, right? An ROI of sorts. Being a Quality Time person (see Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman), I place a high value on my time. Things such as clothing, household goods, and automotive products are not that valuable to me. Perhaps if they were, I wouldn’t mind waiting 20 minutes in line to purchase the latest handbag from a well-know and highly sought after designer. Education is something I value, but I probably view quick, self-service type (e.g. online) checkout as an entitlement. Yes, I’m glad to have an educational opportunity, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy waiting to exchange my money for that privilege.

Yet despite my disdain for waiting in general, I do it. Often. In fact, I’m currently waiting. Aren’t you? I’m waiting for my next development opportunity. I’m waiting for my daughter to graduate from college. I’m waiting on a physical move from Lincoln, Nebraska to Chicago. I’m waiting on a check that’s being mailed to me. I’m waiting my son’s wedding. And so on and so on. There are many more things I’m waiting on than the few I’ve listed here, including some that are very personal. Waiting. In lines. Waiting. Without lines. Waiting. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t waiting nor do I foresee a time when I won’t be waiting.

Waiting is part of life and sometimes, as great leaders know, it’s necessary. Sometimes there isn’t a large ROI but the waiting is required. Other times there is a large ROI and the payout makes the waiting all worthwhile. Some things take time. But there are still other times when you’re waiting in line for nothing. Or for a small (or negative) ROI that isn’t required. It’s a choice.
Know when to get out of line and know when to stay in line. If you need to get out of line, be bold and do it. Stop waiting. If, after evaluation, you need to stay in line and wait, then do that. But know what you’re waiting for. Great leaders in all walks of life continually evaluate and know what they’re waiting for. Do you?

Avoid two common mistakes: 1) Staying in line unnecessarily just because you’ve already waited 30 minutes (aka the concept of “sunk costs”) and 2) Getting out of line just went you’re about to receive the benefit of your wait (aka “stopping at the 1-yard line” to use a football reference). Know when to stop waiting and when to keep waiting. This takes evaluation, discernment, and reflection. But if you exercise this “muscle” it will become easier over time and you’ll get better at it.

Examine your “world” this week. Where are you waiting? Do you know what you’re waiting for? Is it required? Worthwhile? If so, keep waiting. If not, be bold and get out of line. Hope you have a great week.

is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.

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