How to Be Patient, From a Self-Described Impatient Person

Lessons on embracing the asshole in your brain — and taming it

Nicole Peeler
Human Parts
Published in
8 min readAug 15, 2019


Illustration: DanielVilleneuve/Getty Images

I’ll never forget the time a good friend said to me, “You’re so patient, Nicole.” And I looked back at her and yelled, “FUCK YOU!”

She blinked at me, clearly hurt and confused. I stared back, genuinely angry.

“Why would you say that?” I asked, believing that she was mocking me. “I’m not patient.”

“But you are,” she said. “You’re so patient.”

I felt like she’d poked me on a bruise, but I could also see she hadn’t intended her words as sarcasm. It began to dawn on me that maybe my friend had meant it when she called me, of all people, patient. That led me down another, more ominous path: Did my friend actually know me at all, if she thought I was patient?

I wasn’t simply being an asshole when I told her to fuck off. Rather, she’d touched on something I considered one of my most profound failings as a human being. I believed, and would often tell people, that I was fundamentally impatient, and that I struggled with my impatience as both a teacher and a person.

I’ve always thought of patience as innate. Either you have patience or you don’t. And that leads to my second assumption: I am not a patient person.

Patience, after all, may be a virtue, but it was never considered an important one in my extended family. My father was usually patient, and my mom is very patient in important aspects of her life, like her teaching. She was always shockingly patient when we really needed her to be. But the trouble really lay with my mom’s extended family, a den of codependency fostered by my grandmother, who seemed to believe family must love and torture each other in equal measure.

My grandma and her daughters are chatterboxes, and the daughters were always trying to dominate each other, even as they vied for their mother’s attention. This means they’re terrible conversationalists. They interrupt, talk over each other, roll their eyes, and make rude noises. My grandmother and my mom’s older sister, especially, do not care about trifles like history, facts, or the vagaries of subjective experience. Until I wised up and moved away, I was…