3 Ways to Practice Patience at Work

I sometimes think that Zen students and entrepreneurs are the most patient, and at the same time the least patient, people. Zen students spend long hours, days, and years, sitting, facing a wall, expecting nothing. Entrepreneurs spend a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money planning and working without knowing the results of their efforts. While Zen students and entrepreneurs exhibit great patience they are equally impatient when it comes to accepting anything less than perfection.

Basho, a Zen poet, wrote:

Fleas, lice

The horse pissing

Near my pillow

This poem describes the rawness of Basho’s life and his ability to describe things just the way they are. My poem for today could be something like:

Email not working

Employees out sick

Little accomplished

Our lives at work are filled with difficulty. People are late for meetings. Our ideas are not met with enthusiasm. Computers crash, restart, and crash again. Other people don’t meet our expectations. Our overnight package is lost. Relationships become impossible. Cash shortages are threatening, and businesses fail. Patience requires that we fully and directly face our difficulties, that we embrace and learn from situations and from our feelings about them. Owning and transforming our pain and disappointment can be a tremendous challenge, as well as a tremendous gift.

Patience is what connects the entrepreneurial spirit required in business with facing the truth of what is actually required in Zen practice. It takes patience to face the truth of where we are in our work lives. The truth may include the pain of not meeting expectations, a variety of messy and challenging situations facing us each day, as well the possibilities of transformation and great accomplishment.

Next: 3 ways to practice patience at work

Zen describes several kinds of patience that can be practiced at work: acceptance of difficulty and hardship, not acting hastily, and acceptance of what is true. Let’s explore these.

Acceptance of difficulty. Our lives at work can be transformed when we completely accept that difficulty is to be expected and cannot be avoided. This doesn’t mean we take the negative attitude of “what will go wrong today?” Instead, we just pay attention to our own state of mind. We make our best effort. We meet each situation as it arises.

Not acting hastily. Given how difficult, unpredictable, and stressful our work lives can be, it is easy to respond quickly and impatiently. In difficult situations, just stop, think, and look more carefully at what really is the cause of the difficulty. When your computer crashes you can get upset and yell at whoever is in charge of your computer systems. Or, when your computer crashes, what if you just stop, take a breath, and notice your breathing, notice what is around you.

Acceptance of what is true. Most of our impatience comes from our wanting things to be different from what they are. Our overnight package did not arrive overnight. This is just true. There is nothing we can do to change what is. We can take actions to expedite the package’s delivery, but this action includes accepting what is difficult, not acting hastily, and accepting what is true.

Some questions:

When are you patient and when you are impatient at work?

What is most difficult for you at work?

What part of this difficulty do you create?

How can you transform this difficulty?

Adapted from Z.B.A. Zen of Business Administration.


Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga4 years ago


Mark F.
Mark F4 years ago

Thanks for a different perspective.

Thomas P.
Thomas P5 years ago

One of my best friends taught me her version of the 24 hour rule. She taught me to wait 24 hours before reacting to someone who is very close to you after he/she has said something to upset you, and also to wait 24 hours before you write something to someone you are very close to, and read it again the next day after writing it. This has helped me to choose to act reasonably often times when I might have reacted hastily.

Kenneth D.
Kenneth Davies6 years ago


J.L. A.
JL A6 years ago

Starting with a deep breath can enable patience.

Emma S.
Emma S6 years ago

Patience is something that I'm still working at. But, if I'm not actually writing to a deadline, sometimes I secretly love it when the internet goes down - and I realise all the other things I can do instead. I get so much done when I'm not having to be my computer's handmaiden!

heather g.
heather g6 years ago

This statement is something I always try to remain concious of: "Most of our impatience comes from our wanting things to be different from what they are."
On the other hand, I believe there is not much wrong in expecting a certain standard of service. Last week an employee gave three of us different incorrect information when we asked a certain question. We asked another person to delve deeper, as in the past I had been discriminated by this organisation. Following this, this customer service clerk claimed she had misunderstood all 3 requests. I heaved a sigh of relief to learn that she was not discriminating against me - as her boss had done - but that perhaps the staff who were employed by the boss all had to have one common characteristic..... poor customer service !

Naga Choegyal
Naga Choegyal6 years ago

"And oftentimes excusing of a fault
Doth make the fault the worse by the excuse."

— King John, Act IV, sc. ii

Naga Choegyal
Naga Choegyal6 years ago

I have one question: more than one of the great (famous) buddhist masters have been recorded as temperamental and irascible....at what point in their meditation career did they exhibit such personality traits?

Are we truly being true to our innermost nature by suppressing our natural adrenalin responses, or are we obsequiously subscribing to dominant societal norms? - by being "good children", "good students", "good workers" - seen and not heard.

True detachment is not indifference, it is "holy indifference" which may well include detachment from ones own exasperation with inequable situations.

Jennifer C.
Past Member 6 years ago

Great info. Thanks.