Working for Government is an Endurance Sport

There is a policy at work I don’t agree with, and yesterday I poked my boss (again) to remind him that it doesn’t align with the direction that’s been set out for our organization. I asked him how I could help change it.

He said I could be patient.

I’ve been told to be patient before (surprise surprise). But this time it hit me differently. I think it’s because it finally occurred to me that being patient is not doing nothing; it’s doing something. Being patient doesn’t mean being complacent or giving up. It is a strategy to be implemented and a skill to be cultivated.

Working in a bureaucracy is a high endurance sport and (most of the time) we do it with composure and patience–qualities that I think are underrated and not acknowledged as being key skills needed to be a successful (and happy) public servant. We are deliberative and consult with a wide variety of people to determine the course of action that is most likely to yield the best results for the most amount of people, with the least amount of opportunity cost.

We wait a lot and think a lot, especially when we’re aiming to do something that will change rules and norms of the status quo. Yes, things take a long time sometimes, and it can get really frustrating, but it means that we avoid the problems that can arise with hasty or impulsive actions. Consulting with many colleagues, crossing silos, means that we’ll make progress together. Lives and quality of life are at stake, so really, it is our responsibility to take the time to think things through and crowdsource via wiki or in-person.

And we do eventually make progress, usually in a direction that makes the world a better place, particularly for citizens that live here. BC is a wonderful place to live (arguably The Best Place on Earth). A lot of this is thanks to a solid history of thoughtful and patient public servants persisting in the background.

So, maybe we should be more proud of being patient. We should add it to our job descriptions. Let’s acknowledge that as a community of public servants, we’re really good at it and there is value in it. Then, we can find ways to celebrate and hone the positive aspects of patience.

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Oohh…I love the title and the idea.

Also goes in well with the book “Bureaucracy” which actually has a positive take on the word – that it is actually good that bureaucracies move at a specific (somewhat slow) pace

The best leaders in big organizations like government know how to navigate…how to build allies, be patient, but also jump on an opportunity (like a new leader in place or end-of-year money or a new directive)

Andrew Krzmarzick

She’s back! Great post, Nina.

As evidence that I need to remind myself constantly of the importance of patience, a sign at the exit of my office:

The “Gratitude” part helps with patience, reinforcing the notion that “where I am at present is where I am supposed to be” such that the real transformation (and the more important one) is how I change…vs. forcing change where I have little control…because, ultimately, the only change that we can really control is within ourselves!

– GovLoop Love Guru

Sandy Ressler

There is a fine line between patience and “giving up”. I’ve seen people who persist and stick to an issue who succeed after an inordinate amount of time. I’ve also seen people simply give up waiting for change. It often becomes an issue of how hard to you push without ticking people off versus the desire to accomplish some change. It’s a balance like most things.

Peter Sperry

It is critical to remember that being patient actually requires a fairly high level of activity. You should be watching as well as waiting, observing changes in the environment that signal it may be time to move forward, identifying resources and allies that can help you be successful at the right moment, preparing plans and arguments so you can move quickly and defining performance metrics so you can be effective. All of these are tools of productive patience. Simply waiting for the organizational winds to change direction may seem like patience but will more often lead to disappointment than results.

Michael Lennon

Hello – I love this post.

I am committed to shifting the “endurance” experience to one of constructive engagement. Our team invites you (and the readers of this post) to join us in this ground-breaking work.

You can join us by following this link—> https://www.govloop.com/group/smarterbetteropengovernment

Or Fridays 1-2pm (EST) dial-in our Team weekly call – Guide for Equipping the Pub Mgr for Open Gov at 1-218-844-3366 x82267

Our objective:
Supporting Public Managers fulfill their mission from engaging the public in novel empowering and transparent ways

What we are doing:
1) Creating a body of knowledge for empowering Public Managers to engage the public more effectively in direction-setting, decision-making and result-producing activities
2) Disseminating the knowledge to practitioners and interested stakeholders
3) Addressing limiting beliefs in the culture about what is possible for government to accomplish

Join us!


Tom Melancon

I love this concept. I work for the U.S. Department of Labor, and while I can always look for opportunties to criticize something in the organization, I’ve also been given opportunties to stretch and grow that I would not have imagined, and I spend the firts half of my career in the private sector.

Srinidhi Boray

Well!! you know Buddha did not really urge patience. Buddha in his composure is developing mind by resolving internal conflicts. He is engaged in catharsis. When mind is purged of all defilements, then it is ready to work. Bring immense capability to take on Hercules tasks, tackle complexity by opening up dormant sub-conscious mind. Although he seems serene sitting patiently, he is actively developing mind. Intense warfare is going on in mind, until everything that is defilement is purged.

When the soldier is ready “patience” is a no more virtue, often times complacence and patience are interchangeably used. Passive resistance, in a way overcomes resists no evil. Can’t be gullible and keep turning your cheek. Yet, if “passive resistance” is something that is suggested as patience. Maybe it has a some place.

This is not the time for cliches. It is time for resolved actions. May’ 2010 has again registered as one of the poorest month in the Housing market. When I nearly lost mine, and the butt was on fire what the heck does “patience” mean. Nothing 🙂


“New Home Sales at Record Low as Tax Credit Expires
By Lucia Mutikani


Sales of new homes dropped a record 32.7 percent in May to the lowest level in at least four decades as the boost from a popular tax credit faded, adding to worries over a slowing economic recovery.

Single-family home sales tumbled to a 300,000 unit annual rate, the lowest level since the series started in 1963, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday.

The gloomy report was the latest to imply the economy’s recovery from the most painful downturn since the 1930s might be losing strength, but few analysts expect a double-dip recession.”

Martha McLean

Great post Nina – pausing, reflecing and patience 😉

In my experience, people’s patience is often tested or translates into frustration simply because they don’t have information.

I agree that many think government work should move more quickly. Fundamental changes will need to take place on many levels for this to occur. What can and should be done in the meantime? Inform and engage! Efforts to better communicate to staff about what’s underway, the key priorities and activities etc., and solicit input or feedback when appropriate will ensure a reasonable pace can be maintained and supported.

People lose patience or become frustrated if they feel they’re in the dark. So let’s restore patience by respecting public/civil servants enough to keep them apprised.


Nina Adrianna

Thanks for all the comments. The one by @Srinidhi-Boray clarifies that patience isn’t just sitting there. Rather, it’s being clear about your goal and intention, and moving towards it in a solid way.

But there are limitless problems in the world and limited human energy to expend on it, which means that sometimes the most I can do is be patient and just focus on whatever it is that I can solve.

@Srinidhi, maybe patience doesn’t ‘mean’ anything, but then what does? Create the meaning you want. It’s what we all do. Solving the housing crisis isn’t going to happen quickly, it’s going to need some patient collaboration across jurisdictions. Can you join efforts to find a solution? Maybe, maybe not. If not, then I guess the most you can do is be patient and trust that it’ll work out?

Arvind Nigam

I have an absolutely contrariwise view. Patience in bureaucracy is all about ‘living a lie’. It is the helplessness of those who want to work, and hopelessness of the incumbent to prevent that work from happening. Nothing else to explain there as the problem stems from legacy model of Governance & age-old practices.

Hey @Srinidhi seeing you after a long time 🙂


Srinidhi Boray

Thanks Arvind. I am salvaging my situation, so was out of action. But could not resist to comment on non-action “patience” by the gov folks. In a way all my reflections is of a common citizen bearing the burnt of the ill designed actions in general.

Housing problem is not going to go away quickly
Unemployment is not going to go away
Oil rigs will keep blowing up on our face
Wall St will continue to manipulate the economy (Treasury is generally run by Goldman Sachs former employees)
Many of the govt spend will still remain questionable
Medicare / medicaid over payments in 100s billion
40 % toxic assets in $80 Billion IT spend every year

List can go on, and one can think what is good to sit on butt and cogitate “patience”.

I am already in the crusade that I did not pick it for myself and I do not trust “patience”, it dulls the mind creating intellectual cobwebs which prevents mind from seeing the reality. Patience is nothing but dangerous anesthesia. Wake up “mind”, from your sedated bliss.

Arvind Nigam

Hmmm. I kind of hate the vapor around gov20 that’s prevalent at this point of time. But there is a conviction that internet is finally going to disrupt it completely.

Wrote this a couple of days back: https://www.govloop.com/profiles/blogs/government-20-is-the-axis-of in which there is paragraph that says

“Ever since William D. Eggers coined the term Government 2.0, there is a constant hum going on around the world that talks about ‘civic action in a participatory manner’. What do people want from Government after all? Better management, better services, better infrastructure and transparency? Is that all? No. People want to trust the Government. Just like they want to trust the brands. How can the citizen’s trust be built stronger in ways that were applied in creation of applications for brand engagement and trust reinforcement on consumer products?”


Nina Adrianna

So @Srinidhi and @Arvind, right now I’m sitting on my butt in a tedious meeting with way too many people, some of which got here with cab which means additional time and money because we’ve been too slow to adopt a webconferencing option for this ministry. So it’s an expensive meeting. I have two options:

1. Be impatient: Get really annoyed with the whole thing, and try to change things.
2. Be patient: Endure it, try to figure out the pieces, so that I can figure out how I can affect positive change.

Either way I’ll do something after this meeting. It’s my choice of how I want to do it. Angry, frustrated people aren’t listened to as much as calm people who can endure b.s. Ghandi right?

Christina Morrison

Loved the post Nina. Sometimes things don’t move along as quickly as we would like them to, but instead of wasting too much time pushing that which we cannot control, it’s better to spend that time preparing for what our next step will be when the time comes.
Still, there is something to be said for pushing the envelope to create change in the workplace. If we can find a way to retain our patience, and still encourage positive discussions on tactics to change our ways, I think we are all better off in the end. For instance, patience may not be the best medicine when it comes to convincing your agency to adopt social media; however, once you incorporate social media into your routine, it will take patience to let the program develop before you see tangible results.

Srinidhi Boray

Nina – Let me set the context. I am not really concerned with the way meeting happened and if people travelled to office or worked from home. From what dollar spent and not spent that has too less to return anyway. There are bigger issues than mere web conference and such, that needs no time lost.

BTW I like what you write and the spirit behind it. I have been one among the proponent of open communication, informal social networking, damn the elitist and all those wonderful things. Working with corporates and also with government I know how these are valued. I have had the pleasure of tasting both carrot and cane and finally getting into situation that I do not want anyone ever get into such remorse state. Transparency and accountability is part of my work. I don’t know from where these new denizens have descended talking Gov 2.0. Whats really new in it. It has been the way of life for many of us 🙂

I just don’t get it “what the heck is patience”, is someone talking from the side-lines who got regular paycheck for doing good or bad jobs and had a peaceful sleep and did not wakeup to telephone calls wanting bills to be paid or water being shut off or even thinking gas and electricity will be turned off in winter – getting served foreclosure notice.

What the heck is patience.

Gandhi’s patience nearly ruined India. Brits did not leave India because Gandhi behaved well, quietly sat in jail for 20 or 30 years and pleaded Brits please leave please leave we are nice and simple people and are very patient so we will wait for 1000 years for you to plunder. Passive resistance and such has it place no doubt. What is needed is action minded people who objectively discuss and define problem and pursue to correct them. Than talk all in wonderful allegories.

Also, by reference to “patience” I am not alluding anything feelings – got angry, annoyed, happy etc. What is suggested is that action is the need of the hour, need for course of action in an “objective” or attached detachment way obviously reasons prevailing upon insane feelings.

There were times when patience was a virtue, not now.

What the heck is patience.

Anyway – keep writing and splurge….pen is the mightiest of all.

Arvind Nigam

Well let’s not fall for words. Patience is no longer a virtue, as information spreads like a wildfire in real time. That is exactly what I was trying to say in my comment earlier. To make oneself abundantly clear “proactive actions will be required in Gov20”.

@srinidhi I do see your PoV, that Brits wanted to leave coz there was hardly anything left to plunder but then these topics are elastically connected. We can’t make a judgment whether Gandhi did or did not get freedom for India.

The context of using Gandhi over here was that people, power of people will force transparency and participatory model. That’s the key. Another issue is the amount of expression one gets.

As an American citizen or an Indian citizen I will find it extremely boring to give my ideas on a forum to the Government which can modify or delete my comment from the system. In that case I will prefer to talk against the incumbent on Twitter instead, coz their the officer in question will not have much place to hide.

I face these questions almost daily when I present http://bubbleideas.com to my potential clients. It’s very hard to remove the legacy.

Steve Richardson

Great post, Nina! I’ve probably learned more about patience in my (relatively short) government career than in any other aspect of my life. The federal bureaucracy is as complex as organizations get. If you are accustomed to getting a prompt, definitive answer to your inquiries or proposals, you will have to change or suffer working in this environment!

Patience is a virtue. Unlike tolerance, which is our ability to accept others’ behavior, patience is our willingness to accept others’ response on their terms. Initiative is good but expecting others to drop everything because I want something from them now is a bad habit that my government job is helping me break.