You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part
~The Waiting, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

It feels like most of my youth was spent in preparation and waiting for the next step. Elementary school prepared me for junior high. Junior high prepared me for high school. High school prepared me for college. College prepared me for life.

Now I’m in life and I keep wondering, what’s next?

Is it marriage? Children? What then? A promotion? Retirement? And then?

Something happens when you keep looking toward the next best thing: you gloss over the now. When you’re always prepping for the next stage, you miss the opportunity to appreciate today.

While in college, I heard some of the most useful information I’ve ever learned—not from a professor or even a teaching assistant, but from one of my peers. As I readied myself to go on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic, she cautioned me that there was a lot of hurry-up-and-wait time inherent to our trip and to use that waiting time wisely. That advice has stuck with me and has been painfully applicable ever since.

In the information age, almost everything is at our fingertips. We have instant messaging, direct deposit, next day delivery, fast food, and the list goes on. We can look up information on practically anything and get an answer as quickly as our connections allow (and if it’s not quickly enough, there’s hell to pay).

Waiting, as an art, is virtually foreign to our Western civilization, because, as Tom Petty reminds us, the waiting is the hardest part. And we avoid the hard parts as much as possible, don’t we? But it’s in those hard parts where we learn, where we grow. We live in the waiting.

I don’t know what you’re waiting for—a phone call, a package, a raise, a spouse—but I’m sure there’s something. I spent a lot of my childhood preparing and waiting for the next stage until one day I realized I wasn’t enjoying where I was. I was always looking forward and missing all of the wonderful things going on around me at the time. In that moment, I decided to take things one step at a time, one day at a time.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s a place for planning and dreaming and looking forward. Just don’t let it consume you to the extent that you’re shutting out what’s happening now. After all, in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “life is a journey, not a destination.” Plan for tomorrow, but don’t forget to really take time to live in the now.

What are you waiting for? What are you missing out on? What can you do, right now, to savor the moment? Today is your waiting time. Don’t let it slip away. Appreciate it and use it wisely.