The Waiting Is The Hardest Part
When you start your own business, waiting for new customers and clients is the hardest part.
Standing atop a white, paint-splattered platform, Tom Petty looks directly into the camera with a big toothy grin and a feathered flow of dirty-blonde hair. The whole set and camerawork of the music video is deliciously 1980s, complete with faux-minimalism and stiff rebellious confidence. The camera pans rightward as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers take turns singing, “Yeah, yeah,” before Tom takes us into the chorus with, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” And then: “The waiting is the hardest part/Every day you see one more card/You take it on faith, you take it to the heart/the waiting is the hardest part.”
“The Waiting” served as the lead single on Tom Petty’s 1981 album Hard Promises. It was the band’s second album on the Backstreet Records label and was controversially slated to be sold at a price of $9.98, $1.00 more than the usual list price. Over objections from Petty and the band, who considered re-naming Hard Promises to Eight Ninety-Eight in protest to the price hike, distributor MCA Records backed off of the new price and sold it for $8.98. The album was certified Platinum and “The Waiting” peaked at Number 1 on the U.S. Billboard Top Tracks that year.
I think a lot of people can relate to “The Waiting.” The song tells the story of a depressed bachelor who finally meets the girl that he’s been waiting his whole life for. He’s gone out with other women before, but none of them made him feel the way that he feels with her. It’s like his whole life has been leading up to this one person, this one soulmate that he can spend the rest of his life with. Why did he have to wait so long?
As a kid, I could not wait for adulthood. I wanted to have a job, to start a family, to buy a house, to do everything that adults did. Childhood was so blasé, more of an inconvenience than anything else. I was fifteen going on fifty-five. Now, as I look wistfully back on my childhood as a wise and weather-worn twenty-six year old (I’m rolling my eyes too), I wish I could have been content with waiting, because while the waiting is, in fact, the hardest part, the waiting is also the point.
When you make a cup of coffee, do you take it from the pot, pour it into your mug, and immediately take a sip? Unless you’re masochist, probably not. You let the coffee cool. You wait before you take your first sip because scorching the inside of your mouth is not a pleasant experience. But when you wait for the moment when the coffee’s temperature is just right, you are rewarded with the dazzling taste of warm liquified dirt.
While Tom Petty’s “The Waiting” has absolutely nothing to do with starting and running a business, I think most small business owners would agree with its sentiment. It is grueling and tortuous knowing that success is not immediate. Whether you’re a new retail business waiting for your first customer, a tech start-up waiting for an investor to take a chance on you, or a lawyer waiting for your first client, waiting is an unfortunate reality of your new life as an entrepreneur.
But like waiting to grow up or waiting for your first sip of coffee or waiting to find the girl of your dreams, waiting for people to acknowledge your abilities as a new business owner makes you stronger in the long run. It requires you to take risks and make creative and strategic decisions to find a new audience for your business. It teaches you the hard virtue of patience and the ignoble truth that good things come to those who wait. And it reinforces the all-important lesson that growing your business requires hard work, grit, and a little luck.
In some respects, waiting for new clients reminds me of another Tom Petty song: “I Won’t Back Down.” There will surely be days when I question whether starting my own law firm was the right choice for me. There will certainly be moments when I worry about my own financial security and ability to support myself. I will most definitely grow tired of waiting: waiting for someone to take a chance on me, waiting for a client to come knocking at my door, waiting for that first pay check. But I won’t back down. I won’t stop working and creating and learning even while waiting for that first client. Because waiting forces me to act. Waiting compels me to become the prime mover in my own story of success.
That’s the lesson that I want to take away from all of this: that I am only as good as the work that I put in while I wait. And in this Advent season, as Christians literally wait for the birth of Jesus, there is a lot of preparation to be done. We must wash away our impurities, act deliberately in preparation for the good that awaits us, and never doubt that we are worthy of our own goodness.
So, even though the waiting is the hardest part, I will wait. I will use that extra time to strengthen my knowledge and skill, to formulate new avenues for success, and to forego the temptation of apathy and self-doubt for the promise that success will come with hard work and time.
I never believed that patience was a virtue until now. But I am beginning to see that my patience will be rewarded some time in the not-so-distant future. And until that future arrives, I will wait.