Patience is Marshmallows: You Never Outgrow Your Childhood


At a mere five months old, I said my first word. If you know me at all, this won’t surprise you, as I probably haven’t stopped talking since. As I grew, I specialized in three syllables. Bulldozer was a personal favorite. Attention suited me, and the spotlight felt natural. I enjoyed being an “impressive” kid. All of my teachers used to say to my parents, “We can’t wait to see who Griffin becomes when she gets older.” Little did they know, I was already becoming who I would be, one syllable at a time. I don’t think you ever outgrow your childhood. People change, absolutely, but certain experiences and character traits continue to impact their decision making processes throughout their lives. For instance, many children have experienced the “marshmallow” test. Maybe it was a cookie test or a brownie test in your household, but it was a test of patience and self control.

Essentially, the parent gives the child a marshmallow to eat, but if you can wait ten minutes, you will get two marshmallows. My sister and I were tested in this fashion, except it was probably something made of carob in my household, not forbidden sugar. My sister waited patiently for the extra reward, while I gobbled up the treat. Patience is not, nor has ever been, my virtue.

More than a lack of patience, I was exhibiting the behavior of being unable to see the greater reward, a tendency that I still possess. In times of stress, I tend to take what is right in front of me as the “whole” picture. If I get stressed about money, I look at the current status of my bank account and forget any extra earnings that I may have coming in. If I’m feeling lonely, I convince myself that things will always be this way, and I forget that the best friendships take time to form. When push comes to shove, we all have an inner child that comes out kicking and screaming, too eager to gobble up the marshmallow in front of us.

So, what do we do with the traits that we don’t want to inherit, or worse, pass along to our own children? I believe the key is in understanding what your traits are to begin with. My childhood taught me that I am a high anxiety, high stress perfectionist with an extreme need for achievement and a very low tolerance for waiting. Beyond that, my experiences taught me that I channel my high stress personality into a relentless work ethic. In turn, I can be extremely inpatient and unforgiving when someone doesn’t get a job done on my timeline.

When I was two years old, I was shopping at the fabric store with my mom and older sister. My sister was seven at the time, and she really wanted a pair of scissors in the checkout line. My mom liked to use any experience as a learning opportunity, so she told her that she could get the scissors if she asked the checkout lady how much they cost. As my sister stood there, mulling over the decision, I exasperatedly snatched the scissors out of her hand, placed them on the counter, and said, “How much are these scissors?!” I also like problem solving.

Children with strong personalities are often told that they are “born leaders”. I spent the first two decades of my life thinking about myself this way. So, when it came time to take some of my major courses in undergrad, I was thrilled to study organizational leadership and management. It was something I knew I was born with and obviously good at (remember the scissors). However, I quickly learned from my peers and textbooks that leadership is not an inherited set of character traits; it is a teachable skill set that anyone can posses. I was naturally outgoing, but charisma could never make me a leader. Why? You can’t lead people if you are intent on doing everything for them. You have to practice patience and be comfortable with bringing out the best in others in order to take a backseat and delegate. In a nutshell, you have to be able to see the bigger picture, not just the marshmallow in front of you.

Patience is marshmallows, my friends, and we have to learn to recognize our natural tendencies that can keep us from living life to the fullest. There is no way to undo the past or tell your five year old self that two marshmallows is always better than one. We have to stop complaining about the things we can’t change in our pasts and accept the flaws that we have fostered over the years. Do-overs aren’t always possible, but there’s always a chance for a do-better.