Sitting in the ‘waiting room of life’
How waiting for permission is fruitless

Sitting in the waiting room of life

Many of my clients feel unable to say or do what’s in their hearts or on their minds. Instead, they spend weeks, months and even years, thinking about their current situation, making ambitious plans to change, but when it comes to the crunch, they do nothing. They never act on their hopes or dreams.

Maybe you recognize yourself in some of these ‘aborted decisions’, too:

  • You think about making a new life abroad, plan to do it, but don’t
  • You think about doing what it take to make your marriage work, plan to do it, but don’t
  • You think about starting your own business, plan to do it, but don’t
  • You think about leaving your relationship, plan to do it, but don’t
  • You think about changing your job, plan to do it, but don’t
  • You think about asking a difficult colleague to be more collaborate, plan to do it, but don’t
  • You think about asking your leader for a promotion and salary increase, plan to do it, but don’t

From the trivial to the life changing, if you never experiment with your plan, it’s no wonder that at times you feel that your life is passing by and your wasting it.

Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial is about a man who is accused of wasting his life. He fails to take chances that would have led him to become the person he could have been. Instead he timidly waits for others to give him permission to do so. But by sitting and waiting for an un-stressful ride, his life was largely futile. In the book, Kafka relates the following parable that says it all:

Before the Law stands a doorkeeper on guard. A man from the country comes to the doorkeeper and begs admittance to the Law. But the doorkeeper says that he cannot admit the man at the moment. The man asks if he will be allowed, then, to enter later. ‘It is possible,’ answers the doorkeeper, ‘but not at this moment’.

Since the door leading into the Law stands open as usual, when the doorkeeper steps to one side, the man bends down to peer through the entrance. When the doorkeeper sees that, he laughs and says: ‘If you are so strongly tempted, try and get in without my permission. But note that I am powerful. And I am only the lowest doorkeeper. From hall to hall keepers stand at every door, one more powerful than the other. The third doorkeeper is already so terrible that even I cannot bear to look at him.’

These are difficulties that the man has not expected to meet. The Law, he thinks, should be accessible to every man and at all times. But when he looks more closely at the doorkeeper in his furred robe, with his huge pointed nose and long, thin, Tartar beard, he decides that he had better wait until he gets permission to enter.

The doorkeeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down at the side of the door. There he sits waiting for days and years. He makes many attempts to be allowed in and wearies the doorkeeper with his persistence…[who] always conclude with the statement that the man cannot be allowed to enter yet.

During all these long years the man watches the doorkeeper almost incessantly. He forgets about the other doorkeepers and this one seems to him the only barrier between himself and the Law. In the first years he curses his evil fate aloud; later, as he grows old and childish he only mutters to himself.

Finally his eyes grow dim…but in the darkness he can now perceive the radiance which streams immortally from the door of the Law. Now his life is drawing to a close. Before he dies, all that he has experienced during the whole time of his sojourn condenses in his mind into one question, which he has never put to the doorkeeper. He beckons the doorkeeper, since he can no longer raise his stiffening body.

The doorkeeper has to bend far down to hear him, for the difference in size between them has increased very much to the man’s disadvantage. ‘What do you want to know now?’ asks the doorkeeper ‘you are insatiable.’ ‘Everyone strives to attain the Law’, answers the man, ‘how does it come about, then, that in all these years no one has come seeking admittance but me?’

The doorkeeper perceives that the man is at the end of his strength and that his hearing is failing so he bellows in his ear: ‘No one but you could gain admittance through this door, since this door was intended only for you. I am now going to shut it.’

What are we to make of this chilling tale? Kafka’s man was guilty of living an unlived life, of succumbing to his fears, of waiting for permission from others to make his move, of not seizing his life and going through the doors intended for him alone. As a result, he died ‘like a dog’ malingering, sitting in the waiting room of life. He never became even half the man he could have been had he found the courage to overcome his obstacles and taken the risk of going through doors that were ‘intended for him alone’.

Are you sitting in the waiting room of life, succumbing to your fears? Are you in danger of never becoming half the person you could be? You can no longer sit and wait for it to feel safe to make your move. It never will and by hoping against hope, you are already regretting a wasted life. Don’t die malingering. Seize your life. Now is the time to go through those doors intended for you alone.

Kafka, F., (The Trial, London: Minerva, 1992)

Copyright © Beverley Stone Confronting Company Politics Published by Palgrave Macmillan 1997 ISBN 0-333-68154-1
Copyright © Beverley Stone The Inner Warrior Published by Palgrave Macmillan 2004 ISBN 1-4039-3677-3
Copyright © Beverley Stone 2010