It’s taken you ten minutes to navigate through the automated customer service system. Ten minutes in which you’ve hung up and re-dialed twice. But now you’ve cracked the code and a real person has answered.

“Thank God,” you say. “Look, this is my problem.” And you start to explain.

“Hmmm,” the voice says. “I see. Let me just check something. Putting you on hold.” And before you can speak, they’re gone.

Dah-de-dum. Dum-diddle-diddle-dee. It’s the tinny music. Then the pre-recorded voice.

“Thank you for your patience. We have installed a new, automated customer service system to serve you better. There are…forty-six…people ahead of you in the queue. Please do not hang up.”

And you don’t, because by the time you dial again, they will probably have fixed the chink in their armor that allowed you to reach a real person, and you’ll be reduced to listening to the menu options that have always changed…and the tinny music.


Yet, as much as we are infuriated by such systems, people put their own futures on hold all the time. How to they do it? By setting conditions that have to be met before they can move on. How do you know? Conditional clauses beginning with “if” or “when.” Listen, they’re everywhere:

If only I could get a better-paying job, I could save enough to go back to school and improve my qualifications.

When I’ve paid off the loan on my car, I’ll see about looking for a better job.

If I didn’t have so much to worry about, I could spend some time sorting out my life.

If I had a more understanding boss, I’d be able to tell someone how frustrated I am.

Many of these conditional statements are circular. You need better qualification to get a job that pays more…but you decide you can’t think about going back to school until you have a better paying job. You need to get your priorities in order to lower your anxiety…but you can’t spend time sorting your life out, because you’re too worried. Other conditionals put your future in someone else’s hands:

If my boss would only realize she’s got me all wrong, I could show her how good I really am.

When business is better, I’ll ask about a raise.

When things calm down, I’ll take a vacation. Only I can’t leave it all to the others to handle right now.

You’re on hold, waiting until the condition is met. How long will that be? Who knows? Until then, you can’t do anything. Or so you tell yourself.

How many of these conditionals are real? Do you truly have to wait on them being met? Be honest with yourself. How many are excuses? Excuses for taking no action because you neither believe in the objective, nor yourself. Only it’s easier to set a condition and claim to be trying — really trying — to do what’s needed. “Only, you see, it’s like this. When…” That’s when you’ll do it. Then. When Hell freezes over and the tax authorities hand out free money in the streets.

If your life is on hold, ask yourself who put it there. Why are you listening to the canned Mozart? Why aren’t you doing something, anything, to turn those fancy dreams of yours into reality? Are you truly stuck…or are you afraid to try?

Dum-da-da-dee-dum. Diddle-diddle-dee-dum. “Thank you for your patience. Your entire future life is on hold right now. There are…two thousand, six hundred and…ninety-six…persons ahead of you in the queue. Waiting time is estimated at…nineteen point…oh-six…years. Thank you again for your patience. Have a great day…” Click. BRRRRRRRRRR.

Adrian Savage is an Englishman and a retired business executive who lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his thoughts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for anyone who wants to bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership, and The Coyote Within.

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