Yep that’s me. I am a huge procrastinator. At least in the eyes of society. You know. Them. The people who make the rules we are all supposed to live by. It turns out that procrastination is a negative thing. Look it up. If you aren’t careful it will ruin your life. At least any article I read makes me feel bad about it. The experts give you articles on how to change. Yet, why do I need to change? I’ve done it my whole life so chances are I’m not going to stop now. Why is it a thing? It’s just a word. Why does it make us cringe. Why do we feel a little shame when we have to admit we procrastinate. Why do we lie rather than admit we do it? Well… I’m not sure but I think conformity has a lot to do with it.
The word is derived from Latin. Pro, meaning forward and crastinus, meaning of tomorrow. Literally forward of tomorrow. That’s not so bad. It just means to move something to tomorrow. So why the negativity? Well, look it up in a dictionary. The Cambridge dictionary describes it as “the act of delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring.” Geez, not too negative there. Merriam Webster has a couple of short definitions . The shortest being “To put off intentionally or habitually.” But then later on in the synonym area is states this. “PROCRASTINATE implies blameworthy delay especially through laziness or apathy.” Wow. No wonder we all feel bad when we do it. The Free dictionary isn’t much kinder with their interpretation. “To put off doing something out of habitual carelessness or laziness.” So somewhere along the line it went from “put off until tomorrow” to “if you don’t get it done now you’re a lazy bugger who just doesn’t care.” Oddly enough, the second description does sort of suit me. Hmmm. I’m just taking stock about how I feel about this and I’m going to have to say… Pretty good. I am pretty lazy about a lot of things and I guess I don’t really care. How did this happen? It happened over a lifetime but I believe I was sort of born this way.
Take this blog for example. I am all over the place. There were days when I just couldn’t wait to write. Other days I never even thought about writing. It is almost Valentines day and I haven’t posted anything since New Years Eve. It isn’t that I haven’t had random thoughts buzz through my brain, because I have 20 unposted blurbs sitting in the little draft compartment of this confusing website I created. No the fact of the matter is that I just didn’t feel like posting anything. Sometimes I write and write and then get bored. So I shut it down. Later when I reread things my head isn’t in the same space so if if doesn’t feel finished, I close it. Usually though I check for spelling (not very well mind you) and hit post. This is like a diary. But since it is public I use very little profanity which isn’t in keeping with my verbal communication. Looking back in life my written diaries were sporadic as well.
When I think back the best years were those leading up to school age. I don’t remember a lot but the feelings were pleasant and I do know I played a lot. There is a fuzzy halo of contentment that envelops those years in my mind. There were some negative things happened as is par for the course with kids but for the most part they fade in to shadows. Except that miserable Carol when I was four years old. Pulled up my potatoe plants by the roots just to be mean. She was five and just a bully. I still don’t like her although I haven’t seen her in 54 years. Forgiveness can be hard but that’s a whole other blog. Throughout elementary school there really was very little to procrastinate about. Whether it was practicing the piano or doing chores around the house, my Mom made sure that it was done. There was no choice in procrastinating because she would just nag you to death. In the morning she was there shouting for you to get up. Until you did. Then breakfast was the same. Hurry up. You’re going to be late for school. Obviously because you wouldn’t get out of bed on time. I was a dawdler. Slow moving morning person. In fairness I slept in most mornings until I was six and then all of a sudden mornings where chaotic and rushed because somewhere someone decided school should start at nine. Why not ten. I would have been better able to be ready by ten. Naturally. Without nagging. I was late for school a lot too because even if my mother managed to get me out of the house on time, I took my time. There were lots of things to see on that short walk and I wasn’t anxious to sit still all day. I was reprimanded when I arrived late but it didn’t faze me much. I found in time teachers gave up and just accepted it. Ignored me as I slipped in. Frankly I don’t remember having homework in elementary school. That in itself is destroying the poor little ones these days. I mean if you can’t learn what you need to learn in class at those ages perhaps the teacher needs to find a better and more efficient way. I’m just saying, in professional sports if the team doesn’t perform well they fire the coach, not the team.
Junior high and high school were a game changer. The crap we needed to do at home was ridiculous. I found Mom would still nag if I let her so I found a way around that. I just didn’t bring anything home at night. So if there are no books, there is no homework. A form of lying which made life pleasant at home but caused my marks to drop somewhat. I was a pretty good student for the most part. I grasped things easily. So really the only classes that I didn’t do well were those that required assignments to be done at home. There were lots of zero’s if I recall. Mom and Dad didn’t stress out much about grades. I think they wanted us to do well but also recognized we were all pretty bright kids. I never felt pushed at all. There was a raised eyebrow from my Dad when I got a “D” in language arts in grade eight. This was always an easy class for me so he was confused. I just told him the truth. I didn’t do the assignments. When he asked why I admitted I didn’t feel like it. He sighed and signed the report card. No punishment. No disappointment. No lecture. He was a wise man who knew the mark didn’t accurately portray my knowledge. Rather than cause unpleasantness between us he allowed me to make choices for my own future. Right, wrong or otherwise he taught me greater lessons by stepping aside and letting me fail in order to learn. He always said you are done raising a child by the time they are twelve years old. At that time you need to let them make their own choices and hope you taught them well enough to guide them forward. Brilliant!
Things got real when I went to a boarding school. It was a college that also offered grade twelve classes so you could finish high school and also take university classes at the same time. That’s not why I went there. I was the last child at home and not much of a conformer so it was better for my aging parents. Let me tell you though, with no one to nag you out of bed and make you go to class you grow up fast. There were only core subjects offered for the grade twelve students and I needed five to graduate so the first semester I took one university class with four grade twelve and the second semester I took four university classes along with two grade twelve. Let me just state for the record that it was a Christian school and often people send their “bad” kids to a Christian school hoping that the school will straighten them out. Well, there are lots of rules but it is easy to get around those. Although I met some great kids who went on to do very well in life, there were equal amounts of those who would lead me astray. Sometimes they were the same people. At this age there was no getting around the homework. My room mate studied while I spent quite a number of hours playing backgammon. I got really good. She got better grades. Her parents were teachers and she was the oldest child so more was expected from her. My parents were content with peace and quiet at home. We had loads of fun that first semester and it showed in my marks. I realized I needed to buckle down if I wanted to get into University. So I did. The second semester was just as fun and I’d like to say my grades improved because I tried harder but the truth is, I took classes I enjoyed. So I did well. Go figure. Lesson learned. Another important lesson… being good at something doesn’t mean you will do well. Math was easy so I took Math 31. Calculus. What hell that was. Luckily ten percent of my mark was attendance and I didn’t miss a class despite the start time. Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m. until 9:50 I sat in class desperately trying to stay awake. A lovely foreign student from china took pity on me and made it his goal to drag me through to a passing grade. I in turn taught him how to hide beer in the back of the toilet to keep it cold and hidden at the same time. Christian school remember. No drinking. Well, on campus. I also made sure his social calendar was updated and he was kept in the know for parties and illicit unsanctioned events that were against the rules. We all did better that semester. I must say though University was when I actually did papers and handed them in on time. For the most part. I always admired those people who had their work done early and paid someone to type it on a word processor. My papers were finished the night before they were due and I pulled all-nighters in my Dad’s office typing them. Again, valuable lessons were learned. Read course descriptions and try to avoid classes with papers or written assignments as much as possible. I have to admit that if I was attending university today I would still put off papers. It would be easier though doing them at home and not in an uncomfortable office.
As I left my teens and became a quasi-adult I was still very much drifting with no clear path. Having a child and getting married, yes in that order, did little to change me. My daughter was on time for things due to the daycare people. Thankfully. My children all grew up organizing their own lives relying on their Dad for punctuality and me for impromptu emergencies. I was exasperating for my hubby but in time he was the one who changed things. If I needed a new outfit for an event he would ask daily if I had found anything. I hate shopping so again I would put it off. He was the one who shopped with the kids until they were old enough to pick things out themselves. He loved it. I remember once he actually dragged me off to the mall where we hit every store before finally finding something. It was exhausting. And then the tide turned. One day he brought home two dresses. Both lovely, on sale and fit perfect. For the next thirty plus years I had a personal shopper. Even as my tastes changed he saw it and adapted. The day I went shopping for a dress to wear to his funeral broke me. Never again would a pair of shoes arrive in the mail. Yoga pants. Sport bra’s. Golf clothes. Dresses. No longer would I hear the words “Got ya something” as he came in the door. It was an intimacy born from my hating to shop. I was the financial guy. I did the taxes, budget, saved. It was me who insisted on playing the stock market when we had next to nothing. I forced the purchase of rental property. I knew how to make it and he knew how to spend it. Being a landlord was not bad for someone like me. No real timeline on anything. I did stuff when I did stuff. Emergencies came up but my handy hubby was always here to help even as he grumbled about “my” renters. This was all on the side as we both worked full time. There were a few years when I had to get the kids off after Rene’ was already gone to work. That was hectic and I was usually late for work. I was a consultant so my hours were my own so not a problem. For many years I was always earlier to arrive than anyone else because I drove with Rene’. He had free parking and I wasn’t keen on taking the bus. Consulting made life easier. The deadlines were on a far off horizon and I usually worked on a project team. Nothing day to day which fit my procrastination brain. It takes time to find our niche in life but when you do it all falls into place.
I retired before my husband. No fanfare. No official party to celebrate. Nope. My last contract ended and I was tired. I didn’t have another job lined up and I spent a week in my pajama’s doing nothing. When Rene’ asked one day if I was going to look for another contract I said no. I decided not to work any longer. I was expecting my first grandchild and I needed a little break. Rene’ would always come and kiss me goodbye in the morning and ask what I was up to for the day. I would answer, I didn’t know. I would decide when I got up. Then I would roll over and sleep a little longer as he went to work. The thing is, I was well paid but I worked for the money. My husband actually liked his job. He worked a few years longer and thankfully was laid off which forced his early retirement. They were glorious years we spent before he passed away. Each morning having a coffee. Sitting in our chairs reading. Getting ready for the day. No plans. Well, he always had plans and an agenda. But I didn’t. We did a lot of things on the fly which suited me so well. In the end peace reigned. We did what we wanted to when we wanted to do it.
I have had friends throughout my life who have demanded more from me than I wished to give. Looking around they are no longer my friends. Mainly they dropped out of my life because in their minds I am undependable. Or perhaps I don’t try hard enough. Very valid. But these are the same people who cause us stress. They drag us into their agendas and somehow get us to agree to something we don’t want to do and then… they are mad when we procrastinate. We don’t say no to others because we don’t want to hurt their feelings. Then we are stuck. There is this whole underbelly of life and society which causes us to procrastinate and then berates us for doing it. Knowing we “should” do something is an idea that is thrust upon us at every turn. Children procrastinate because it is in them to live in the now. Isn’t that a concept we try to grasp as an adult? Isn’t that one of the newest “self care” adages? Well think like a kid. They put off projects and homework because school is for work and after school is for play. Delayed gratification is an adult concept. School has become a place where you must learn at a standard rate. All are held to the same measuring stick without regard to personality types. Unfortunately schools have become a place where marching to a different drum is punished when it should be revered. All of the technical advances around us come from these odd people. The greatest musicians in the world? They didn’t have mom nag them to practice. They practiced night and day and sought out likeminded people. Because they loved it. Everything else fell to the wayside. They lived in the now. They hyper focused on that which they loved and they procrastinated on most other areas in their life. And became great.
There are a lot of articles we can find on how to stop procrastinating. There are detailed lists of how damaging it can be to people in their lives. Whether it is poor performance or low self esteem it seems that procrastinating can cause a lifetime of anxiety, stress and ultimately mental health issues. Well I think we need to take a closer look at where this comes from. It is a serious progression that starts in childhood. Parents have a preconceived idea of what life is about. They learn it from their parents. Society in general influences us all. So, we all know working hard in school will lead to better grades, which in turn leads to a better education which then leads to a better career and more more money and more happiness… the end. This is somewhat condensed but the idea remains. Work hard, follow the rules and you will be rewarded? What if the reward you are promised isn’t what you really need. Or want. Or even value. What if you are outside the “normal” parameters? Will procrastinating cause you to become a depressed old person? Yes it certainly will if you listen to “them.” If you buy into the narrative that life is about monetary success. I admit money can make some things easier but it isn’t the end all be all. As Forrest Gump said “A person only needs so much money and the rest is just for showing off.” No truer statement. Because as the old adage goes, money can’t buy you happiness. My husband once said to me “I am not responsible for your happiness.” It was during an argument and it was like cold water in my face but he was so right. I am responsible for my mental well being. If I chose to buy into common “myths” on how life should be lived then I will suffer the consequences. You see, we all know procrastinating is bad. Its common knowledge. But what if I chose not to believe it? What if I chose to live my life through the eyes of a child? I get a ton of stuff done in my life. Thanks to modern technology I manage to always pay my bills on time. Someone one day created the concept of automatic withdrawal and my life was simpler. I often do things that seem like a waste of time to others but they don’t see it through my eyes. I received a call from the town office of Invermere. I need to give them a letter detailing instructions regarding some financial stuff. The gal told me I could just pop it in the mail. But I won’t. I will put it off. I just won’t feel like doing it. Why? Its not just writing the note. Then I have to find an envelope. And since no one mails anything anymore I have to go to the drugstore and buy a stamp. Then mail it. That’s a lot of steps and I know I wont do them. I won’t feel like it. So I told her I would drive out on Tuesday. It is a three hour drive. But look at it from my point of view. It is a lovely drive through the mountains. I will stay at the cabin for a few days. Last time I was there I reorganized a closet. There is no internet or cable but lots of wildlife. I will take a few walks. Wander by the town office and drop off my letter. Check the antique store for some old bread tins. Buy those yummy marinated pork chops at the butcher shop. They only do them up on Wednesdays so you’ve gotta grab them when you can. And then after a few days I will drive home and stop in Banff at the tea shop. Stock up on my favourites. Now I ask you, is this a waste of time? Not through my eyes and frankly that’s all that matters.
Procrastinating can be positive. Take time before you jump into something. Don’t say yes when pressured. Its easier to say no right away than to try and weasel out of something later on. Afraid of losing a friend? Why? If you have someone who brings stress to your life by pressuring you isn’t it a good thing to just let them leave? I mean, who needs that? While some friends bring us out of our shells and expose us to new experiences it doesn’t mean we need it. Rather they need someone to do it with them. I played team sports in school where there were lots of people doing the same. As an adult I tend to lean towards individual pursuits. Things I can do alone or with others should I chose that. Golf, hike, kayak, yoga, garden. Mainly I find them enjoyable. I truly don’t believe we were put on this earth to be stressed and certainly not to follow blindly. Children learn to walk and talk. They become independent. Feed themselves. Clothe themselves and so on and so on until they are adults. The thing we all need to remember is that the timeline is unique to the individual. Every fork in the road requires decisions and every decision creates consequences good and bad. Through it all we learn. Bad feelings come from not measuring up to expectations placed upon us by others. Putting things off isn’t bad or wrong. Somewhere along the way the definition of procrastination took a negative turn. If you admit to it, it is in a sheepish manner. Knowing you will be judged. Well I am going to own it. I will put off until tomorrow what I want. You see, I get lots of things done. Some only half done. Some projects wait for years. Most importantly though, I enjoy each day. I do what I want to do whether its a big project like ripping out my basement, a year long project, or binge watching “Murder She Wrote” in my pajama’s when its cold and miserable outside. Some things are best left to the future. Some things do work themselves out. And sometimes taking time to think things through stops us from being too rash. And that is good. Right now I am going to start on a valentines project for the grand kids. I’ve thought about it for years. Last week I bought most of the supplies. I doubt it will be done for tomorrow which is valentines day. But then again I can give it to them any time. Because its a gift from my heart. They will love it no matter when I give it to them. I’ve certainly learned that the best gift I can give them is acceptance. Not just of them but myself.