I'm a procrastinator. There, I've admitted it. Whenever I am faced with something that seems difficult, complex, time-consuming or just plain scary, I ignore it for as long as I can and hope it goes away. The consequences of this strategy vary. Sometimes the problem will go away, only to return twice as large later on. More commonly, I will be forced to deal with it due to something beyond my control – a looming deadline, for instance. And usually I will end up doing a poorer, more rushed job than I would have if I had simply dealt with the problem on time.
A friend recently pointed out that my chronic procrastination might have deeper implications than just a reluctance to do things I might find unpleasant. After all, I procrastinate on things I enjoy doing too, like reading, writing my fiction and even shopping (I haven’t bought a pair of jeans in years). He might be right; I have lots of spiral-bound notebooks filled with things I’m going to do and year after year many of those things – French lessons, sewing classes, volunteering to work with kids – remain stubbornly undone. I keep meaning to call people; I am always intending to fix things – and I never do. What am I waiting for?
The thing is, I get overwhelmed. I look at the enormity of what is before me and I grow terrified of ever being able to do it – more importantly, I become terrified of doing it wrong. Yes, I could simply hammer a nail into the wall and hang up the mirror, but what if I hammer the nail and it’s too high or too low or worse, I end up chipping the cement and leaving an ugly hole in the wall? (Not that that’s what happened when I finally ended up doing it – I'm just saying...) I think I don’t do because I am afraid of failing.
I am trapped by an all-or-nothing mindset that insists that unless I can do it perfectly, I shouldn't do it at all. Thus, it is so much easier to leave a deed in the pristine imagined state of perfection in my mind than have to deal with the messy realities of actually going through with it. When I imagine myself taking French lessons, my grammar is perfect, my pronunciation flawless, and that’s much more preferable than the reality of having to stumble through the language sounding like an inebriated two-year-old. It’s easier to imagine myself dating that amazing guy that I've had a crush on for years than risk asking him out and getting shot down.
The problem with this is that my imagination is getting me nowhere. I've been imagining all these perfect scenarios and in the meantime my body is slowly disintegrating right out from under me. Every year I don’t write that novel or put together that short story collection is one more year where I remain unpublished. Every day I avoid learning that skill is one more day that passes while my physical ability to learn and absorb new things continues to diminish. Each time I put off calling that person, my relationship with them grows more tenuous. Every act of procrastination has consequences and they can only be measured in the accumulation of all the wasted hours that stretch into a lifetime of unfulfilled potential and possibility.
They say that to act is thing of will, of volition that comes from inside. Those who do – for good or bad – will always have the advantage over those who do not. To them will come the knowledge, the wealth, the recognition, and the accomplishment, and those of us who only dream will be forced to step aside. Somewhere inside me, I must find the will to do. I may do it imperfectly, or I may fail entirely. But I do I must. I can’t afford any more excuses.
Maybe I'll start tomorrow...