I learned to procrastinate in high school. That was when I was finally involved in enough extracurriculars to actually consider myself “busy,” to be tired enough at the end of the day to say, “No, I’m not going to start working on that essay tonight. I have 3 more days to get it done.” The trade of four nights doing a moderate amount of work to finish a huge project for a singular stress-filled all-nighter was a no-brainer. Of course I would put it off. My best work was always done under the stress of a quickly approaching deadline.
And that deadline had to be really close. I’m talking hours. It forced me to make decisions quickly. As long as I had at least a half-baked idea to roll with, executing it during such a limited window was a cinch. Procrastination was the ultimate catalyst for developing my creative problem solving. I wasn’t living unless I was subtly doing my algebra homework under my desk during our discussion of Pride and Prejudice in European Literature or putting the finishing touches on my powerpoint presentation for American Government due next period while my World Religions teacher thought I was actually using this period of “work time” to work on his own research assignment.
Upon graduation, I made goals like everyone else did to make things different in college – to finally stop the madness. To stop procrastinating.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t stick to that goal.
It was like high school all over again. Except this time around, I was even busier, managing to get myself involved in at least 3 shows a year for the theater department, work part time, and somehow complete a double major.
The thing was, I passed with flying colors. I was proud of what I managed to accomplish in as little time as possible. I turned making powerpoints into a science, able to calculate that it would take me about 15 minutes to do 10 slides with 3-5 bullet points. 500-word reading responses took about the same amount of time, so long as I got the reading done beforehand. But as long as I got up just early enough, I could finish my reading and my response with enough time to print before my 11 o’clock class across campus. It was so calculated, in fact, that it almost wasn’t procrastinating at all, but more so something that kind of resembled time management.
Except it was unforgiving. My mistake was assuming I would be able to wake up early enough the next morning after having stayed awake too long watching Netflix, something I didn’t have in high school. I insisted on this screen time, justifying it as necessary downtime to shut my brain off, when really it just kept me too wired to fall asleep right away.
But there was an odd thrill in saying, “I have so much work to do before tomorrow,” while also knowing the amount of work I had to do came about through no fault but my own. That was what college was – a tired, busy blur of deadlines passing by until one day you’re wearing a weird flat hat and gown and shaking hands with the school’s president as she hands you your degree and it’s difficult to remember exactly how you got there.
I take no pride in my procrastination anymore. Now that school is long done, I have no more deadlines. Time isn’t quite as marked, so I no longer have any real awareness of it’s passing. I feel no urgency when there isn’t a clear end goal. So the procrastination has morphed into something else entirely — I’m simply doing nothing without an end in sight.
I want the next job I have to be a “real” one — one that I will stay at for years, that is in a field I like, that will allow me to forever move out of my parents’ house and get a dog. I can see my life going so many different directions, but not knowing which way is right. So instead, I choose to keep living in this comfortable, yet infuriating way, with no finish line but the final one, the one that’s still too obscure and confusing to think about, so I don’t.
There are moments of clarity – times when I feel so sure that I know what I want to do. But then I’ll read something or watch something or listen to someone’s advice that will dissuade me. I’m too malleable for my own good.
And so I put it off again, until the next existential crisis comes, usually around my birthday, like clockwork.
Photo from Gratisography