Recently my Dad sent an article to me via my stepmother that he thought I would enjoy and that he thought might inspire an article about its content. The article was about positive thinking and how attitude determines what we accomplish and what we don’t but as for inspiring an article about that subject, let’s just say it didn’t work out exactly the way I intended for it to. I put it aside with every intention of taking the time to read it but as usual, my busy schedule and sometimes chaotic life kept pushing it to the back burner. When we would talk on the phone, he’d ask me whether I had had a chance to read the article and I would run down the litany of reasons why I had not taken the time to read something that he thought was important enough to send to me…so in reality, it is inspiring an article but not one about positive thinking….at least not completely.
I am usually a very positive person and that is why I enjoy life and look forward to what each day brings. I think that is one of the reasons that I have been lucky enough to accomplish a lot of things that I’ve wanted to do, both professionally and personally, but there is still so much I want to do that I don’t yet know how I’m going to find the time. Positive thinking isn’t the problem here…..procrastination is and I have honed the skill of putting things off to a fine art. I am an expert in it, much to the frustration of my wife and my family. Some things I can rationalize and justify by saying that I work better under pressure or with a looming deadline and I will admit that I have accomplished some of my best work under the gun but inevitably I don’t enjoy the stress that comes along with it and as I get older, stress just isn’t the drug of choice it once was.
My pastor might ask me to take over for him when he goes on vacation and gives me a month’s notice to write a twenty minute sermon for services at the church. All number of ideas form in my head and I think about how this is going to be the best one I’ve ever written, the most effective delivery and the most relevant topic, only to find myself writing feverishly on Saturday night at 11:00 PM for two services ten and twelve hours away …and yet I received a lot of positive feedback for it. I also remember distinctly writing a speech I had to give at a college graduation in the margin of the program while the graduates were getting capped and gowned for the processional and I remember getting applause in the middle of the speech for something inspirational I added into it.
These are just two examples and in both cases, really in all cases so far, it has worked out well for me but in all honesty, when I put things off to the last minute like that, even if the end results are good, am I really giving others the best of what I am capable of? Am I marginalizing God by saving His word to the last minute? Am I giving graduates who have spent years working to get where they are the best that I can give back to them? Most of all, am I letting the supportive feedback and applause serve as positive reinforcement for putting off to the last minute what I know I should have done weeks earlier? It’s like a piece of notebook paper that you are writing the story of your life on. Are you going to use the broad, open writing area on the right side of the page or are you going to write your story in the margin where there isn’t a lot of room to tell the tale?
It’s perfectly fine when you are asked at the last minute to step in and fill a gap because someone is out sick or some other change of plans pushes you to the forefront of something and that is when you should be glad that you have that ability and skill but is being able to do something and do it fairly well at the last minute a skill you should refine or one you should keep in reserve for those occasions when it is needed?
In the fall of 2010 I decided to go on a diet and do it slowly over time and by the following summer, I had lost nearly 75 pounds. Since then I have managed to keep that weight off and yes, I do feel a lot better and more energetic and vigorous but I have to ask myself why I waited so many years to do it? Why didn’t I do this when I was 35 or even 40? It was easier to set false future intentions for myself. False future intentions are things you intend to do in the future by justifying to yourself that the right time is not now but sometime down the road.
Maybe a vacation you are taking in six months might tell you that the right time to start dieting and getting in shape for it is three months from now but when three months gets here, you put it off another month and after that, another one. Two weeks before you go on vacation, you start a crash diet, maybe drop 15 lbs and then pat yourself on the back that you didn’t waste months of dieting and depriving yourself to accomplish what you did in a couple of weeks. Disregard the fact that had you started when you intended to that you might be going on vacation with 45 lbs dropped and a much better and even tempered disposition.
Procrastination often leads to unfulfilled dreams or worse, to half realized ones. I very much want to write a book and the ideas are there and the ability to do so is certainly there but I keep putting it off, waiting for the right time to do it. I’m not saying that I am the next Hemmingway, Grisham or King but how do I know the next great bestseller isn’t in my head somewhere? I really don’t know that because I haven’t put forth the effort to find out and I am not alone in that regard. All over the world there are millions of people who have not tapped into their full potential because they either put things off or they give it half the effort when the deadline is hanging over their head.
The article that Dad sent me is about having a positive attitude and I am very thankful that most of the time I have one, but all the positive attitude in the world isn’t going to help me or anyone else if we always put things off until the last minute. Sooner or later, my luck isn’t going to carry me through that big assignment, sermon, speech or article.
Today Dad turns 66 years old. I can’t say he has always had a positive attitude and I can’t say that he has not procrastinated in his life at times. Everybody does occasionally, but I also can’t remember many times that he put things off either. He just couldn’t do it with what was expected of him by his family and his business. As we get older, the things we have to be positive about changes and the things we once were positive about become relics of history. Work accomplishments become things in the past, speeches are forgotten, babies grow up, all replaced by new things to look forward to; retirement, travel, grandchildren and so forth. There can always be something positive to focus on and to keep a positive outlook about but as time goes on, there will be less things of importance to do and therefore, fewer opportunities to procrastinate.
Wouldn’t it be better to enjoy not putting things off while there are still a lot of things to do? Just once I would like to have a sermon done three weeks ahead of time and thus have one less thing in my mind to worry about getting done before its due. I already know I will be expected to give remarks at graduation in June so why not write the best two page speech I can come up with now and take the time to fine tune it, refine it and make sure it is the best I have to give? I know I’m going to the beach in August, five months away, and I still want to lose about fifteen more lbs. Why not go ahead and knock that out now?
Part of being positive and having a good outlook is knowing that the important things in life are taken care of. I may think I’m positive now but just think how positive I could be if everything I knew was looming on the horizon was already taken care of? It’s not something I can turn around completely in one day but it is something to think about. Right now I think that blank piece of paper with all that room looks a lot better than the narrow margin on the left hand side. I think I’ll try writing over on the right side and see how that works for me. Thanks for the wisdom Dad, as always and Happy Birthday!
Author’s note: This is my 100th original post to The Literate Pen (not counting my son’s recent entry into the writing field). I wish now that I had not put off writing for so long because I really enjoy it and I appreciate all my readers and followers who have continued to encourage me. I’ll keep trying to get better as I go and find interesting things to write about but for now, a big THANK YOU to everyone for your support and encouragement.