“Imagination only comes when you privilege the subconscious,
when you make delay and procrastination work for you.” ~Hilary Mantel.
At work we often complain about the new generation, a set of young people who have no patience, no ability to wait for results. As soon as they submit an assignment or complete an exam they expect to know their results, even when they know these things have to be hand-graded. Mr. Google has provided us with round the clock instant access to answers. We worry that memory will become obsolete, like the appendix or the little toe. If we don’t use it we lose it, we are often told. So what happens when the next generation of professionals relies on their smart phone and other devices rather than human knowledge, experience, and the ability to analyze?
I now belong to the generation of fuddy-duddies, those who are constantly bemoaning the difference between then and now, longing nostalgically for the good old days. But it has always been so. When I was a young student nurse, my instructor would often lecture us: ‘When I trained with Florence’ and regale us with stories of how it used to be. It is natural to remember only the good in those good old days, and forget how life has been made so much easier with the advances in technology.
But the generation gap is alive and well. For there is something to the notion that delayed gratification builds character. Getting everything the minute you ask for it lessens its value. As a child I noticed that the children of the wealthier parents did not seem to do well in school. At first I thought they were not as bright, it was not until I got older that I realized they never felt the need to try their best, they had a fall-back plan. The kids who had to get up before dawn to do chores, had to walk miles to get to school, had to go home and do more chores before they could do their homework by the light of the Home Sweet Home oil lamp were hungrier and worked harder. And became the success stories that we enjoy today.
Delaying gratification requires discipline, teaches you to complete tasks before you reward yourself with something pleasurable. Every Jamaican child learns this: no-one goes anywhere on a Saturday morning until the house is clean and the work is done. This habit endures even in fast paced, instant everything USA, the home of the drive-thru. Need groceries? Need money from the ATM? Need to drop off dry-cleaning? Need to pick up your prescription? Need a prayer? I guess it is only funeral homes that don’t offer drive thru services (yet!). You can imagine how hard it is for those accustomed to instant everything to travel to countries that are still working on a ‘soon-come’ mentality!
The opposite of delayed gratification is procrastination. The heck with what needs to be done, I can do it later, or tomorrow, or whenever. And then a deadline looms and we are in the crunch, forced to pull out our hair and try to pull something together. Despite growing up in Jamaica, I have long been a procrastinator. If they had a twelve step program for procrastinator’s anonymous, I would have to join it (later, not right now, in a few days!). I need to feel the deadline breathing hot on my neck to get in the mood. I have been doing better recently, since my best work at the last minute is not up to the standard required!
The other day I was listening to a program discussing innovation and creativity. The author of a book on the subject was listing practices which promote these activities, one of which was ‘productive procrastination’. He suggested that not rushing through with a project could lead to better results. Allowing ideas to marinate, to percolate and mature could actually help. In fact, we often do some of our best thinking while asleep. When we ‘sleep on it’ we turn off our conscious, busy mind, and allow our subconscious to work on it while we sleep. We may either dream a solution, or wake up with an idea that just would not come to us the night before.
Whether we need to delay gratification, or pause in a project to allow for the emergence of new ideas, we are practicing patience, a gift many of us lack. But as in most things, there is a balance that we must find. For if we postpone and delay for too long, we may miss a window of opportunity. Keeping a pristine home may prevent us from getting out and appreciating Mother Nature, or make us miss an event that could bring us great joy. Procrastinating, no matter how productively, may cause us to miss a deadline and miss a chance that won’t come by for a while. Many of us let life and routines and schedules prevent us from seeing and seizing chances for making memories.
We often have family get-togethers only at funerals. We make the effort to fly in for a rushed weekend for a sad occasion, when we didn’t make the happy ones. We put off vacations that are too expensive, or celebrations that clash with other commitments. But if it is one thing that we should learn from funerals, it is that time is promised to no-one, and that you never know when your options are suddenly limited to none of the above.
This Friday morning I hope you will be disciplined, yet allow for creativity and spontaneity. I hope you will balance out the duties with pleasure. I hope you will seize moments, get out and dance, and meet up with old friends for good reasons.
Have a wonderful weekend Family!