“It is so much easier now that we’re out of school.”
“I know, right! A job is so much easier.”
“When you’re in school, you have to do all that work by deadline.”
“I’m so glad that’s behind us.”
That conversation (or a version of it) played out in my local coffee shop today. Zoinks.
I don’t know the former students and I don’t want to judge the former students, but I feel like they, too, might one day be writing a blog where they go back in time and give themselves advice. And the first piece of advice they would give would be something like, “Oh my God you're wasting so much time!! Hurry up!”
It’s true that you don’t have someone looking over your shoulder ticking off percentage points for every day you’re late with that press release, grant proposal, social media post. Because it’s not about you, or me, or any one diligent student.
It’s far, far scarier than that:
Miss a grant deadline? Cancel that project.
Miss a project deadline? Your mission fails.
No one is chirping at you about deadlines because you’re expected to care more about it than anyone else. In fact, you need to care more than anyone else. Because the whole bargain behind the good world-changing work that we do is that we’ve made a promise to think hard about things no one else wants to think about … in exchange for a life of meaning that few people get to experience.
I was pretty good on the deadline front. I guess school pounded it into my head.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of important work that needs to get done that doesn’t have a deadline. No one will notice if you don’t do it, because no one has even realized yet that it needs to be done.
Here’s what I’d tell myself if I could go back in time:
Meet your deadlines, but don’t worry about them. They aren’t your real goal.
Instead, spend your nights worrying about all the things you should be doing that no one is asking about.
Grasp at the opportunities in front of you that could slip away at any moment.
And don’t lose sight of the big problems you’re trying to solve. Problems don’t sit still. They aren’t like deadlines, patiently waiting for you at a pre-arranged date and time.
True, you can see them. You can work towards them. But they can - and will - shift on you. They’ll get bigger. Thornier. Or you’ll hunt one down only to discover it’s hiding another problem right behind it.
The notion of school-master imposed “deadlines” will trick you into thinking that important milestones are set by other people and fixed in time. It will lull you into believing that the space between now and then is yours in which to roam.
Focus too much on deadlines, and you can lose sight of what is really at stake.