As the hours of the long holiday weekend counted down today, I noticed my oldest son becoming more and more agitated. He was so worried about wasting a second of what was left of his time off school that he became obsessed with the passing of time. The later it got this afternoon, the more frenzied and frustrated he became. He had just a small amount of homework to complete, but instead of buckling down and focusing on getting it out of the way so he could enjoy himself he railed against it. He spent two full hours fussing over what should have taken him no more than 30 minutes, and then he still had to put in the 30 minutes’ worth of work.
This is a common pattern for Joe. He has a tendency to procrastinate and then worry about the time he’s wasted. I don’t know how to help him, and I feel for bad for him. I am not a procrastinator. I loathe the feeling of having something hanging over my head, so in school I was the kid who worked on her homework on the bus ride home. Any free minute I had during the day was devoted to making sure I was caught up or, better yet, ahead of the curve on my assignments. At work, a boss never had to bother me about a deadline because I perpetually met them in advance. For me, the dread of having something undone is worse than the effort of getting right down to business and simply getting it over with.
After Joe had finally finished his work and was able to relax a bit, I reminded him of my favorite phrase about worry, procrastination’s dear friend. The phrase is one I share often with friends when they talk about the heavy mental burdens they are carrying. In my early 20s, I was deeply in debt. Between student loans, my used car, and credit cards, I had racked up more debt than I could pay off even while working two jobs. I remember waking up in the middle of the night with a panic attack and rifling through my closet, desperately searching for items I could possibly return or sell for extra cash. I was in a downward spiral. I had friends who were preparing to file for bankruptcy at the same time but, at 23, I found that option unthinkable. Instead I faced the miserable fact that I was in a hole, walked into a Consumer Credit Counseling office, and signed up to pay off my debt. Bit by bit I clawed my way out of that self-dug, cavernous abyss. It took me three full years, but at 26 I was debt free. Those lean years in debt management were tough, but that period of my life changed me. I now understand that worry is a waste of time and that I am plenty strong enough to face and overcome hardships. Those years, desolate and trying, were a gift.
I do hope that Joe will learn sooner rather than later that worry is pointless. It’s just another form of procrastination, another way to rob ourselves of the present moment. I also hope Joe’s lesson won’t be a three-year trial like mine was. Most things in life have a way of working themselves out. And, the things that don’t resolve themselves can be remedied with a little hard work. I know Joe will ultimately be successful because he’s bright and capable. I just hope he gets out of the habit of worrying sooner than I did. He’s far too young to be wasting time in a rocking chair.