What Procrastination Really Is

I don’t know what’s worse, procrastination… or feeling guilty about procrastination.

Procrastination may not be what you’ve been led to believe, however.

I recently read what might just be the best definition ever of procrastination. James Altucher, in his book, Choose Yourself, describes procrastination as how your subconscious tells you you’re trying to force yourself to do something you shouldn’t be doing.

And I think he’s right.

History is filled with people who didn’t want to do something… they needed to do it or they would die inside. JK Rowling was writing Harry Potter on loose-leaf paper with a pen during what few minutes she had during her lunch break at work. People pursue their passions against all reason losing spouses, family members, and friends along the way. There are people who truly┬ácan’t wait to wake up in the morning and get going on whatever it is they do.

Procrastination vs. the Calling and the Hero’s Journey

But sometimes that need is there and is scares us so badly we resist it for as long as we can. Or we dabble in it and then pull back. I know because that’s my life.

For the longest time I knew I had a calling to be a writer. But I shrank from it or tried to channel it into other related endeavors. I was afraid of it. Of the power of it. Of the way I knew it would consume my life, and possibly the lives of those around me.

I was worried because the kind of stories I like to read don’t seem to be the kind of story ideas that pop into my head. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that: after all, the idea of a calling (or, perhaps, Calling) is that you were not asked you what you wanted or thought. You either answer the call or you refuse. I don’t know. These things keep happening, seemingly of their own volition, but they’re not what I thought I wanted. Is that bullshit, or is it me who’s full of shit?

Procrastination and refusing a Call might be nearly the same thing in terms of how you feel and the effects on you: self-loathing, resistance, ennui, melancholy, feeling like you missed out on something… somewhere…

When I write fiction, I feel something special inside, that’s for sure. I love writing, period. It was the writing that sustained me throughout my blogging career. I attached all these other related things to it, like blog design and blog consulting, but some of those things didn’t work out very well. The writing always worked, but I knew it could be even better if I could shed everything that wasn’t really me.

That’s what I’m groping in the dark for, now. At this very minute as I write this.

Joseph Campbell, in his breakthrough work, Hero with a Thousand Faces, describes a pattern he’d discerned from years of studying the mythology of many cultures, which he called the hero’s journey. Filmmakers and writers have adopted the hero’s journey to their works with usually some success (Star Wars being probably the most well-known example).

The first step in the hero’s journey is the call to adventure. The hero is in his normal life, going about his normal, daily things, when something comes along and turns his world upside down, calling him to adventure.

The second step in the hero’s journey is that he refuses the call.

He doesn’t want to acknowledge what he’s been called to do. He wants things to go back the way they were. Think Luke Skywalker yearning for adventure but making excuses to Obi Wan about how he could never be a Jedi. Or Bilbo Baggins reluctantly joining up with Thorin and company, only to want to return home later. And even later, Frodo Baggins receiving the One Ring, only to want to just get rid of it or give it to Gandalf instead of answer his Calling. Of course, there are more steps besides the first two, but they’re not relevant for this.

I have the feeling that a very great many people are stuck forever in their lives, refusing their Calling. And because real life is much more mundane than saving the world from dark lords of evil (except… is it, really?), they suffer endlessly in the limbo of unanswered Callings.

And that’s why everything they do is just layer upon layer of procrastination. Putting things off so they can put something else off. Doing something only because it means they don’t have to do something else, which they know they “should” be doing and are refusing.

Not the One Thing, Just the One Thing Right Now

A Calling isn’t necessarily the one thing you’re supposed to do with your life, it’s just what you’re supposed to be doing right now. It’s a bit naive to think that every single person out of the billions on this planet has some kind of important destiny. Real heroes are rare.

I’m not one to assign supernatural agency to Callings, but if it makes you feel better, be my guest. Maybe the voice of God whispers to you. Maybe the Universe gave you a sign. Maybe glowing little fairy in a teddy made of leaves spoke to you. We love to see patterns and extrapolate meaning from life’s events. But more likely, you have a nagging intuition that won’t let go of you. It’s the voice you hear when the cacophony of other voices and noises in your world are stilled through silence and meditation.

Most people would rather die than allow for silence to reign long enough to let in the voice of their Calling. Ever been with someone who can’t stand silence and has to either start blathering or turn on some kind of device to fill the void after only a few minutes of silence? Or maybe that person is you.

The reason why I’m going on about all this Calling stuff is that you can’t just stop procrastinating.

You need to be doing something you want to do, that you yearn to do (I love that word, yearn, because it’s so much more powerful than want). Realizing what you shouldn’t be doing any longer is one side of the coin. Doing what you should be doing is the other.

I wish I could say with certainty that if you answer your Calling, you’ll magically stop procrastinating, because you won’t have a reason to procrastinate any longer. But since I haven’t reached that point, yet, myself, all I can say is that I hope that’s the case.

All I know is I’ve been doing an awful lot of writing, lately, and it’s been amazing (the experience, not the writing itself).

photo credit: true2source via photopin cc


2 thoughts on “What Procrastination Really Is

  1. I never knew this about you Michael – all these years we’ve worked “alongside” each other like 2 planets orbiting a sun, and I had no idea you love writing fiction (then again, I don’t read fiction so…). I find it interesting we’re both going through this reinvention at the same time.

    Maybe it’s worthwhile for me to write a blog post along these lines too. I started in graphic design but hit such a creative block that I switched to writing up until 3 years ago. When I hit the same creative block in writing, I wasn’t “married” to it so I managed to work through the block and continue writing. Now I apply the same methods of overcoming my writing blocks to my drawing blocks, and I have “that feeling” again when I draw. That sense of “home” you mention.

    Every now and then I get that tinge of perfectionism, but getting through the writing blocks for 15 years gave me the tools to just ignore the moments when my hero inside denies his Calling for fear of being less than adequate.

    Great post Michael. Awesome seeing you around the blogosphere again ­čÖé


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