Last Minute Club – by Judith Staff
Do you ever read something which consumes your thoughts, and makes such complete sense that for a while afterwards, it’s swilling around in your head like when you drank your juice too fast as a kid and it sloshed about in your tummy? Something so affecting it seeps into other areas of your life, reverberating in your mind days and weeks later, like an echo?
Recently, I read Raw & Unfiltered vol. 1: Selected Essays and Poems on Relationships with Self & Others (eds. J Anderson & M Carlton. Los Angeles: Feminine Collective, 2015). An anthology of submissions from Feminine Collective, a web-based magazine, the book is brimming with excellent writing by superb writers. One essay in particular which I keep returning to is “Self-Doubt is the Mother of Procrastination” (pg. 281) by Julie Anderson*. An international supermodel, and celebrated writer & poet among many more talents, Julie Anderson communicates beautifully her perspectives on life, love, mental health, body image, motherhood and countless other topics. Her writing is alive with an authenticity which grabs your hand and holds it tightly as you read her powerful, often deeply emotive words. Creator of Feminine Collective magazine & publishing company, Julie also co-edited Raw & Unfiltered.
In her piece “Self-Doubt is the Mother of Procrastination” Julie Anderson talks about her unfinished to-do lists and overdue car services. Her stacks of pressing paperwork on and around her desk, which match my own. She explains “Sometimes, I shuffle them around the room.” I do that – my piles of paperwork are like the red spot in the Dr Seuss classic “The Cat in the Hat”, being shifted around under the guise of “tidying up” or “sorting out.” Julie alludes to the sense of pride about her ability to complete things just under the wire “….proclaiming with a snarky grin that ‘I work better under pressure’….” I am laughing reading this; my family can readily attest to my impeccable skills in this area. If we go to see a movie, they lie to me about the time it starts to avoid being the last ones in their seats as the film begins. Late tax return, unanswered emails – as I read Julie’s catalogue of delay, I mentally check off a similar list. The first few paragraphs I’m giggling away – “Yep, that’s me all over!” The essay totally gets me, in a tribal-like way. Pure solidarity.
I am thoroughly enjoying the sense of validation and flutter of pride at being so good at the skin-of-my-teeth thing, a quality I seem to share with someone incredibly successful and talented. Until about a third of the way in, Julie mentions a podcast she discovered called iProcrastinate. She quotes the host, Dr Tim A. Pychyl who says:
“Procrastination is a by-product of low self-esteem and self doubt.”
Fuck. Well, that wiped the smile off my face really fast. Only because I completely relate to that, too. I lack masses of self-confidence and self-belief – so this made sense. Lots of sense. Like, too much, in fact. My problem isn’t poor time-keeping or disorganisation – I’m up by 5am most mornings, climbing into bed after midnight following another day of ‘busy’. No, this is all about an inherent fear of failure, of never being “good enough”. I continue thinking about it. Now, instead of being a minute late and joking about making an entrance, I am thinking, shamefully “God, I really need to sort this self-doubt thing out, one of these days……” Half the time, it’s a “wardrobe-crisis”, five changes of outfit that made me late. By enabling my behaviour with a “that’s just me” narrative, I have managed to keep getting away with it. Now I saw the underlying issue: me getting in my own way.
Putting all that aside for now, there’s more: I struggle to finish tasks as well.
I always DO finish but literally right on the deadline. With written projects, if there is no deadline, I edit the thing to death until I make myself a deadline (or four), or until someone wrenches it out of my hands. I can’t let go, stuck in a perpetual editing loop. I put all this down to perfectionism. Recently, I knew my slide presentation for a conference would take me about an hour to create. I started it at about 10pm the night before it was due for submission, and as predicted, it took me about an hour. Easy. But it was nearly 3am when I finally submitted it, and went to bed for two hours before my working day began. Waking up exhausted, I began wondering why I had spent so long tweaking and tweaking, unable to say “Done”. That’s when I finally saw the connection. The same thing that gets in the way of me starting things is what prohibits me from finishing them. After all, perfectionism and self-doubt are two sides of the same coin.
So now, I would love to have a Disney-esque ending for you, and tell you it’s all fixed so I can live happily ever after in the sunshine-filled Land of No-Procrastination. Instead, I will just say I’m still re-reading the chapter in the book, and paying particular attention to the steps at the end that Julie Anderson suggests can be helpful in addressing self-doubt induced tardiness.
And the steps she suggests are truly excellent.
And actioning them is on my to-do list.
Along with completing my tax-return.
And the emails I need to answer, the policy I am still fine-tuning, the paperwork on my desk I need to file……. When I’ve finished editing this.
*With very grateful thanks to Julie Anderson for giving me inspiration to write this piece, and reflect on my own patterns of last-minuteness and what underpins them.