To Stop Delaying and Deferring

June 29, 2014

I once read that the ability to delay gratification was a sign of maturity. Hungry babies demand to be fed right now and they cry until their needs are met. Toddlers and young children gradually learn to wait without always throwing a fit when their wishes are not immediately attended to. Like most adults who are not spoiled and independently wealthy, I’ve long ago learned the hard lesson that I can’t always get what I want right away and sometimes not even after a long wait.

Years ago, when I worked as a Marketing Product Manager in a bank, my boss defined savings as “deferred consumption.” I thought that was apt. Save now to spend later. You can look at your savings balance with a view to what pleasures it will buy for your future self.

Over the years I’ve come to enjoy the pleasures of anticipation. For example, I like to plan big trips long in advance and derive great satisfaction from researching things to see and do. For me, the journey is definitely as enjoyable as arriving at the destination.

I started musing about delayed gratification after reading a passage in Phyllis Rose’s The Shelf: Adventures in Extreme Reading about choosing between two books to read, one of so-so interest and the other of great interest:

“Such a choice touches on one’s basic orientation toward pain and pleasure. Some people go for the less pleasant of two options, assuming it has more moral weight. Others, stoic sensualists, begin with pain because they want to get it over with and leave the taste of pleasure lingering on their palates. Some impulsive people are unable to postpone pleasure, and still others, deeply pessimistic, start with the pleasure because they may die at any moment, and at least they will have had the pleasure before dying. My usual instinct is to seize the good things when I can, on the deeply pessimistic grounds that I may die at any moment, but I also have a lot of stoic sensualist in me and like to leave the taste of pleasure lingering on my palate.”

I see myself in this quote.  Now that I have attained old age (“young” old age!!), I am more conscious of how limited my remaining time on earth is. I have noticed that this finite outlook does weigh into my decision making. I can no longer delay gratification until some indefinite future. Whether it is deciding which book to read first, which DVD to watch first, or when to retire, I feel I have to be more careful with my choices. There are still lots of things I want to do before I get too frail or die.  I don’t want to delay too long.

This is not just advice for us older folks.  One of the wisest things I’ve read lately was an excerpt from Shonda Rhimes’ commencement address at Dartmouth.  She said:

“Dreams are lovely.  But they are just dreams — fleeting, ephemeral, pretty.  But dreams do not come true just because you dream them — it’s hard work that makes things happen.  It’s hard work that creates change.  So  . .  ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer.

Maybe, you know exactly what it is you dream of being, or maybe you’re paralyzed because you have no idea what your passion is.  The truth is, it doesn’t matter.  You don’t have to know.  You just have to keep moving forward.  You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new.  It doesn’t have to fit your vision of the perfect job or the perfect life.  Perfect is boring and dreams are not real.  Just do.

So you think, ‘I wish I could travel.’  Great.  Sell your crappy car, buy a ticket to Bangkok, and go.  Right now.  I’m serious.  You want to be a writer?  A writer is someone who writes every day — so start writing.  You don’t have a job?  Get one.  Any job.  Don’t sit at home waiting for the magical opportunity . . . Do something until you can do something else.”

I find Rhimes’ words inspiring.

So I’ve been dreaming about a walking/hiking vacation.  My daughter is walking the Camino de Santiago this summer.  My niece will be walking the 88 temples of Shikoku next spring.  These are the kinds of long walks I am wishing for.  I won’t be quitting my job and dropping everything to realize my dream right now.  But there are steps I can take (literally).  I can take long walks around Seattle, on my days off work.  No need to travel far to get started.

So, that’s what I did.  My goal was to walk the boundaries of Seattle, about 70 miles.  I did it in six segments, and I’ll write about my journey here.  Stay tuned.

The Seattle Department of Transportation has issued these recreational walking maps

The Seattle Department of Transportation has issued these recreational walking maps





7 Responses to “To Stop Delaying and Deferring”

  1. Janet McIntosh Says:

    Thank you for many things: believing that what you are thinking is of interest to others (it is), that you and your thoughts have value (they do!), that what you think and say today will touch someone at just the right time (it did!). Oh, and for using this crazy-making technology for a higher purpose!

  2. mzuritam Says:

    I’m in shoes just like yours! Thanks for sharing your good advice. I strive every day now (I’m young-old, too) to live life to its fullest and complete a list of deeds I’ve always just dreamed of accomplishing. Good fortune to you!

  3. shoreacres Says:

    There’s much to agree with here. There are trade-offs, of course, Because I began changing my life in my late 30s and early 40s, I cut myself off from a secure retirement. On the other hand, I don’t have the regrets some of my friends have lived with. I did my traveling, my sailing, my moving around from one occupation to another while I still was able to do so. Now, at 68, I haven’t the desire to continue certain activities — like sailing. I’m healthy enough, but I don’t want to work that hard!

    And I also think a good bit about how the rest of my days will be lived. If I live another 20 years, I’ll be 88. That leaves me gasping for breath, just a little. I probably won’t be working any longer at that point — but maybe I will! I’ve often joked that I want to be in the Guiness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest living varnisher. Why not?

  4. […] To Stop Delaying and Deferring, June 29, 2014 […]

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