Procrastination: A Mental or Emotional Block?

Hello from my office in the house,

I am going to head to the university shortly, mask in hand, and lock myself way in my office. There are multiple reasons for that, but suffice it to say my technology at home and I are fighting. Technology is winning, which is usually the case. It is into the third week of school already and I can honestly say I have not procrastinated much of anything since the semester began. While it has not been a normal beginning to a school year in hardly any aspect, I have found that I am invigorated nonetheless and I am working away. Yesterday I spent about 16 hours with maybe an hour off the entire day. Today is not quite as crazy, but I think I will still have about 12 or 13 hours before I call it a night. One thing that is evident is everyone, on both sides of blank stare, are working hard, but it takes so much more time to manage and do a remote class well. It is not simply putting a bunch of material in a course delivery tool and then let it go. First, the anxiety of the students is exponentially increased because they do not see me. Then there is the fact that I am not a babysitter or hand-holder. I expect people to merely do their work. I will help them if they will reach out, but I am not going to chase them. I simply will not. I am well aware of the requirement of offering some extra grace (I am a former Lutheran pastor, remember) and providing a safety net to some degree, but dang, it requires some dedication and discipline on both sides.

It is Labor Day, but it is a work day this year here at Bloom. Saturday I worked for about 12 hours on classes and yesterday was the same. Today will be similar. I think of my trolling college classmate, who honestly believes I have a “cush” job with no bosses and everyone (and I think he would like to claim even from the Midwest, he personally) pays my salary even though I do nothing to earn it. I would love to have him follow me around for even a week. I think (or perhaps not) he might have at least an inkling more respect for the hard work that goes on here in the academy, even though we are all liberal hacks to him. Yet, I try my best to be respectful to his cultish Trumpisms. Difficult, but I keep trying. And yes, there might be a modicum of truth to the idea that I am calling him out here.

As we are into the fourth week of class already, I can say I have procrastinated less than perhaps ever in my life. Much of this is due to necessity. As most of you know, I was supposed to be teaching technical writing in Krakow this fall, and leaving for UJ later next week was the plan. Covid effectively postponed those plans all the way back in May. Yet, I did not have classes actually assigned here for fall semester until two weeks before classes commenced. While none of them are new preps, three sections of Foundations of College Writing remotely is an entirely different issue. First, I have argued that most freshmen are not ready to take remote classes because they do not have the discipline to manage them. I hoped that their experience in the Covid Spring might make that less likely, but I headed into the fourth week, I am not sure. There is certain some moaning, wailing, and gnashing of teeth happening. That is on both sides of the equation. I take no joy in the failure of any student. My general response, my question I ask myself is simple. What could I have done better? One of my former students once said, “You have to work hard to fail your class.” Another, who did fail, said, “That is the best class I ever took and failed.” I was not sure how to respond to that. Suffice it to say, everyone is pretty busy at this point, and I am not procrastinating. Yet, one of the things I have learned about myself is the more I have to do, the more productive I am. This fall seems to have put that adage on steroids. Oh my goodness.

It is ever so easy to put things we would rather not do on the back burner, or perhaps not even allow them on the stove. I am certainly guilty of this from time to time. I think it requires us, however, to understand why we avoid certain things. There are certain things I do not like, but there are times I will do them to procrastinate things I dislike even more profoundly. What is it about those chores, requirements, obligations that create so much angst for me (us)? I think most often it is because we have failed, or, at the very least, feel we have failed, at that particular thing before. Perhaps we have been shamed or hurt by someone because of that perceived failure. I think in my case, there are two things that will paralyze me. First, I wish someone taught how to manage my life and my finances when I was growing up. I am not trying to blame anyone, but that was not something that happened. Money was never talked about. Money was almost a sacrosanct topic, perhaps even taboo. My grandmother did try to help when I was living with her the summer before my senior year in high school. Yet I would move back home and when I left for the service almost a year later, I understood little. The first time I got myself in trouble financially, like many do, I had no idea what to do. Of course there are those taboo topics you never discuss: politics, religion and money. I have gotten over the first two as is well evidenced in this blog, but that third, not so much. I have learned a lot, but I still wish I knew so much more. I know now communication is key.

The second thing paralyzing me is when I feel I have fallen short of expectations, regardless of whose expectations they are. I certainly know from where this difficulty comes, and I have made progress, but it is always a struggle. I see any falling short as failure. I also know this is not rational, but emotions run much deeper than logic. I think the first step is to be able to forgive one’s self. That is not an easy thing to do. Forgiveness is one of the greatest, most significant powers we possess. When we refuse forgiveness, either to ourselves or the other, the consequence can be devastating. I am reminded how my advisor, and brilliant professor, Dr. John W. Nielsen once admonished me, stating, “Michael, your theology of grace works fine for everyone, but yourself.” A few weeks later as I stood in the VA hospital in Omaha, NE, staring in the mirror at my emaciated body after losing 30 pounds in barely 30 days, how correct he was. That was the beginning of journey with Crohn’s that has now taken me into my 60s. I was in my late 20s at the time. The stress of the constant fear of failure was incredibly hard on my body. It is another area I think I should research some more diligently, somewhere in my extra time.

This morning it is Labor Day, usually a holiday, but because of our compressed schedule, we are working. I would be working anyway, but it is actually not a holiday on campus this year. El dia trabajo is the May 1st for most Spanish countries and some of the other European countries. I am not sure how we ended up with September, but it is. I remember my father’s reverence for this day. I understand that reverence much more completely at this point in my life. It is interesting how some of the things what were so dear to him resonate with me much more at this point. In a conversation with a dear, dear friend a bit ago, we spoke about the idea of work ethic. That was modeled for us by our parents, and through that modeling, it was sort of just infused into us like an IV. It was expected. I think of my first job at my grandmother’s bakery. While I ate more than I was worth, I am sure, I do know I worked hard for her because I did not want to disappoint her. That was the worst thing I could have done. Eventually I would deliver bakery goods, help with other things needed, wash more pans, and help deliver wedding cakes (as well as set up and any touch-up decorating). When I was between my junior and senior year in high school, I worked from 5:30 in the morning until 3:30 or so in the afternoon. Then I would drive to my other job (working at a greyhound racetrack) from 5:00 until midnight, and I did that six days a week. Sixteen year olds today would not be allowed to do that, but what I realize now is I learned a lot about hard work that summer. Yet, I am not sure those lessons always stuck with me. I have not always been that hard worker. I think there are spurts, fits and stops.

The times I have been the most productive, hardest working were once I started my life as a student at Dana College. I am not sure what motivated me to be the dedicated student I had often failed to be earlier. I think it was the professors who inspired me, prompted me to love learning. It was that first trip to Europe, where I really understood what it meant to learn. Learning is being a sponge. It is absorbing and pondering what is happening. There is little memorization. When you are learning and absorbing, there is no time for procrastination because you will drown in the wave of experiences. It would be overwhelming and impossible. The feeling of dread or being afraid of all that is happening is reasonable, but keep paddling. I know presently some of my students seem to be barely floating, but that is when you ask for help. Let someone toss you the life preserver. When I got to seminary and eventually to grad school, I never took the easy way. I was almost always working and going to school full-time. It was the only way I would survive financially or perhaps even emotionally as I look back. I never had the free meal ticket, but I do not regret that. I learned I was more capable and had more initiative than I had ever imagined. While there were things I did not do because there was no time, I have few regrets.

We will generally avoid the things that cause us pain, but perhaps the better thing to do is no longer allow them events or tasks to hold that power over us. If we can take control of things we will be better for it. If we can change ourselves, beginning with the person in the mirror, then the change is real. With that in mind, and continuing to demonstrate to my class how the identity things works, here is the Glee regional performance with the incredible songs from the Jacksons. Thanks as always for reading and don’t procrastinate, watch the video.

Again, thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Published by thewritingprofessor55

As I move toward the end of a teaching career in the academy, I find myself questioning the value and worth of so many things in our changing world. My blog is the place I am able to ponder, question, and share my thoughts about a variety of topics. It is the place I make sense of our sometimes senseless world. I believe in a caring and compassionate creator, but struggle to know how to be faithful to the same. I hope you find what is shared here something that might resonate with you and give you hope.

2 thoughts on “Procrastination: A Mental or Emotional Block?

  1. Hello! I had you as a professor 2 semesters ago. (That’s the reason I have this account.) I pop in every now and then to read your posts. Keep doing what you’re doing for your students. You are the only professor I’ve had so far that has left an impact on me. I still admire your teaching and your writing! I hope you’re doing well. Stay safe and healthy.

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