I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.
Of all the many way I wish I could emulate Douglas Adams (everything except being dead), the one that’s occupying me most at the moment is this famous quote on deadlines.
It’s not that missing a deadline makes me panic. Thinking that I might miss a deadline makes me panic. Thinking about how much work I have to do to get things done before deadlines makes me panic. Missing a deadline? That’s a whole way beyond panic.
Despite now having set deadlines for other people, and knowing how arbitrary they can be, how there’s usually slippage built in, how missing them or having to extend them is usually not a problem in any way whatsoever (and certainly not worth the stress I put myself through), I still treat deadlines as gingerly as a hand-grenade with the pin held in by chewing-gum and hope.
It’s all part of the worrying tendency I’ve been trying to cure myself of, of ‘bending over backwards to let others walk all over me’. I will go out of my way to inconvenience myself before I inconvenience others. I’ll automatically give myself the worse end of the deal, and assume that your unhappiness or inconvenience outweighs mine. (I know this is not a healthy personality trait, and might be some kind of odd reverse egotism. I’m working on it…)
One of the things this leads to is me holding myself to higher standards than I hold others – which, of course, is just another way of saying that I assume that other people are less accommodating, less understanding than I am. If someone misses a deadline for me, or asks to extend it, do I get angry with them? Do I curse and moan? Do I instantly swear never, ever to work with this awful, unprofessional person again? Of course not. So why do I assume that that’s what people will do if I miss a deadline?
I’ve been feeling a bit down recently, a bit over-burdened, and have been worrying (again) that I don’t have time to enjoy what I’m doing. When I sent off the very final version of my book, all proofread and indexed, friends asked me ‘what will you do now, with all this free time?’. My gloomy answer: catch up on all the other work I neglected while I was working on book. I’ve been feeling so pressured to concentrate on my other commitments that I haven’t taken any time to celebrate my success, to sit back and reflect on what I’ve achieved.
But where is the pressure coming from? I know that if I just asked for an extension, just told someone that I’ve taken on too much and need a break, just managed to get down off my bloomin high-horse long enough to actually ask for help, people would be fine, and helpful, and supportive. Because we all know the feeling. We all know that life takes over, or you just need a break, and can’t do everything you’ve said you will. It doesn’t make you a failure; it makes you a normal, fallible, healthy person.
So this pressure I’m feeling is all from me. I feel like I think I’ve been riding a tiger, but really it’s just a painted carousel tiger, lent fierceness only by sheer momentum and my own over-active, over-anxious imagination.
I need to find the humility to admit that I can’t do it all, and the courage to ask for help. Most importantly, I need to remember: the tiger is only in my head.