Ask Andrew W.K.: Tackling Procrastination
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[Editor's note: Every Wednesday, New York City's own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose, or -- no surprise here -- a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
I'm a terrible procrastinator. It started back in high school, when I literally put off everything I had to do. Sometimes I would get very inspired and motivated, and other times I just felt so lazy I couldn't do anything. By college, it had got so bad that I basically had a panic attack when I avoided writing two big papers until the night before they were due and literally went through hell and back to finish them in time. The problem is, I'm good at procrastinating. I got good grades on those papers, and haven't really ever missed a deadline. It's just the putting stuff off and the pressure piling up that's really wearing me down. I think all the stress has taken years off my life. I'm seeing it get worse lately and I just need to figure out how to get that spark that kicks me into gear. For some reason, I just keep sitting around and doing other stuff instead of what I'm supposed to do. Look what I'm doing right now...I'm writing to you instead of actually just doing my work. Please help me!
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Dear Uninspired Procrastinator,
I think procrastination is highly underrated. Or at least, it's a word that's overused and not necessarily what you're describing here. In fact, it's possible that almost all the stress surrounding your situation comes not from potential issues caused by delaying your work, but from the fear, anxiety, and stigma surrounding the phenomenon of procrastination as a concept itself.
For example, in your letter, you didn't mention any times when you actually missed a deadline or had a bad outcome from procrastinating, you mainly just expressed your deep concern about being someone who procrastinates and the anguish your concern causes you. Sure, doing a lot of work at the last minute takes a lot of energy and is super intense, but that's how the process works at times. I don't know how old you are now, but assuming you've been functioning this way for many years, it's highly possible that the way you work on tasks and manage your time is perfectly OK, and that it's your perception of it being flawed that is causing the majority of your suffering, and tension. Sometimes when one's own natural inclinations and skills clash with preconceived ideas of "good behavior," there develops a perverse and sadistic cycle of torment, where your spirit wants to flourish, but your rational mind constantly abuses and punishes it for "misbehaving."
The concept of procrastination is really referring to a battle that comes from our free spirit colliding with a world that's been overly structured and overly scheduled. Of course we want some structure and schedule -- having an idea of what, when, and where is necessary for certain areas of life, but what about for our spirit? Our imagination and creative capacities have no real interest in, or use for, the stringent protocols of work structure and rote schedule.
Brilliant ideas often suffocate when they're forced into an enclosed space. As much as we would like to be able to say, "Get inspired now!" our inner mind just simply doesn't work that way. And that's a wonderful thing. That's what keeps life surprising and entertaining and transcendental -- when moments of inspiration reveal themselves unexpectedly, it's exhilarating. You can't schedule a revelation. You can't put a deadline on a breakthrough. Sure, you can set aside an hour for brainstorming, but when no lightning strikes, you spend most of the time wondering why you didn't come up with anything and feeling bad about it. And then later that day, when you're walking through your front door, you'll suddenly have a radical idea that seemingly no amount of deliberate concentration could've produced.
These are riddles that are not meant to be solved -- puzzles whose pictures take shape when we don't put all the pieces together. We don't need to see behind the curtain in every situation. Sometimes trying to figure out the answer gets us further from true insight. The mysterious nature of inspiration, motivation, drive, and creativity is confounding -- and can be downright irritating -- but it's the tireless refusal of our stubborn spirit to fit into the "regular order of things" that's so intrinsic to its essence. Why can't we call upon these skills at will? Why can't inspiration be pinned down, honed, and placed in a toolbox of other abilities like arithmetic or riding a bike? Why must some of our most powerful skills be so elusive?
The very nature of what makes us creative beings is also what makes us unpredictable and our powers fleeting. Trying to break our own spirit so that it can be tamed, framed, and tapped will, oftentimes, drain us of that very spirit we're so desperately trying to access. It can kill our inner light. The great anxiety and suffering we think we're feeling due to procrastination could actually just be the desperate cries of our souls begging for our spirit to be unleashed in its own way, in its own time.
We're meant to procrastinate. We're meant to give our spirit the time and space it wants. No matter how much society wants results, our spirit wants freedom. And if we give it that, it will give us miraculous gifts in return. It's almost as though our job as humans is to clear the way for our superhuman qualities to show themselves -- they can be shy and delicate. Great care must be taken not to scare them off. We mustn't let the lowest and most brutish parts of ourselves interfere with our highest and most ethereal powers. The best we can do is to listen deeply as our instincts speak to us, and follow them passionately, no matter how much effort it takes, or how much anxiety it causes -- even if our instinct tells us to do nothing.
Learn to reinterpret that anxiety as simply part of you helping free your spirit. Don't be a slave to your sense of order or the demands put on you by overly stringent hierarchies. Do whatever you can to give your inner self the time it needs and deserves, and it won't let you down. It's not always easy, and it takes patience. And even though letting your inner spirit work for you can be exhausting and even excruciatingly painful, it's always worth it. Discomfort is a small price to pay for brilliance.
Your friend, Andrew W.K.
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