Let’s put procrastination in perspective. It’s a nagging worry that can engulf us. Like being lost in a hall of mirrors, there are a lot of daily distractions to dissuade us from our studies. To take confident strides over the hurdles life erects we need a clear-eyed assessment of our big picture. Where are we coming from and where do we intend to go?
Perspective requires more than the present, and dominant, point of view. Time passes because there are countless things that need doing in life; nature abhors a vacuum and our idleness soon leads us to busily waste time. Countless moments of opportunity pass where studying might not seem like the most pressing option. And, like a coffee cup nudged ever closer to the edge of our desk by a perspicacious pet, our success at AU can easily inch itself—at first imperceptibly, but then with terrifying haste—toward disaster.
Failure can actually happen, but that doesn’t mean it needs to. Placing ourselves in a realistic rapport with the flow of our own life and the expectations of our course material can deliver us a greater success; we just have to be aware of what’s flexible and what isn’t. We need to see the big picture to appreciate the details.
Consider visuals themselves. A two-dimensional picture lacks clarity and tends to illustrate only one aspect of reality at a time. Likewise, to see our lives and our academic journeys in a light that combines pragmatism and passion we can no more string together facts to understand the goals of our journey and its goals than we can race from moment to moment without drawing necessary conclusions from this procession. Studying requires a global view rather than a photo album.
A Study in Interpretation, Comprehension and Meaning
To see each possible study moment as something positive requires the application of the right interpretive lens. Here we can employ the classical sociologist Max Weber who used a wonderful German word: verstehen. Verstehen means “to understand, perceive, know, and comprehend the nature and significance of a phenomenon. Or to grasp or comprehend the meaning intended or expressed by another person. Weber used the term to refer to the social scientists’ attempt to understand both the intention and the context of human action” (Elwell, online). A lot more than the mere present exclaims from this term; nothing is self evident even if we think we’re right there in each moment of our life. Verstehen demands imagination and a broad perspective and, when it comes to warding off the darkness of procrastination, a combination of comprehension and understanding can go a long way.
Everywhere in life, personal omniscience passes into our mind in the form of personal wisdom. We’re never who we were yesterday, and we’re certainly not the same student as a decade ago. Our life experiences can only aid our perspective on our selves and our surroundings as we make time for our AU coursework. It’s all grist for the mill. Likewise, the one thing eternal in the moment is the process of change. Maybe that’s how the past gets that way; it slides by camouflaged as the present. But in terms of procrastination the key is to see the potential for usable time within our days. Unlike geometrical patterns replete with rigidity, or even beautiful fractals that seem endlessly creative, we aren’t bound by rules internal to our being so much as by a flexible interaction between ourselves and our context.
Upon the onset of his university schooling, Karl Marx wrote a loving and flowing letter to his Father. In it he described his vision for understanding change within reality.
“The mathematician may construct a triangle and demonstrate its properties; but it remains a mere idea in space, and undergoes no further development. We must put one triangle beside another, then it assumes different positions, and these differences in what is essentially the same endow the triangle with different relations and truths. On the other hand, in the concrete expression of the living world of thought-as in law, the State, nature, philosophy as a whole-the object must be studied in its development; there must be no arbitrary classifications; the rationale of the thing itself must disclose itself in all its contradictoriness, and must find unity in itself” (Marx, 18).
This creative unity of our selves as AU students includes both the centrifugal forces of our desire toward our learning (after all, we are here by choice, not compulsion), and the stubborn centripetal desire to procrastination that can drive us toward doing almost anything but engaging in the fruitful fulfilment of our course obligations. To become a whole student is to make peace with this internal contradiction.
A world of interplay occurs in every moment of life and not only do these interactions alter our substance, they provide potential for our growth as students. As the saying goes, you’re never more than four feet from a spider. When we’re home we’re never far from our coursework and we want that to be a positive, rather than fearful, reality. Not only do our courses alter us and build an edifice for our future enlightenment, the approach we take to this process provides a recipe for either dizzying glorious success or abject white-knuckling discomfort. We won’t have maximized our potential if we look back on our studies as a series of near-misses where we scrambled to make up for time lost to procrastination. What we want is to achieve a sense of harmony with our coursework where it comes to abide at a natural nook in our lives, one that we are drawn to rather than must perpetually drag ourselves towards by the scruff of our academic necks.
Productive Deconstruction: The Concrete and Immutable and the Fluid and Malleable
Flexible interpretation and immutable alteration are two hallmarks of each moment known as the present. An awareness of time, and the fissures within our view of it, provide opportunities that can translate well in pursuit of our AU studies. To avoid procrastination means to find the time to get things done and this requires evaluating and assessing our lives so we can identify and create windows of opportunity. These portals evade procrastination.
To take a social science example, justice as a concept operates flexibly in relation to law as a concrete juridical apparatus. Deconstruction works wonderfully to elucidate this process whereby laws change in reaction to the universal concept of justice. John D. Caputo describes the difference between that which can, and that which cannot, be deconstructed. “What is undeconstructible: justice, the gift, hospitality…is neither real nor ideal, neither present nor future-present, neither existent nor idealizable, which is how and why it incites our ‘desire’ driving and impassioning deconstruction” (Caputo, 128). To achieve the mystical Nirvana of academic success, that itself is undeconstructible, is to apply practical tools to the concrete realities of all-too deconstructible daily life.
John D. Caputo notes how deconstruction, far from a relativistic anything-goes ideology, actually underpins justice itself. Ideas like justice are not themselves susceptible to deconstruction; they function as useful guides and abstractions. The Law, like our study regimes, is eminently deconstructible because it constitutes a series of actions and enforcements that are amenable to change over time. Likewise, our AU coursework is immutably present. We have to get it done on its terms. Education itself, as an abstract process, is also undeconstructible. But the methods of its acquisition certainly are: distance education itself is a literal deconstruction of traditional brick and mortar schooling. Finally, the act of studying, in itself, cannot be deconstructed, but how we actually engage with our time bears closer consideration and observation if we are to incisively critique our approach to our own coursework. Like a triangle versus a life philosophy, the latter is where successful creativity lies.
Our Personal is Political, An Example from History
Caputo sources a key moment in history that we may relate to in our personal AU worlds. We need to get our study selves to the front of the buses of our lives and that means deconstructing our daily realms in order to bring justice to our future. Caputo notes the sociological case of Rosa Parks:
“Before Rosa Parks decided to visit the undeconstructivity of justice upon Montgomery, Alabama, for example, it was legal, legitimate, and authorized to force African-Americans to the back of the bus. So to ‘deconstruct’ does not mean—how often do we have to say this?—to flatten our or destroy but to loosen up, to open something up so that it is flexible, internally amendable, and revisable, which is what the law should be” (Caputo, 13)
Our study regimes demand flexibility and evolution because we are fitting them into the complexity of our lives; the abstract law of when we should study runs against the abstract justice of meeting multiple obligations. Too much ‘should’ing on ourselves is counter-productive and redolent of narrow-mindedness. Most important: its negativity leads to procrastination. So we want to find a way to meet the needs of our live while maintaining a sense of doing justice to our coursework.
Deconstruction of our study regimes involves having an image of what our future study schedule will look like with an eye to any past procrastination challenges. We have to make and remake our lives according to what works, with an eye to the justice we want our future student selves to receive. Distance education is solitary, and we are each our own judge, jury and executioner. Being as how were all human, we all procrastinate; the key to change is to assess the present not as just a series of moments but as a string (a concatenation) of opportunities for growth and evolution.
Instead of worrying about our coursework in the immediate future (and thus potentially putting off our needed studies) it helps to think of what is to come in our education. The future is bright because our past is glowing with embers of past triumphs. And, pretty much by definition, everything we do at AU is a challenge with potential for growth. If it was easy it wouldn’t be worth it. Likewise, it’s one thing to enjoy, say, psychology, and another thing to actually read the textbooks and write the assignments.
Think of how we choose electives. By taking a course we know we’ll enjoy we assume we’ve made a good decision; but what if we stretch our limits with something we’re not familiar or comfortable with? In the end, we’ve pushed ourselves in a different direction and potentially increased our abilities while risking a lowering of our grades. But in the big picture there’s no wrong choices in terms of our education; the means by which we accomplish our goals is the part we want to feel empowered about. Like each moment of life, mappable in terms of angles or in terms of meanings, the simplest decision in a split-second embodies many possible meanings. In this way there is no present; it’s a gift that we give and receive to ourselves not because its a thing in itself, but because we decide what it means and how and what we will do with it going forward.
So, with an eye toward the glowing beacon of our future success, let’s identify our goals and get that studying done. Because, hey, as CCR, famously sang “someday never comes (Fogerty, online).