If it wasn’t for the last moment I wouldn’t get anything done.
It’s not that I do my best work as a deadline approaches – it’s more that I don’t do anything until a deadline approaches. I’m not proud of this behavior, but it does seem to be an integral part of who I am. Give me a simple task and it doesn’t matter if you ask for it in a day, a week, or a month from now. It’s going to get done at the same time: as late as possible without missing the deadline.
It’s almost always good work – not necessarily great, but still good. Once in a great while, however, the pressure of last minute production becomes the crucible of genius. I experienced my first instance of this early in my college career.
I don’t remember the name of the class, but it was taught by a very demanding professor. For my final assignment (which counted for a significant percentage of my grade), I needed to write a six page critical essay on John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. This particular instructor did not accept late work. Not ever, and not for any reason.
Yet there I was, the day before the paper was due, and I hadn’t even finished reading the book. I read until 3:00 a.m., and only made it halfway through. At that point, I tossed the book aside, rolled a sheet of clean paper into my typewriter and started tapping on the keys. I had no computer or word processor way back in the dark ages of the 1980’s. (I’m sure other people did, but I was still kicking it old school.) My progress was slow, but by morning’s light I had completed the assignment. At 9:00 a.m. I was in class, bleary eyed and exhausted, paper in hand. I had done the impossible: I had finished the assignment.
But I was worried.
I hadn’t read the entire novel. I’d never seen the movie. I think I might have asked my mom for a synopsis. I can’t really remember. I filled the bibliography with book titles that may or may not have had anything to do with John Steinbeck. I pulled my thesis statement from the blurb on the book jacket.
This was it, I thought. I’m going to get a terrible grade. I’m finally going to be caught out. Maybe it’s for the best. Maybe I can’t learn unless I have negative consequences. Yes, I thought to myself, this is a chance for me to grow up and start living responsibly. I fretted and fussed and made noble promises to myself about becoming a more organized person. I bought a Day Planner and filled in all the blanks with important deadlines and academic goals.
A few days later I was sitting in class, holding my breath as papers were being returned. My fellow students were slumping in their seats, frustrated with their scores. Finally my own paper was dropped in front of me. My grade was emblazoned in bold felt pen on the cover sheet.
After that, I never opened my Day Planner again.