It was early 1993, in my last few months of college, and my plan to become a Famous Actress Who Would Change the World With Her Talent was knocking it out of the park. I had just returned from a thrilling trip to New York City, where I’d auditioned for and won a spot at my first choice graduate school. I had also managed to score the lead in my first paid acting gig. In Omaha. Now all I had to do was graduate a few weeks early and get myself to Nebraska in time for the first rehearsal.
I talked to my professors and made up an accelerated schedule to graduate. It would be fast and furious, and I would miss all the celebrations with my friends, but I would be rewarded; my mom bought me a used car from a family friend, and I would road trip it to Omaha. Artists road trip you know, and I was an artist.
One problem: I didn’t have a driver’s license.
I don’t trust people who don’t procrastinate. They don’t surf the web. They don’t change their minds. They judge me.
I was the only person I knew without a license — the Oregon teen’s key to adulthood. I had scoffed at the tradition of getting it on my 16th birthday, knowing I would someday move to a big, big city where people walked glamorously and subwayed glamorously. Cars were not glamorous, they were suburban.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time.
I had to pack, I had to fill out graduation documentation, I had to shut down my local bank accounts, I had to write my papers and study for my finals, I had to party one last time with my friends. A few times.
About three weeks before it was time to leave, my concerned roommate, Carey, cornered me.
“Dude, how are you going to get out of here?”
“I’m driving the car.”
“You don’t know how to drive.”
“I do, I just haven’t done it a lot.”
“Well, did you get your license?”
“Not yet, I’m working on that.”
“Do you have an appointment for your test yet?”
“You know you have to get those like a month in advance, right? You can’t just walk up and do it.”
“…No. I didn’t know that.”
In that moment, I saw my future life flash before my eyes. Nothing I was working toward was going to happen unless I could get myself out of Oregon. I would be trapped here forever. Holy crap, this car was now my key to adulthood.
“Carey, can you… can you help me?”
“Yes,” she said, reaching for the phone.
I don’t trust people who don’t procrastinate. They are afraid of doing things wrong. They don’t want to upset others. They don’t have enough real-life stuff to do. They don’t surf the web. They don’t change their minds. They judge me.
But I’m a grown-up now, and I understand that the IRS doesn’t care that this amazing story I’m reading is teaching me how WWII crashed then accelerated bedbug infestations around the world. That the public school system doesn’t care how hard I’m making my daughter laugh this morning by doing an imitation of a kicking giraffe. Deadlines exist, and sometimes we must not pass them.
So, like other grown-ups, I have figured out different ways to trick myself into doing what is hard or boring or right.
And my favorite trick is asking people I trust for help.
It’s a funny thing, the way we procrastinate. It’s so often alone, a secret dark hole we fall into. Twenty-five minutes have gone by and all you’ve accomplished is researching jogging pants on the web? Shameful. In that amount of time, you could have gone for a run, you idiot.
Or we get defiant, like my four-year-old daughter who refused to put her shoes on in the morning because she didn’t want to go to preschool just yet. I would ask her, “Do you really think you’re going to win this one? That you’ll squirm out of my reach for so long that I’ll finally just give up and let you stay home by yourself?”
She would give me a look that said, Probably not, but maybe?
When you ask a friend to help you stop procrastinating, you’re forced to step into the light, and it’s always better. Your friend will chuckle, shake her head, maybe sigh in exasperation — and then she’ll hold your hand while she calls the number of a good dermatologist to look at that damn mole, once and for all.
About seven years ago, I started meeting twice a month in a bar with my buddy, Margit. (Yes, this Margit!) We each had ambitious side projects we were working on that weren’t getting much traction. We wanted to help each other, but we were very busy ladies, so we made a pact to support each other instead. The Procrastination Club was born. (We wanted a better name but never got around to it. Har.)
The Procrastination Club had one rule: show up.
We’d order drinks and snacks and catch up from the last two weeks, then set goals on our projects for the next two. They were the tiniest goals, and sometimes we didn’t even get those done. But we showed up and talked about it anyway. We heaped praise on each other on the odd weeks we overachieved. We made ourselves accountable to each other: no excuses, no apologies. There was plenty of laughter — and wine.
Over the course of a year and a half, we added several more people, and every one of them ate their own elephant, one tiny bite at a time. Margit birthed a blog (that’s now a part of this site!), Teresa’s photography business thrived, Emre’s screenplay was written, and I pulled myself out of the swamp of new motherhood. We finally ended the club, because our goals were achieved.
It was a lesson I’ve learned over and over again, since that big one in college. We can help each other. We want to help. We just have to ask.
And I did make it to Omaha back in those early 90s, thanks to Carey. I got my license the day before I left. I had a lot of time to think as I cruised east on I-80. I thought about my friends, and how much I would miss them. I thought about my future, and how I almost blew everything. And when I walked into that first rehearsal, I was right on time.
(Photo: Courtesy flickr.com)