For pretty much as long as I can remember, I’ve been motivated by deadlines. Give me a task and a timeframe — like an article to write, for instance — and I’ll typically wait until the last possible moment to do it. Give me a week to write something, and I’ll wait until the last day — and then typically wish I had just one more day. Give me eight days, however, and I’ll just wait one more day to get off my butt.
Sure, I’m guilty of some run-of-the-mill procrastination. But I also struggle with perfectionism, which can sometimes be quite paralyzing. The magic of deadlines is that they force me to commit — to dive in. And then, when I’m in the middle of a project or situation, a way comes clear.
For example, I’ll often over-analyze choices to death, and if it’s still not obvious what to do, I’ll be tempted to try to avoid a decision altogether, or simply take the easy way out. But sometimes the only way to learn if an opportunity is the right one for me is by committing to it and starting. Which is scary, because there’s no guarantee that what I’m choosing is the perfect direction to take.
In fact, commitment — just choosing a path and getting started, even if it’s imperfect — has turned out to be a key way through paralyzing decisions and daunting goals in my life.
I’ve realized, then, that committing is really good for me. It’s a remedy for procrastination and helps alleviate fear and despair. And just like deadlines can help me produce the best work, committing in other areas of life can help me move forward and just get started when I otherwise wouldn’t — namely in goal-setting, relationships, and vocational discernment.
I’ve always found goal-setting to be challenging. Set a goal too high and you risk never making it and bringing on disappointment. Or worse, set a goal too low and risk never reaching — or even knowing — your full potential.
One solution I’ve learned over the years, however, is to lower the barrier to getting started. Committing to a smaller goal is better than committing to no goal. So I set a worthy — yet attainable — goal within a smaller time frame. By setting a deadline into the not-so-distant future, I give myself enough time after that deadline to set a new goal and adjust expectations accordingly. Meanwhile, I’m on my way.
This has been particularly helpful when it comes to saving money. I have a goal (buying a house or condo) and I have a general idea of how much cash that will require, but how long it will take me to realistically get there is another story. By making a budget and calculating how much I can reasonably save on that budget in one six- or 12-month period, I can have a much better idea of when I’ll be able to make a big purchase and what I can reasonably afford once I get there.
It may seem simple, but committing early and narrowing the constraints of time for the goals I set have helped make an overwhelmingly lofty and far-off goal more realistic, and therefore more attainable. With even a little progress behind me, I have some momentum to build upon, and that’s easier than starting from nothing.
At first blush, the modern dating scene is ideal: all the dating apps mean we have more romantic options than ever before. But for those of us with the goal of settling down with a special someone, more options are not necessarily better.
Let’s be real: life is not The Bachelor. We don’t get to choose between several would-be spouses lined up before us at the same time. We have to choose one to date over an extended period of time, then propose marriage, and then ultimately commit to for life.
This became most clear to me when I was deciding if I should propose marriage to a woman we’ll call Jewel. After more than a year of dating, it really came down to whether I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, or try to find someone else.
I found clarity in what was initially a stressful, anxiety-inducing decision when I realized I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life (or at least the indefinite future) continually searching under every rock for the *perfect* spouse. That person doesn’t exist.
By contrast, I had one, specific person in front of me with whom I could begin a commitment. There was something freeing about deciding to give myself to Jewel and investing in the relationship.
As it happened, we ended up calling off our engagement a year later due to extenuating circumstances (to make a long story short), but even then, I was more confident in that decision knowing I didn’t hold anything back previously and wasn’t simply moving on in search of something better.
In this case, reducing my pursuit of marriage from all of the eligible bachelorettes in the world (and taking all the time in the world) down to one real live candidate right now made my decision much more manageable. Committing to her meant I wasn’t paralyzed by all the options in front of me — I was actually free to learn and grow in the relationship.
Before I ever started dating Jewel, however, I had a different decision to make, one that could only be made by making a commitment: discerning the priesthood.
Growing up as a Catholic boy in a Catholic school who behaved himself reasonably well, I was told many times that I should think about being a priest.
I went to the seminary hoping that I could very quickly be told that I wasn’t actually called to be a priest and then I could leave and get on with the rest of my life. Imagine my surprise, then, when the seminary rector told our class that we really shouldn’t be discerning the priesthood at all during our entire first year of seminary.
He explained that it was enough of a shock to transition from normal life to the celibate, structured life of seminary. It’d be much better, he said, if we waited to begin discernment until we had gotten used to the change. Suffice it to say, I was not pleased that this process was going to take much longer than I had expected.
But, as I continued in seminary, a funny thing happened: I started to actually want to be a priest. Never with 100 percent certainty — or even 51 percent certainty, for that matter. But what at first didn’t seem remotely possible did indeed start to look attractive.
It was also during this time that I grew a tremendous amount in virtue, self-knowledge, and maturity. And as I grew to be a better man, and better understood myself and my own desires, the desire for marriage became even stronger. By the end of the four years of college seminary, it was time to make a decision, and I still felt clearly called to marriage.
In the end, it was the same decision I would have made had I never gone to seminary. But by committing to that creative, formative space — four years, in all — to learn and grow and search out God’s will, I gained a much greater sense of His call for my life. It gave me the confidence that I was doing the right thing and not simply what I felt like doing on a whim. Now, I can confidently seek marriage knowing that I gave the priesthood a real chance.
Deadlines and commitments mean choosing to walk through one door and closing others. That’s hard to do when you wonder if what lies beyond the other doors might make you even happier. It’s not easy to turn away from options. But you learn more about yourself and others and the world when you commit to one path that seems promising. Often, the way forward doesn’t show itself until you take the first step. Sometimes, the way forward means eventually backtracking, but that’s okay — you’ll be wiser for the journey.
Yes, deadlines can feel claustrophobic sometimes, but by embracing that tension and constraint, it’s allowed me to commit to start. And when I’m on my way, I can see my options more clearly and better seize opportunities when they come.