Sunday, February 18, 2001 (SF Chronicle)

Putting Off Isn't Off-Putting
Kathleen Mitchell

Procrastination is hesitant thoughtfulness; it is not laziness and certainly not an affliction. Stymied by how to begin to take action toward a valued career goal, the person labeled procrastinator chooses to take no action rather than to make a mistake.

The challenge is how to escape the trappings of perfectionism by taking small, manageable and respectful steps toward exploring a tentative career interest. Since we generally think of a procrastinator as a person who intentionally puts something off, we label this thoughtful person as lazy, a slacker or indecisive. We even do a mental finger-wagging at procrastinators and think, "Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today."

A person who hesitates in deciding on a career generally does not lack discipline. Quite to the contrary, the person often lacks sufficient information about the area and rightly decides not to commit to an unexplored field. It is far more courageous to refuse to decide when information is lacking than it is to go along with the pressure to appear decisive.

Procrastination transformed into perfectionism may create barriers to action. When the need for sufficient information is replaced by a quest for the "perfect" answer or choice, action is suspended.

Taking small steps even while unsure can help us move through blocks. Author Anne Lamott commented that when writers hit a block in their creativity, it just means they need to take different actions to fill up with new ideas.

Rather than wait for all the information to be in before exploring a career interest, begin with some information. Movement generates new knowledge and opportunities.

Perhaps we need a few new adages to celebrate hesitant thoughtfulness rather than busy decisiveness. Let's consider these:

-- Always put off people until tomorrow who want you to make a career decision today. If you need more information before you can make a decision, keep taking steps to acquire what you need to know. You will be the one who has to live with the decision you make, not the person pressuring you to decide.

-- Never eliminate jobs tomorrow based on skills you have today. Consider sculpting the time between what you know today and what you will know with new skills and experiences. That is how to be ready for the dreams and jobs of tomorrow.

-- Always put off until tomorrow the need to be perfect today. Look at every career decision as a tentative career decision. That eases the pressure that a decision must be perfect, and it gives you permission to modify your plan at any time.

Copyright 2001 SF Chronicle