I am sure that most of you, like me, have fought hard to overcome a perpetual desire to relax and procrastinate when important tasks loomed. Those of you who have never battled with procrastination – well, your problems are obviously of another sort.
In college, I recall several who transformed the practice of putting things off into art. Do you remember the guy in your dorm hall who wouldn’t begin his term paper till the night before it was due–and somehow still got an A? These types make it tempting for all of us.
The etymology of procrastination is worth examining: the word comes from the Latin pro (for- ward, on behalf of) and cras (tomorrow). Therefore, at its root, the word means pro-tomorrow. Remember the maxim of the slacker: Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow? In contrast, we find encouragement of a different sort from the German poet Goethe: Cease endlessly striving for what you would like to do and learn to love what must be done.
Education, after all, is largely a matter of routine. Nothing is mastered without regular visitation, review, and study. And education never stops. If we can, we should cast the work our students do as a labor of love, a life-long love, and we should love what they do, too. Education will have its high moments, its epiphanies, breakthroughs, and moments of joy–much like a marriage. But the larger tranquility of a good education comes from the regular labor of worksheets, translations, and reading assignments, in the same way a good marriage grows on preparing a meal, raking the lawn, and taking a walk.
Once we have created a routine and learned to love it, we can also find yet even further comfort in knowing that a regular part of our routine must be to break from it. We call these breaks of routine by various names, such as “dinner out,” “weekends,” and “vacations.” These can be holy days in their own right, those special routines that are special largely because they are not daily, and because they are a ritual of celebration. And we celebrate with the most poignant joy when our work is done (the hay is in the barn, the homework is all done– let’s go to dinner). Put another way, when we work well, we rest well.