Deadlines. What a word ! Get it finished by then … or you’re … cooked!
Whether you set deadlines for yourself, or whether someone else sets them for you, there they are. You can pick any date, any time of day … and you’ve got one ! A deadline. A date and time to be met, to be respected.
Mothers are among the first deadline-makers in our lives. From very, very early on in our childhoods we heard threats about the risks of not finishing on time : «No dessert until you finish your spinach! » or «If you aren’t ready in 5 minutes, we’re leaving without you!» «Time for your bath!»
Fathers could be just as bad but they often used just one pronoun for the word « deadline. » That word was « NOW» as in the imperative : « Listen to your mother. Now ! » (Or else !)
In our carefree worlds as children, we didn’t need to give ourselves deadlines. Somehow or another, nothing was so important that it had to be done, learnt, or finished by bedtime.
Then came school. And we began to encounter authority: the teacher, the one who taught Latin or Spanish or … English or math … or in fact, anything that required some effort AFTER school. In one word : homework.
« WORK » the beginning of the end! Not only the imperatives of « You MUST » but, on top of that, « by Tomorrow!, Capital T. » « By Thursday.» Or else …
As we grew out of childhood and into adolescence and as we managed to meet deadlines or skirt them, we learnt that a lot of adults were in fact « bluffing » about the dire consequences of not respecting deadlines.
Sometimes that was out of weakness … often, a reprieve, a warning, or the grace of forgiving kindness.
As we matured, we integrated the notion of deadlines into our mental routines. We put them on our agendas and calendars. We realized that they were everywhere. Your car needed its tune-up every 10 000 miles … you needed a tetanus vaccination one year and then again and then every 10 … And … yes… there was a deadline for sending in applications to schools or for work … not to mention that in additon to your mother and and your father, you had an uncle too … and your Uncle Sam set a date for filing your tax return, too. And for paying.
While others plot out the deadlines they want us to observe, we make our own. Setting our own deadlines and setting deadlines for others is, in fact, the most human of activities. We like to do this so much that we not only set deadlines…. We have learnt to reset them, too. Over and over again. Free choice. Arbitrary? That’s not so sure.
We choose a date, a time, freely. And then we’re free to respect it or not. We’re free to determine the consequences, set the sanctions and rewards, apply them … or not.
What time is it? 8:15 ? Already! I’d better finish this and post it before it’s too late!
Oh, what a powerful thing a deadline is!