Saturday, September 01, 2007

Delayed gratification

In grad school, I had a friend who said, "Getting your PhD is an exercise in delayed gratification."

I wasn't sure what she meant but I grew to understand. The whole process takes so damn long it's hard to remember why you're there and what the goal is. It was even harder for someone like me who never had academic ambitions. Yet I plodded along, slowly, unevenly, and eventually, I finished.

Several years ago, I was talking to my dad and he wanted to buy a new palm pilot. I mentioned that he could get a better deal if he ordered from Amazon. He said, "I don't want to wait a week, I want it now!"

That puzzled me. I always wait if it means I can get free shipping. I can wait a day or two, or a week if it comes to that. It doesn't bother me.

I first got a sense of time passing one winter when I was in elementary school. I wanted to go to camp and I thought, "Soon it will be spring, school will be over and then I can go to camp."

Yet there were times when I was impatient. At the end of my eighth grade year, I had to decide if I would go to high school or college. The end of the eighth grade was miserable. I had a falling out with my small group of friends and was socially isolated. This might have happened after I had to make my decision, but it certainly cemented it. I sat at our sports field and thought, "Four more years of this…four years. I can't make it." No one told me it would get easier in high school. Maybe it wouldn't have, who knows? I didn't find out. I was too impatient.

I've mentioned that I'm playing in a soccer league this fall. In preparation, I've gone to the gym four times this week. I'm motivated by the need not to kill myself playing soccer but I needed something a little more tangible to get my ass in there when I hadn't been for months. I've never been good at reward systems. These days, if I want something, I buy it. Sure, I'll wait a week for a shipment to arrive, but I'm a crazy impulse online shopper. I thought, "Just think of something you've wanted to buy but haven't because it seems too frivolous." I finally settled on a good set of portable speakers for the iPod. I have a pair but they're crap. I wanted something that would be loud enough to hear in the car. I picked out the set I wanted and I promised myself I can get the speakers if I go to the gym every day (or do other exercise) for the three weeks until I leave for Seattle--with a minimum of four gym days a week to earn the reward. (If I haven't mentioned it, I'm going to Seattle in a couple of weeks.) I even promised myself some mini-rewards for each day I made it to the gym--a paid download of the tv show of my choice. (I'm patient enough to download for several days, so paying for something I'd get rather quickly is a treat.)

Anyway, an irony of my plan is that I also want to get the best deal on the portable speakers. In order to get them before I leave on my trip, I have to place the order before I can complete my gym commitment. Can I trust myself to keep up the gym attendance sufficiently to actually earn my reward? I say I can, because the guilt of lying to myself (and now you) would be too much. In fact, it's working so well that I went to the gym on Friday, after we'd been given early dismissal. Pretty good, right?

Another example of, well, I'm not sure what, is my recent refund from the NYC Transit Authority. When I was in NY in August, I brought all my stray Metrocards with me. Two of them were too expired for the token booth attendant to give me replacement cards. One card had $7 on it and I asked, "So that's it? There's nothing I can do?" The attendant impatiently gave me an envelope I could use to return the card. When I got back to DC, I filled out the form and mailed it back to NY. It wasn't quite that simple because I first checked the website and called and received contradictory information about whether I could get a refund (note: I didn't want a refund, a new card would have been fine). I sent the cards in anyway, figuring it couldn't hurt to try. The envelope was pre-posted, so it cost me nothing except the time on the website, phone call and filling out the form.

The other day, I got a piece of mail from the NYC Transit Authority. Enclosed were a letter and a check. The check was for $5.50--the amount on the cards minus the bonus. Fine. $5.50 is better than zero. The best part was the letter, which read, in part, "In the future, please be advised that we do not issue cash refunds MetroCard." They don't? You coulda fooled me!

Also, when I was in my office, filling out the form, I told my officemate the story of why I was doing it. He declared, "I wouldn't bother!"

I was surprised. "Why not?"

"It's too much trouble. You have to go to the post office…"


"To buy a stamp."

"Oh, no, it's a postage paid envelope. I'll just go to the lobby to mail it."

He said, "Still, I wouldn't bother."

"You wouldn't take five minutes to fill out a form to get seven dollars?"


I don't know who is more typical, the officemate or me. Is it a temperament thing? He's not lazy--he goes to the gym every day! But I don't get it.

A while ago, I opened up discussion about whether or not to change the name of the blog. I didn't share my conclusion with you, which is that I won't change the name. The reason I wanted to change the name was to change my attitude. I've decided that I can change my attitude without doing anything crazy like getting rid of the name.

I'm trying hard and pretty successfully to hang on to my feeling of gratitude for being single. I'm not particularly prone to loneliness, though I have my moments. It's more my tendency for self-pity that's the problem. But when I start to go down that road, I remind myself: be happy that you're single and not in a miserable relationship. That's a choice that's worth making. By being single, and refusing to be in unhappy relationships, I'll be available if a good guy comes along. If he doesn't, then at least I won't be miserable. Someone has commented a couple of times that I should also be grateful for the bad. Maybe I'm doing this already. Because there is a lot bad about being single…so I'll just try and appreciate the good and the bad. That's what living is, right?

Grateful for: patience.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments will be rejected. You don't have to use your real name, just A name. No URL is required; enter your name and leave the 'url' line blank. Thank you.