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Living with deadlines

| Wednesday, November 5, 2014

“In total, 15 students will be selected for the course. If you are interested, apply by November 7.”

Deadlines. Most mornings, I wake up, check my email and am immediately informed of a few more. They’re added to an interminable list of things to do. There’s a deadline for this assignment, or this dorm event or this Career Center night. Once in a while there’s a random campus event ad — I’m looking at you, Hip Hop Night — that pretends it’s a deadline to trick you into signing up and attending, but I’m too smart to fall for that.

We live in a world that dictates we move from task to task, a world in which by the time you’ve completed one thing you’ve added several more, perpetuating a vicious cycle. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I know this isn’t ideal. I know that Mendoza has told me multiple times to think about the long-term, to think strategically. But these days the extent of my strategic thinking about the future is deciding my Chipotle order during the walk to Eddy Street. Most days, we’re not swimming towards a finish line or a new movement. Most days, we’re trying to stay above water.

We face deadlines about problem sets, reading responses and group projects. We face deadlines about job applications and study abroad. We each faced a deadline in applying to Notre Dame and crafting that ‘perfect’ application essay, complete with a typo or two. Oops. We face deadlines that force us to wake up at 8 a.m. and write while we eat breakfast. At least NDH has chocolate chip pancakes right now. We face deadlines we create ourselves, which would explain how I misread the calendar and wrote this column a week early.

We face deadlines about making decisions on things with no easy answer, like how to best spend our life, what career we want and whether we really need to wear pants today. I face an eight-week deadline to rescue some uninspiring grades — apparently my midterm answers got into a bit of a kerfuffle with the alleged answer key.

I set out and surveyed others. They noted their apprehension over coming milestones like grad school applications, the end of their teenage years and “this damn paper.” They noted pressures to achieve certain things — to find someone special, to make a difference, to prove themselves. One senior noted the challenge of settling on a Halloween costume in time for Amazon to ship it in time for Feverween. A recent graduate turned Ph.D. student noted “This is the real world, Matt” as he detailed the challenge of two deadlines within a three hour span: handing in his project recap and procuring both a keg and costume before his 9 p.m. party.  On the bright side, I haven’t faced a maternally-set deadline to clean my room in years. Score one for pseudo-adulthood.

We face looming deadlines, like the end of our college years and the dispersal of friends across the country and the globe. For me and most of my friends, the countdown is six or seven months. For some of our friends, it’s six or seven weeks.

We face unknown deadlines about the time we have in our lives to do something substantive, whatever that may be.

So yes, people everywhere face deadlines and challenges. But these challenges also breed immense opportunity.

Deadlines can be paralyzing, but they can also be motivating. Like many, I find I do my best work when facing deadlines.  I’d argue my best columns have been those written right up to the last minute, but my editor might disagree. The best papers I’ve ever written have been born out of immense caffeine and 4 a.m. playlists prominently featuring Blink-182 and early 2000s Avril Lavigne.

Right, like I’m the only one.

Deadlines that impact your G.P.A., or lack thereof, can be horrifying. But they also help you find the library, and maybe even stay there for a bit.

Deadlines around life events and departures can come with a tinge of gloom, but they can also remind you about what’s important. They can prompt you to make sure you go out for a night with your friends or spend a week together on a beach, blasting tunes and displaying hand written signs to drivers on Alabama back roads during the road trip.

Deadlines tell us what we need to do and the time we have to do it. They can be daunting. But they can also be liberating. They can inspire you to apply for something out of reach, to push yourself further than you thought you could. They show us that time is not infinite, and insofar as we have opportunities, we should seize them.  Our time to truly influence the world, and people around us, is ticking, and this is an opportunity we cannot afford to squander.

Deadlines can have a certain sense of finality, but that very finality can also force you to do your best, knowing you don’t get a second chance at everything. They can help you remember what you want to do, who you want to spend time with and where you want to go. And they can help you refuse to settle for something less.

Matt Miklavic is a senior studying political science and finance from Cape Elizabeth, Maine. He has been ruining otherwise great pictures since 1993. He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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