Confusion Corner: The Magic 8 ball of life

What’s worse­ — decision or a deadline?

A deadline hurts because it means you have probably procrastinated on an assignment due at a specified time. You write it down in your black Moleskine planner, marked with a star to remind yourself of its extra importance. A week before it’s due, you see the date looming, but you don’t make any moves to work toward getting it done. Why would you do that? You have so much time before you reach that little star.

Then it’s 10 p.m., and the starred assignment is due at 8 a.m. the next day. The inevitable all-nighter stretches out before your already sleep-heavy eyes. You know there is nothing you can do but chug some more vending machine coffee and get to work.

These deadlines are painful because they require planning and work, but there’s another painful kind of deadline. It only requires a simple quantitative answer, but these deadlines, also known as decisions, produce another level of anxiety. After all, each decision will absolutely change the course of your entire life’s trajectory. Which internship? Which part-time — or if you’re lucky, seniors — full-time job? Which leadership position? Which service trip? Without an answer, the unmade decision sits in front of you, staring back like a Magic 8 Ball that refuses to produce anything other than “try again later.”

Initially, decisions seem easier than the work-related, paper-writing deadlines because in the end, you only have to produce a one-word response instead of an actual piece of work that contributes to your also life changing GPA. But don’t be fooled.

While decisions appear to require less immediate work, you can turn them into a laborious paper-writing process. If you are really going to make the right decision for yourself, you can only know for sure by writing an extensive and weighty pro-con list. If that’s not enough, continue by writing short essays on what you think your life will be if you say yes or no. Once you have done this, gather a small group of intimate friends and lure them to your dorm with the promise of baked goods. Then ambush them with a completely unplanned and totally impromptu reading of both short essays. Ask them to vote. Whichever one wins is your new life. That was easy.

The lone student feverishly typing his 15-page paper in the Tyler Hall basement computer lab at 5:30 a.m. would likely say something like this to the decision maker: Stop complaining; at least you get to sleep. Also, whatever impossible decision you’re trying to make is probably not all that life changing, whereas this paper will absolutely decide whether I get into graduate school.

The decision you have to make in the next 24 hours is probably just as physically and emotionally strenuous as the last-minute paper you have to write or the exam you have to cram for. But after you say yes or no, or turn in the assignment or don’t, or pass or fail the exam the sun will still come up the next day. So, as we all enter that joyous period of the semester known as midterms, try to remember that whatever you’re doing probably isn’t really all that life changing. (And if even College of William and Mary President Taylor Reveley can fail at something, then we all were really doomed from the beginning.)

Ellie Kaufman is a Confusion Corner columnist and has perfected her baking and list-making skills over the years. 


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