Compass Points

*Quick note- I accidentally published this piece before it was edited- a quirk from using the iPad to compose in the WordPress app and save in draft format, which I messed up. Sorry for any inconvenience.

Sometimes, we know we’re going to encounter a problem that needs to be solved. But when we choose to take on that task may be more open to discussion.

For example, if you know your car is beginning to hit that age where repair costs start to outweigh the value of the vehicle, you have at least two choices. The first involves starting to shop for cars and deciding to find a replacement before it dies on some back road in the middle of the night. The second is to wait for it to die completely, and then make a more urgent and forced decision on alternative transportation. There’s clearly middle ground between these two choices, but procrastination tends to box you in on choices and timing, where doing some advanced planning may give you a wider range of alternatives and cause less stress. (This, of course, leaves you with less dramatic stories to tell as well, so that is something to consider, I guess.)

Many people get stuck in the research loop. They start planning, but they are always looking for that one better option, the one elusive piece of data that will make the choice easy.  I know I get stuck there, sometimes, thinking I’ll find just that one thing that will be the tipping point on a decision.  often times, data can just be more data.

There’s actually a whole psychological syndrome about this called the Hamlet Complex or Hamlet Syndrome, where people get stuck in the “to be or not to be” loop, paralyzed by making a choice, and fear of making the wrong one.  It’s caused by over-thinking decisions and as a result, becoming paralyzed from just making a choice and getting on with it already.

For these folks (and I think we can all go there sometimes), something that forces their hand, like a crisis, makes them feel better, because they can hardly be blamed, the rationalization goes, if they had to make a quick decision without a lot of information- it was an emergency! It wasn’t my fault! We paid too much, but we had no choice! The truth of the matter is that there were plenty of opportunities to do some advanced planning, or make a faster decision, and perhaps a better decision, but they just couldn’t find the trigger they wanted to pull.

I feel this sense of frustration often with some committee work I’m involved in. There’s general agreement of where we want to go. There’s general agreement of what the right thing to do is. But issues like time, money, logistics, etc. all seem to get in the way and give people an excuse against making a decision.

For example, let’s look at Apple’s new textbook initiative. We all have known since the Kindle came out that digital textbooks were coming.  Many of my kid’s classes have “at home” textbooks on cd, online portals to supplement the text, etc. because the current textbook purchase cycle is TEN years.    Is there anyone who REALLY thinks in the digital age, that text books purchased today are going to last TEN years in almost any subject? Do we really think kids won’t be reading digital textbooks within that time frame? Because if we know that’s going to be the case, why don’t we start the transition and planning for that process now?

There are lots of really good reasons why (or why not). Not every text is ready for digital right now. Committing to every child having a laptop or tablet scares the crap out of teachers, administrators and parents, who are themselves just getting used to these things. It will be expensive. It will require teaching teachers and students about digital citizenship and some of them will make mistakes.  Some of the mistakes will be more serious and have more consequences than merely doodling the margin of a school text or losing a book and having to pay for it at the end of the year.  Many teachers may not be comfortable adopting their lessons to an online world, or giving up top down control in the classroom. But I ask again, if we know that it’s coming, why aren’t we planning for that today?

It turns out if youset a firm goal and deadline you have to work towards, everyone can then start to make firm plans to meet those parameters. As long as a goal stays in the “some day”, or “wouldn’t it be nice if” range, it is as good as water through a sieve. It means very little without verbs in sentences and things to do behind the mission statements and platitudes.  Without nailing down what you want to do and when, it merely becomes another dream, ephemeral and unlikely to become reality.

So I ask you, as I ask everyone- what are you saying “Sure, but not now” to in your life? What excuses are holding you back? What are you afraid of? And what would happen if you just said- ” OK, so if not now, when?”   When will I finally commit to accomplishing this goal I know I need to accomplish?

If it isn’t tied to a date, or specific goal or course of action, you simply aren’t serious about committing to the goal, so take it off the table and forget about it. It’s worthless to you. It’s up there with my hopes I’ll finally get that extra two hours in a 24 hour day to accomplish so much more. Since Hermoine Granger isn’t showing up with a time turner, I have to deal with reality that there are only 24 and not 26 hours in a day, and make sure all those lists of some day tasks are put into a timeframe to be accomplished.

What will you move off your some day list, where your dreams are waiting for the stars and planets to align, and move it onto the front burner, where you have to work to make it happen?

It takes guts and commitment to go for your dreams.  It takes courage and conviction to face difficult decisions and take painful action now to make tomorrow better.  It’s not easy to pick a direction and go for it, especially when it’s a time of flux and change.  But I know waiting until the “right” moment means there will never be a perfect right moment and we’ll never achieve anything by waiting on the sidelines, hoping rather than doing.