I’ve had a pretty successful life. I quit high school when I was 15 only to graduate from college when I was 20. I went straight from college to full-time employment at Apple, where I worked for around 7 years before leaving as a “Senior Software Engineer.” Not wanting to waste any more of my valuable, young life, I leapt from Apple to San Francisco State University, where I earned a second BA degree in Music. In the mean time, I started consulting and established what would evolve away from client work and into the software product company, Red Sweater Software, which sustains me and my family to this day.
In short, I’m a hotshot. When I put it all down in one paragraph like that, even I’m impressed by myself!
But if asked about my “biggest weakness” I would probably say it’s self-deprecation, because I tend to focus more on my own shortcomings than on my talents. I have always known that I am capable, but suffer a great deal of that hard-to-pinpoint impostor syndrome that afflicts so many people. Sometimes I wonder if giving a name to this “syndrome” is only a shorthand reminder that each and every one of us considers him or herself unworthy of credit for what we’ve achieved.
And yet some things I have felt unabashedly smug about over the years. For example, I have always valued my ability to “make things work” under tight constraints. That is to say, I will put almost anything off until the last minute, even if there is no rational reason for doing so. You could say I’m a procrastinator but I think it’s more complicated than that. Even tasks I look forward to and anticipate enjoying might be put off in the name of making them, I don’t know, more dramatic upon their completion? Under psychoanalysis this might reveal an affinity for the adrenaline rush that comes with “following through just in time.” Why write that school paper ahead of time when you can binge on reading and writing the night before it’s due? Why dig into tax-filing research in January when the (US) government gives you until April 15, or if you’re like me, until October 15 to finally file?
There’s something about the thrill of delaying action up until the edge of failure, only to follow through and complete a task in the nick of time, that makes me feel somehow more accomplished. More like a hotshot.
The unfortunate price for this “heroism” is needless anxiety in groping for essay ideas at 3AM, or racing to the post office at 11:50PM the night tax-filing postmarks are due. Or worse, if the hotshot-compulsion extends to one’s personal life, arriving a chronic 5-10 minutes late for appointments because you respect punctuality enough to aim for on-time, but because you value the thrill of last-minute travel sorcery just a tad more.
Lately I’ve become, on an intellectual level at least, increasingly convinced that real hotshots don’t complete tasks, solve problems, or meet acquaintances at the last minute. I’ve come to envy the folks who file taxes in February, and then proceed to enjoy spring and summer without the increasing weight of that obligation weighing on their shoulders. I respect the college student who studies, drafts, then rewrites an essay a week in advance, so they can truly enjoy their down time outside of class. And I see the Buddha-like wisdom of the person who compulsively leaves for every appointment ten minutes early instead of aiming for the precise moment of departure that will more-or-less ensure their timely arrival.
This post was completed at 5:59PM, because I gave myself 20 minutes to write it when I started at 5:40PM.