When I wake up in the morning, usually some time between 5 and 6am, I roll out of bed, head
to the kitchen and push ‘Start’ on my coffee maker. I often fill it with water and ground coffee the night before, so all I need to do is push the button in the morning to begin the process that yields the black elixir-of-life I adore. Then I head to my youngest son’s room, slowly rotate the brass doorknob, and push open his door as quietly as I can. Our dog, Zephyr, is inside, sometimes waiting for me just inside the door, ready to walk into the hall, plunk herself down on the floor and roll onto her back, exposing her belly for the first rub of the day. Other times, she is snuggled up on Elliot’s furniture (yes, we are that kind of Dog People), and I must look her hard in the eye to inspire her to rouse herself and join me outside the room.
In either case, only after the morning belly rub do we proceed into the kitchen. I pour a scoop of dog food into her bowl, command her to “Sit!” then nod my head and say to her, “You may begin.” She looks up at me with the gratitude that only the family dog can provide, then stands and puts her face to the bowl. I step back and finally pour my coffee. Our ritual complete, I am free to move about the house and decide how to prioritize my day.
Many years ago, around the time I was going through my first divorce, I read the book, The Road Less Traveled, a classic of self-support, by M. Scott Peck. From it, I learned the name for what may be the most important life skill anyone can ever cultivate: the ability to delay gratification.
As children, we start life with no understanding of future time. Everything is Now. It takes time to learn there is a Now, a Later, and a Later Still. In the Peck classic, we see that cultivating an understanding that what we do Now will likely impact our lives Later. This is the very definition of personal power. This power is how we create the lives we choose, whether it manifests in waiting for the blue crayon so we can draw the sky the way we want in pre-school, or in holding off from buying the first of something now in order to best of what we really want later. This idea was particularly on my mind this morning as I went through my morning routine with Zephyr.
Having worked as an independent artist for the past sixteen years, I know well the power of delaying gratification. Before I had my chance to go full-time as a jewelry artist in 2004, I worked other jobs for more than thirteen years. I worked in the corporate offices of a retail giant, as a store manager on the ground in another retail establishment, and as buyer and manager of the gallery Shop at Craft Alliance Center for Arts & Design, a well-established not-for-profit focused on contemporary craft. That last one was a favorite. More recently, I’ve worked full-time in the Alterations Department of a local Nordstrom store as I expanded my creative interests into fashion design. While I departed that last job late in 2018 to begin teaching in the fashion department at Lindenwood University, I can never say enough about the people I met and what I learned about garment construction, life and love from that last stint in W2 employment. While teaching at Lindenwood, I completed my Master of Science in Fashion Business and Entrepreneurship, a terminal degree that didn’t even exist when I graduated with my BFA in 1991. The coursework and rigor perfectly matched where I was Now, a place that took me all those years of living to become the right person to value the experience. I am using what I learned to build my Later, the next evolution in my creative career.
I’ve digressed a bit, as usual. My purpose in writing this morning was not to trumpet my accomplishments, but to use them to underscore a point: the power to delay gratification gives us agency in building our lives. Recognizing the Now and the Later supports us in defining priorities, structuring our lives, and finding the meaning we crave.
I would never have built this life had I not understood that I needed to think ahead. Even harder for someone like me, I also had to adjust to sitting in the Now, focusing on the work at hand as preparation for the Later. Perhaps you can relate...?
In this time of stressful uncertainty- Day 29 of Social Isolation, by my count- an idea like delaying gratification is particularly significant. It’s what allows us to choose healthy actions today, knowing that we may get the payback we desire later, after the virus has done its work. The very concept of Flattening the Curve is based on delaying gratification- stay home, keep ourselves from our usual joyful and entertaining activities Now- because we have instead invested in Later, a time which poses a dramatically smaller risk of exposing us to pain and suffering because we have managed our resources well. I know we all hope for this to be the case.
Thank you for reading. Please send me your comments about my writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Stay healthy, and take good care of each other.