January 19, 2010

Proactive Virtue

By Sean McPherson *

At some point, every student has been a victim of his or her own procrastination. Many see academic procrastination as something inevitable in the life of a student because a busy schedule or a heavy workload compel one to always be behind in studies. Others deem procrastination as a good thing and rely on it to succeed - the pressure of completing an assignment can cause the body to release endorphins which give one an “academic high,” making it much easier to focus on the work at hand.  These claims make a valid argument for procrastination; however, they fail to recognize that it hinders any personal growth in virtue. Therefore it has numerous harmful effects on those who consistently practice it.

On the surface, procrastination appears to have many academic benefits, as it can often drive one to excel in a short amount of time. It is essentially a good thing - that is, if the object of school is only to earn high grades.  But that is not the sole purpose of an education. Rather, education helps a student discover and question new ideas and be innovative. If a paper is done the night before, there is not time for external exploration or development of abstract thoughts. School thus becomes a constraint, a burden, rather than being properly freeing. It can hardly take its rightful place as a great gift from God.

An exceptional student may not have trouble remembering information even when it is crammed, but this still does not justify procrastination, which makes one rely on the academic high and replaces the development of important virtues such as time management skills. This is a virtue that penetrates almost all areas of life. In a relationship - whether as a spouse, parent or friend - if things are consistently put off until the last minute, someone will eventually be let down in major ways that can permanently damage that relationship. One’s relationship with God is no different; when prayer is put off it almost never gets done. The same goes for other spiritual resolutions. Just as there are few excuses for putting off prayer until the last minute, so too there are not many to justify pulling an all-nighter to finish an assignment that was given to you a month in advance.

I realize my tone above seems quite harsh. I make such strong claims to stress the importance of developing virtue through time management. This is a skill that does not simply affect grades, but dictates many of one’s interactions with other people and God. Most importantly, good working skills strengthen the interior life and can allow you to have a true day of rest on Sundays, where God can refuel you for the upcoming week. This has tremendous affects on conquering sins that may continually reoccur, as well as helping to drastically improve grades.

If you currently have poor working skills, there is no reason to panic or get discouraged. Simply make a plan and start trying to work ahead; stop telling yourself that it is just the way you are. Virtue always entails practice, and you will make mistakes. I have made a goal for this upcoming semester to work diligently from 9:00 to 5:00 so I can have the evenings off. Although I have already gone against my schedule, I continually strive to be better at staying on task. By doing so, I believe it will help me grow in knowledge of my studies with God, and help lead me to Heaven. 

Sean McPherson is a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame, where he is studying chemical engineering and theology.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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