4. Who Procrastinates

Who procrastinates? Everyone—or at least everyone I’ve spoken with on the topic.

Ever since I became interested in procrastination a few years back, I’ve made a point of asking many of the people I talk with whether they procrastinate. I’ve asked very successful people and people who were less successful, people with long-established careers and those who were just starting out.

And guess what? Everyone procrastinates. Everyone has days when they get bumped off their path. Everyone has goals—often, the goals nearest and dearest to their hearts—that they have trouble making progress on. It’s true that the successful people tend to procrastinate much less than the unsuccessful ones—that is, I believe, the very thing that makes them successful—but sometimes they do it, too.

So, again, don’t feel bad that you procrastinate. It’s a universal problem, and it’s solvable. The word procrastination, by the way, dates from 1588, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, so you know that people have been procrastinating a very long time.

What About Activists?

I don’t think activists procrastinate more than other people, but I do think that activism provides more than its fair share of opportunities for the kinds of fears, doubts, anxieties and confusions that, for many people, lead straight to the P word. For example:

• Activists are highly committed people who tend to fight big, important battles against powerful enemies. It’s easy to get overwhelmed.

• Activism is psychologically challenging. It takes guts to take a public stand, especially an unpopular one; and even the simplest activist activities, such as handing out fliers on a street corner or calling up strangers and asking them to vote, can inspire fear.

• Activists tend not to make much money. This means we often either have to live in poverty, take a day job, or both. This inevitably leaves us stressed.

• Many activist organizations are—how do I put this nicely?—not very well run. Many see high levels of employee and volunteer turnover due to their poor working conditions and low pay. These types of work environments are also often chaotic, and the chaos, combined with all of the other dysfunctions, often leads to anger, bitterness, confusion and despair. And, finally,

• Many activists are sensitive and compassionate people who have chosen, through their activism, to constantly look suffering in the face and to confront the seemingly unvanquishable powers that cause it. Many activists are also exposed, day after day, to some of the worst aspects of human nature. Make no mistake; this is a traumatizing situation in the psychological sense. Psychiatrists even have a name for the secondary trauma stress disorder that activists and others who work with traumatized individuals are at risk for: Compassion Fatigue. See Part I, Endnote 1, for more information on this important topic.

You may not be able to do much about the inherent stressfulness of the activist vocation, but you can learn to control—or, more specifically, to moderate—your own response to that stress. This is an essential skill that every ambitious activist needs to master, and the remainder of Part III of The Lifelong Activist is devoted to it.