Photo credit to

Visum Monachae…On Panic

Sister Edith Bogue

I have been talking with students over the last week. I noticed the sound of panic’s leading edge in their voices. In September, they saw a vast expanse of time to do in-depth research for term papers, carry out projects with several components, or prepare for group presentations. Now, the deadlines that were lying in wait are leaping out of hiding to ambush them. Each requirement, considered individually, might be doable. Considered as a whole, they appear nearly impossible.

Many of the students are like me. Although we complain about the stress, we quietly like the frisson of putting a project together just before it is due, or the rush of excitement when we creatively combine the fragments of our sporadic research efforts into a coherent argument. Like any high, it is dangerous: the almost-missed deadline seems normal. We can only get another kick by cutting the next one even closer than the last. The thrill of the challenge is matched, in part, by a sense of accomplishment at the end. Amazed that we created a decent piece of work, we slide past the possibility that we might have created something of excellence.

Joy-riding with deadlines has other dangers. Any bump in the road–a surprise assignment, a bad cold, an unexpected meeting or overtime at work– could launch us over the deadline, careening around a tight extension into the ditch of failure. The panic in these students’ voices is real. They don’t say, with a wry smile, that they work better under pressure. Their emotions and motivation waver: could an all-out effort still save this project, this grade? Or have I gone too far, and I’m defeated.

My patient editor is probably holding her head as she reads this. My proclivity for doing too many things makes me chronically late, later, latest. God would have to make the sun stand still for me to get caught up–not for a day, as he did for Joshua, but for a week or two. Maybe a month. The original thrill of the close deadline has passed away. Joy-rides through an overly full schedule left dents in my confidence, my sense of enjoyment in my work, and even my health. “This is awful,” I say to myself, “I have to find another way.”

If this were a self-help column (a genre that chronically-late people love to read), I would reveal a startlingly simple method for accomplishing amazing things in fragments of time, or for ordering my life so well that projects finish themselves. (Yes, I have read The Four Hour Work Week and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. One blogger calls such books “productivity porn” because reading them generates a sense of accomplishment even though nothing has really changed.)

What can I offer panicky students? First, companionship. Second, St. Benedict’s firm belief that anyone can, with God’s help and their own sincere effort, defeat their worst inclinations. I will pray for you; please pray for me. Let’s finish the semester strong.