May 042014
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I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

Douglas Adams 

American life is a string of deadlines- hard cut-offs which restrict moving on in life. We Americans live by schedules and time lines, starting with the first day of school and ending when we put in for retirement. We like to think that American’s are ruggedly independent, forging forward through chaos and distraction to win the day but the truth is more mundane. We are much more like lab rats running a series of mazes put in our path, competing against our brother rats for rewards. Those rewards seem wonderful at the time but don’t provide long term satisfaction- not so much diamonds set in gold but zircons set in brass- and with each deadline we move on the the next maze.

deadlinesSuccessful people get conditioned to this pattern early in life. They embrace the competitive environment of the deadline and it becomes their life model. Everything is about the end and nothing important is happening along the way. Success is crossing the finish line, in first place if possible, but definitely finishing. Americans like finishing what they start but there is more to this lifestyle than just crossing the finish line. You also have to finish within the allotted time. For that reason, Americans invented the term deadline- the drop dean point in time when finishing no longer matters..

Americans didn’t invent deadlines.

There have always been deadlines whether from natural processes or human design. But until modern times no one ever applied a name to them.

Reflecting back over the series of mazes and deadlines in my own life, they don’t seems so impressive from behind. Getting those college degrees once seemed all important in achieving success in life. In my golden years I ponder the meaning of life and attempt to measure my meager impact on the world around me. Like Hillary Clinton, I ask. “What difference did it make?”

Deadlines imply finishing the race. Deadlines don’t say anything about how. Looking back, I get little satisfaction from the successful races I completed. What matters most is how I made my way from the start to the finish line. When the important thing is how, the deadline ceases to be important. In fact the individual mazes blur because each result and the deadlines associated don’t matter very much.

In life,

there is truly only one important deadline. None of us have any control over that deadline and we don’t have much say in when it comes or what rewards might follow. Our awareness is limited to the span we call life, from the moment we are conceived until we draw that final breath. This is a maze we all complete. It is the measure of that life , the impact that we leave behind. Very little of that impact has anything to do with how well we met the deadlines along the way

Deadlines have always been important to me through life. I learned the pattern early and competed well in the mazes of my life. As the final deadline looms closer, I try to assess my legacy and those trophy’s from meeting deadlines look like tinsel and dross. I wish I had been more focused on how I was running those races and let some of those deadlines whoosh past. Maybe it’s still not too late.


Ralph is the inspiration for Cantankerous Old Coots and is our Grand Duke of Cantankerousness

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