Deferred Gratification, Yo

(it’s like gratification, only with more waiting!)

In true English Puritan fashion, I’m all for deferred gratification – the process of working now for a reward in the future, rather than prioritising immediate and short-term fun. The obvious example in my life is school, and how I’m learning quotes from The Wife Of Bath now, and will be rewarded by getting my grades in three months or so. But I think that this system, that I’ve basically spent the least twelve years of my life working towards, is kinda flawed.

Firstly, what the Hell is the reward I’m going for? An A*? Oh, well done me, I get to have an asterisk to represent my years of schoolwork, while the uneducated morons I call my peers will only have a single character, a mere A, that make them peasants in the face of my far superior intellect, right? Yeah, right.

You could logically argue that my university place will be my reward, and this is true: but I don’t see university as the means to an end of a well-paid job, but an end in itself, that promises to be the combination of fun people, youthful optimism, (slight) personal economic freedom, and reading good books, that is the envy of quite a few teenagers. Does that mean, therefore, that my interpretation of ‘deferred gratification’ is really more like ‘deferred enjoyment’; I’m not working now for a functional end, like making loads of money, but I’m working for one of enjoyment, going to uni.

And this of course raises other problems, like why should there be limited and meritocratic access to a thing that’s fundamentally fun, instead of prioritising those who are more genuinely interested in the subject; also, this means that, ultimately, I place great importance on enjoyment in my life, to the extent that I am willing to give up immediate, small-scale enjoyment (playing Football Manager) for some far-off super-enjoyment.

Hell, I place so much importance on it that I’m willing the give up the bird in my hand of video games for the two in the bush that is university, a risky decision that everyone from poker players to Daniel Levy and his transfer policy will be able to tell you is perhaps inadvisable. Would it not be better, in both an immediate and an assured sense, to just drop out now, get high and consume hazardously large quantities of alcohol?

Also, do I really want that ‘end’ of university; if it turns out to suck – with essays so hard they aren’t fun, or roommates that won’t stop eating your damn pasta – will it have been worth it, and would I try to enjoy it regardless because it’s the end point of over a decade of studying?

I fear that I might love working, not the result that comes from it; last year, I didn’t really care about my AS results because I was happy that I’d put a solid few months of work in before them, and argued that any failures would have been down to misunderstanding a question or poor handwriting, rather than anything inherent to my working process (a decision that would have been questionable had I failed because of something inherent to my working process). Equally, this afternoon finishing a Geography paper didn’t make me feel ‘Oh thank God, no more tropical revolving storms’, I felt satisfied, if tired, that I had spent two and a half hours doing something useful.

But there’s not much point debating motivation or end result at this point; regardless of the subjective and instant decisions regarding whether I do, or will, enjoy the targets I have set myself, the undeniable fact remains that I have set doing these exams as a target, and so this target must be completed. Motivation is funny like that, as you can make yourself do the most depressingly painful and monotonous thing in the world, but the fact that you decided to do it yourself is often incredibly motivating; I guess this is why some people take crappy jobs, but do them anyway.

And speaking of crappy jobs, I’m done working for today, so I need to go prepare for the three years I’m going to spend stacking shelves at Tesco while at uni to afford the rent. Fun times are ahead!


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