Pay Now, Play Later: The Art of Delayed Gratification and Other Life Lessons

“The universe, this stepping-stone, has been laid down to prepare a way for us.  But we ourselves must step across it, one by one.” – M. Scott Peck, M.D., “The Road Less Traveled”

Which part of the cake do you like better, the cake or the frosting?  Dr. M. Scott Peck posited this very question to one of his patients to identify the reason behind her tendencies towards procrastination (Peck, 1978).  “Oh, the frosting!” she responded, soon revealing the reason work piled up her desk for months on end.  She had not mastered the art of delaying gratification.  Delaying gratification can be defined simply as paying now, playing later.  This skill is not easily acquired because it requires not only taking a hard look at your priorities, but at yourself.  As a university student, I am quickly learning this hard lesson.

When I was very young, my grandmother often wore a tee shirt that bore the message “Overworked and underpaid”.  In the essence of carrying on the spirit of this phenomenal matriarch, I held this moniker in my head as a mantra.  Yes, overworked and underpaid – the road to sainthood.  Realistically, this road will more likely lead one to loss of sleep, followed by loss of sanity.  Yet, in this spirit, I would consistently plop more on my plate than I could realistically consume.  Then, I would pathologically feel overworked and under-accomplished because of lack of proper organization and time-management.  Vicious cycle, right?  Indeed.  Within my spirit of “sainthood” and misappropriation of priorities, I would put off homework for community fundraising or put off studying for an impromptu peer mentoring session.  While these activities may not be as seemingly frivolous as spending a few hours blowing off time in the campus game room, they are in actuality just as academically detrimental.  They are the activities that are gratifying to me; therefore, in order to be successful as a student, I must pay first, completing my work in a timely fashion, and play later, participating in the events that are gratifying to me.

While I would like to say that I learned this hard lesson long ago, and have been extremely successful in my academic endeavors ever since, it is instead just now becoming clear to me as I read the final pages of “The Road Less Traveled”.  Minutes ago, I set the book aside and paused the playlist on my laptop as the hours crept towards midnight and realized, reading this book at that  very moment was not more important than completing my class assignments.  I must first complete all of my assignments and then I can do the things I love.  Or as Dr. M. Scott Peck so eloquently puts it, “Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting an experiencing the pain first and getting it over with.  It is the only decent way to live.”(Peck, 1978)


Peck, M.S. (1978). The road less traveled. New York, NY: Touchstone.


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October 2010
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