Delayed Gratification vs. Carpe Diem: When Do You Choose to Act?

The principle of delayed gratification presents much good in its underlying construct, however, it can also be used as a justification to push away things we fear. I know because I do this all the time. As an adult, what interests me is that see-saw balance between the rewards associated with delayed gratification versus the knowledge that some opportunities are fleeting.


Waiting for the “optimum” moment to have something we crave makes sense—we’re thinking ahead, considering our long game. After all, eating a green banana is far less satisfactory than one that has been allowed to fully ripen into golden deliciousness. So, too, with many other things. Hard work and struggle makes the victory that much sweeter, doesn’t it? Well, yes and no.


As an adult, I have become ever more aware of how fleeting time is and how there aren’t as many open doors available as I once believed was the case. In many respects, the older we grow, the more complicated our lives become, the more entrenched we feel—and probably are. Now, this doesn’t mean that we’re stuck—re-booting and this blog are all about finding the wherewithal to becoming unstuck. But, I guess the point I’m trying to make in this post is that people and opportunities don’t always circle back. Doors that open don’t always remain open. There are times when we need to step through that door now, if we wish to step through it ever. Even if we don’t feel fully confident.


Let’s look at the Season Five finale of Downton Abbey, for example. “I will never again receive an immoral proposition from a man,” the Dowager tells Isobel having sidestepped a romantic, late life entanglement in favor of reuniting Russian Prince Kuragin with his alienated and embittered wife. No doubt Lady Violet had many valid reasons for sending the Prince on his way, but her statement reflects her understanding that she was also permanently shutting the door on reuniting with a man she loves. Did she do this because she was afraid of her family’s or society’s disapproval? Did she have reason to believe he was insincere? We’ll never know. What we do know is that he won’t return. That chance—for them both–is now gone. They’ll never know how things between them might have turned out…It can be argued that delayed gratification is not at issue in the Lady Violet example, but let’s make it the issue—for you.


Have you ever deferred something you wanted but were afraid of, reassuring yourself that the opportunity would present itself again? What if it doesn’t? Will you be glad you made this choice?


I have put off a lot of big decisions in my life, mostly reasoning that I’d be better equipped to make a smarter choice later on, when I felt more confident. I reassured myself that similar opportunities would eventually make themselves available. In my life, I’ve always wanted to get the “hard stuff” out of the way first, expecting that it’ll make my later years more enjoyable because I will have already mastered life’s toughest lessons. Or so I thought. But second chances don’t always come round.


That’s not to say that the consequences of delayed gratification don’t enable other, better alternatives because they can. But, examining this matter with the wisdom of hindsight gives credence to the carpe diem side of the equation. Maybe now I can risk being more spontaneous because I have the skills to better handle any negative, unexpected fallout. With experience comes perspective, right?


So, how impulsive are you? Where have you taken a great leap into the unexpected? Are you glad you did? Could you have gone further? What kept you from doing so?


We all know that life is a series of choices with no single right path to follow. We each must make trade offs, sacrifices, and take risks, stumbling into unexpected happiness with no guarantees that they’ll present themselves again. Finding the balance between delayed gratification and seizing the day is going to be different for each of us. I believe re-booters feel this struggle more keenly than others because we are so aware of the fact that the choice is ours. We are not consigned.


How heavily will we allow our responsibilities to dictate our choices? How much do we trust ourselves to withstand unanticipated fallout? What is our personal tolerance for risk? How keenly do we feel the passage of time? How much do we trust that we’ll get a second chance?


When I look back at certain situations where I didn’t leap or push or try to force the situation, I’m not filled with regret. In certain ways, I probably saved myself from a certain amount of grief, but I can’t know for sure. What I do know is how much I don’t want fear to dictate my choices under the guise of waiting for a better time.


How about you?

 Pocket watch


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