When I do work in earnest I am quickly shown how little I work in general, how lazy I am most of the time. If I used my time better, I could be so much more accomplished. I am, as it is, so very far behind. When I do see clearly how undisciplined and lazy I’ve been, I become very disappointed in myself and quite ashamed of myself. When I am not working, although I recognize that I am not working, I do not take a measure of work left undone. When I begin to work again, I remember how quickly (and slowly) I do work, and am able to take better account of just how much work I have not done, just how much more work I have made for myself, just how much longer it will take before I can even begin to catch up.
This is a very ugly habit. It has deleterious effects upon my character. I grow resentful and envious of those who are better disciplined and more accomplished. I grow angrier and angrier with myself. Moreover, I despair. I grow discouraged. Petulant. I become so disappointed in myself that it seems inconceivable to me that I am not a disappointment to everyone I love. How can anyone stand me? I am lazy, careless, weak, cowardly.
It becomes clear that no one but my own self has ever stood in the way of my success. When I am not working, it is easy to point to all the teachers who did not encourage me, even those who declined to offer guidance when asked for it. It is easy to point to the family from which I sometimes feel alienated. It is easy to point out that I meet few people with whom I can discuss philosophy in ways that are simple enough for me to understand without being trite or silly.
When I begin to do work again, I remember (why do I ever let myself forget?) that I never had to be brilliant. Never had to be the smartest person I know. I only ever have to (ever had to) work consistently to the best of my ability and always try to improve. That’s all. I don’t have to move at leaps and bounds. I will never be able to do so. Avoiding work because I cannot do everything at once is so foolish—and I know this, of course. There is not—there never was—any time limit. Had I kept plodding at my own very stupid pace, I would be so much further along than I am now.
And then I think of the ways in which I spend my time, the things with which I fill my head. If I’d spent half of the time I currently spend reading magazines reading texts in the history of ethics, I would be very well read. When I then remember that I reread these magazines, sometimes more than once, I am very ashamed. I could have written at least one conference paper. I could have read books that are much more edifying. I could have lost five pounds. I could have tried a dozen new recipes.