In Pursuit of Awesome: The Myth of the “Right” Time

I got an amazing response to my In Pursuit of Awesome post, here and on Geek Feminism. It’s inspired me to write a series of posts where I explore some of the tips I wrote about and related topics in more depth.

Perfect timing, right?

Credit: flickr / Jayjay402

Let me offer you a scenario. You move to a new place and someone tells you about something awesome they’re starting; it fits with your interests and you think “I could get involved with that”.

Then, your inner monologue kicks in. What does it say?

Great project, if only the timing was better. I have this huge new job and that’s going to be a challenge, and I have to meet people here and, I mean, I haven’t even unpacked yet! I don’t know enough people here to be really useful, and I think it’s just too much for me to do right now. In three months, I’ll look at it, maybe the timing will be right.


This is the kind of thing I really want to get involved with here. I don’t know many people yet, but this will put me in the way of meeting them and I’ll be able to bring a new perspective because of the things I’ve done where I lived before. Work is going to be challenging so it’s good if I have something else that I’m passionate about that I can work on to get me out of the office sometimes.

The myth of the “right” time was on the initial list of things that I had, but didn’t make it to the final one; I forgot about it. But re-reading Sheryl Sandberg’s great advice – in “Don’t Leave Before You Leave” caused me to revisit it. In the article, she talks about how women planning on getting pregnant start turning down challenges in preparation for needing to cut back as their life changes, and why they shouldn’t. It’s great advice, and not just for women planning a family.

There is always a reason why now is not as good a time as some other, future time. In the future, we’re always going to be (at least) 10 pounds lighter, more on top of work, better organized at home, more at peace in our personal life. We’ll be getting up earlier and not sleeping in at the weekends.

I tell you what, future-Cate is a zen-like, organized creature that present-Cate never manages to live up to.

It’s important to recognize that the stories we tell ourselves are just that, stories. People change, and yes, no doubt you can become more organized, or thinner, or whatever it is you want, but I think it’s crucial to recognize that even when that happens – we’ll still have some other inadequacies we perceive in ourselves that will make it “not the right time”, if we allow it.

Someone asked me recently, how do I find time for everything. I hate that question. My priorities are different, and as a result I make time. I have some (fairly small) optimizations (something I explored more in Finding Your Cognitive Surplus in Grad School), but really what it comes down to is that we all have 24 hours in each day and we each get to choose how we spend it.

WISE was surprising in that is came at a “right” time – I was looking for a new challenge and had just freed up some space in my life. But then – I got offered a job in Shanghai and spent most of the summer abroad, not working on a proposal getting funding. So even having found that elusive “right” time things didn’t go smoothly, because other stuff happens.

I started Awesome Ottawa as a grad student (so without a huge amount of extra money), knowing that there was a good chance I would move for work on graduation. It was in many ways, the “wrong” time for me. And yet – it’s been great and I would have hated to miss out on it.

Stop waiting for the “right” time, and try to find a way to make time instead. Yes, sometimes it is genuinely the “wrong” time. But not as often as we think.

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