I have always been a headstrong person – a firm believer in the old adage “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.” It is strange though, for all my machismo and prideful grit, how I too fall victim to the curse of procrastination. One would think someone so intensely motivated by maintaining a “tough guy” image would never put off doing anything. Yet truth is often stranger than fiction, for more than once my pride would not let me budge, and it cost me, often dearly so.

I distinctly remember a particular incident, one which to this day causes my cheeks to burn in embarrassment.

“You look a little pale. Are you alright?” my teammate asked, concern furrowing her brow.

“What are you talking about? I’m tip-top.” I said hurriedly, brushing her off with an air of confidence. I hid my alarm and buried her worries under a flurry of nagging, and Natasha quickly forgot about it.

But Natasha had been dangerously close to discovering how ill I was. My fight with flu had until then already lasted five days, and I was not sure how long more I could hold out. I suffered outbreaks of cold sweats and dizziness every other hour, yet I in obstinate defiance, chose to put off going to the doctor’s. The regionals were in less than a week and I absolutely could not afford to take an MC now, much less as captain of the East-Zone’s foremost table-tennis team. I soldiered on, discreetly chugging lemon-tea, popping cough drops and all manner of home remedies in a valiant effort to stave off the inevitable.

My resolve faltered as my condition progressively worsened. In the space of two days, I went from coughing up blood, to blacking out in class, to passing coffee-coloured urine (Haematuria/blood in urine). The last symptom was extremely unnerving, and it dawned on me that I just might have abused my body past the point of no return.

My worst fears were realised on the day of the competition – I could not rise from my bed. My body had finally buckled under the strain of illness and decided to forcibly confine me to rest. I cried – my body was wracked with wordless screams and sobs of frustration as I finally grasped the folly of my actions. Postponing treatment had only made things worse, causing a mild bout of flu to snowball into utter debilitation, and ultimately costing us the match and the championship. Natasha and the others forgave me for my error in judgement, but it was a long time before I got over the bitterness of that incident.

One would think I would have learnt from this painful lesson, however, the folly of man is not so easily cured.

It was a time after the previous incident, when I had been selected to be Valedictorian. When I heard about it, I was distressed. I knew I didn’t deserve such an honour. I had less than stellar grades, and I cost the team our most important prize. I was also aware that it was due to the efforts of my friends, who voted for me in the hope that I would redeem myself when presented the opportunity. It was immensely stressful, as if an Atlas-like weight had been saddled on my shoulders, and I crumbled beneath the weight of everyone’s expectations.

It would be presumptuous to dismiss my subsequent inaction as mere laziness, for it was more than what it seemed to be. Any true procrastinator knows, that the insidious root of procrastination is the subconscious refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. I was no different. I avoided thinking about the task as much as possible, filling my schedule with unimportant frivolities and trivial tasks. When others asked if I needed help drafting the speech and practicing, I put up a façade and pretended all was well. The fear of reproach had me rooted to the floor. The days sped by, and I was powerless to stop it.

To say the speech was a disaster would be an understatement. I had, at the last moment, cobbled together some semblance of a speech, and scribbled it onto little cards. As the emcee quieted the crowd in anticipation, I tried to slow my breathing in a futile attempt to gather myself, but before I knew it, I heard my name. I stumbled on stage, and the silence was deafening. My voice caught in my throat as I fumbled with the cards in one hand and the microphone in the other. I squinted against the harsh light and past the tears streaming down to look at the spidery writing, but the cards dappled with spots of tears were impossible to read. The handwriting was on the wall –  and it was not five minutes before I was gently led off stage.

Those were tough times, and they taught me a tough lesson. Truly, “time and tide wait for no man.”

This essay was originally written for the question: “Time and tide wait for no man.” Describe some occasions when procrastination cost you dearly.