Don Draper - Mad Men...
I am not a native English speaker. This could be a reason why the term "delaying gratification" seems rather complicated and hard to understand. It's not that I don't unterstand the words themselves. For the longest time, I wasn't quite able to grasp their meaning. What does it mean, to "delay gratification"? What's up with the "delay"? Delaying something for a day or two, ok. But I hate delaying things for more time than absolutely necessary. I never liked waiting for the results of a test, and nowadays I don't like waiting for feedbacks, payments, etc. These are things that should happen immediately.
And "gratification"? What is that supposed to be? What does it stand for? Money? Praise? A pat on the back? Well, it depends, of course. It depends on what you think is gratifying for you. A compliment from a person you like can be extremely gratifying. In a business context it's a form of payment. But only if the payment makes you feel valued and if it represents something of value that you receive in exchange for something of value that you produce.
"Delaying gratification" is a psychological term. And as far as I'm aware, psychology is a science. As a part of proper scientific conduct, a psychologist requires scientific terminology beyond other things to be clear, precise, distinct from other terms and constructs as well as exhaustive in the way it tries to enclose a hypothesis or - even better - a theory in one word. But what does any of this have to do with the title of this blog? Well, I have somewhat unlearned delaying gratification and the quote "You're Good. Get better. Stop asking for things!" is a reminder that in most cases you have to deliver good work before you are even remotely in the position to ask for anything.
You have to DO something before you GET something in return - or before you can even ASK for anything. Nobody expects you to work for free, that should be self-evident in our day and age. However, asking for something solely based on your past merits is not going to work either. It's a strong sign of entitlement and a lack of humility. Not a good recipe for long term professional relationships. Even less so for intimate relationships. "I have worked hard all day. Now you make me food!" How does the first statement even remotely relate to the second one? You get the idea.
I'm also aware that there is the opposite perspective in that asking for proof of something with an uncertain outcome - especially when you want to bet on the future - usually isn't going to work. Adam Grant elaborates on that in his book "Think Again". It's a simple concept yet hard to follow for people that are rather risk averse. Just take a look at the stock market and crypto in specific. If you really want to, you should take the gamble. Nobody will reliably tell you if it's going to work or not. You have to show some trust your own judgement.
Let me give you a more practical example from an employer's perspective. You shouldn't ask your employees to fully fill out the next job while they are still working in their current one. The proof of good work they deliver in the current job should provide enough evidence to show that they can take the next step. Otherwise you should reconsider the job design and the hierarchy of tasks in your organisation. If you are really unsure about it, add one or two extra tasks on top that are typical part of the next position for a short period, but don't make them do the work of two people for months. On the other hand - and that brings me back to the title of the blog - if you are the one that wants to receive something for the work you do, show that person you are actually capable of doing a good job. Show engagement and passion for what you do and try to operate outside your comfort zone.
Quintessentially, taking a risk mustn't be a one-sided adventure and while one side has to show that they are able to deliver, the other side has to show some form of trust. Ideally both sides find an agreement on how much risk each one takes individually. I can write a couple of articles for you until you say "OK, now I trust you - let's make a fixed agreement for writing 5 more and I pay you in advance." One side has taken the risk of putting many hours into something that might work, it might as well fail. The other side could've said "Well, I don't really like your work and I don't trust you with any other tasks...". In that case you've produced a few articles for 'nothing' - as long as the topics you wrote about didn't hold any other than a monetary value. But this is something you should consider before even moving one finger: Spending time on work you don't really value beyond the money is a foolish choice in the first place!
So here I am, still thinking about the term "delaying gratification" and the phrase by Don Draper "Get better. Stop asking for things!". I'm asking myself how much risk I want to take. How much time and effort I want to spend in advance before even knowing if it is going to pay off. I'm struggling to answer that question comprehensively. Yet trying to answer it provides me with a better idea of how I want to spend my time. It is ultimately my decision how much I want to engage in any type of work. Yes, an employer can provide the right circumstances to foster engagement. But it is still my decision to pick up on that, motivate myself and show engagement.
This leads to a different thought: What else can work provide beyond money? It can provide a sense of purpose, it can teach you something, it can stabilise you when you are lacking structure in your life. We should take these things into account when we sign up for an uncertain endeavour. If we keep in mind that work provides us with more than just money, the idea of failing from a monetary stand-point might not weigh as heavy. You live and you learn. And a key thing you should learn is what type of person you are. How much risk you want to take, how you handle stress and uncertainty, how emotionally and psychologically stable you are. If you don't know how to do it: listen to your conscience. Your conscience will usually tell you if what you are doing at any given moment is good or bad for you.
"Gnothi seauton" - know thyself! And be honest about it. That should form the foundation for the decisions you make and the risks you're willing to take.