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No end in sight

Dec. 5, 2011
Who is meeting their deadlines? And who is ignoring them?
Robert Brooks

December is the month of deadlines, the pell-mell period when we must complete various assignments or pay the penalty: close that sale, file the expense report, qualify for tax credits, complete the vesting period, use or lose the vacation time. Some deadlines have brighter prospects: RSVP that invitation, meet for dinner on Saturday, get to the airport in time for boarding, buy that gift before the store closes at 6 p.m. Of course, many of us will want to be in the right spot at midnight on December 31.

Nothing is permanent and we have to adapt ourselves to that truth or lose the various opportunities we seek to make ourselves more prosperous, more trusted, or more contented. If we don’t realize this during December, we may never get the message. If we don’t meet the deadline, we may not have another chance.

I chafe at deadlines, but like many people I face them all the time. I have meetings to attend, messages to return, reports to file, papers to read, calls to make, stories, features, and columns to write. The deadlines seem more unavailing in December, perhaps because I’m more mindful that the year is ending and the time will never return. Just as likely, it’s because there are so many other things I want to do or must do that the obligation to complete the job I have been assigned seems so daunting.

And to me, that is the truth about deadlines that I must recall constantly: deadlines make me better at what I do because they force me to comply with standards or face consequences. It’s obvious, but worth acknowledging, that I am fortunate to have these responsibilities. In December, with cold, dark days ahead and the desire to make merry lingering in my thoughts, the prospect of unemployment focuses my attention on deadlines quite effectively. I am lucky to have been spared unemployment in the course of the past several years.

Those of us who have demanding jobs do frequently wonder, however, why the tasks and expectations mount up so ominously, and wonder why it’s all assigned to us. Just as frequently, we remind ourselves how much worse it would be to have nothing to do, no one expecting us to finish an assignment, and no assurance about a new project coming our way.

These are the personal ruminations of one person as the clock ticks away on one more issue of FM&T, one more month, and one more year. We must make our best effort, because we cannot know if or when we’ll have another opportunity.

But I think it’s also the outline of a feeling that is widespread in our world. In this issue we present the summary report of FM&T’s annual survey of metalcasting executives. Their outlook is positive, I am glad to report, and they’re generally confident, but they’re not unaware of the problems they face. Their opinions about issues shaping the industry, the nation, and the world are enlightening, and sometimes provocative. Their comments resonate profoundly with me as I contemplate all the deadlines ahead of me: “the problems are so great,” they seem to be saying, “and there are so few of us working to solve them.”

Compare this tone with the actions of federal legislators who this year postponed two deadlines on debt resolution, only to withdraw from the problem altogether. And if it seems bad in Washington, DC, imagine the anguish of Greek citizens whose Parliament will not commit to restructuring their own massive debt, or the Belgians who have had no government at all for nearly 18 months. They cannot be made to do what they must do. They’re indifferent.

Such indifference feeds our anxieties. There is a lot of trouble in this world. Institutions established to guide, instruct, and support us are failing, and our only chance to recover the prosperity and contentment we’ve worked hard to gain is to recognize that the alternatives are unacceptable. Let hard work be its own reward.