Five Reasons Why Deadlines Are Lifelines for Students

There is a charming story from years ago about a small frog who fell into a pothole on a busy road. Although he tried, he couldn’t jump high enough to hop out. One by one, fellow critters heard him croaking for help as they walked by. Each one promised to find someone bigger than they were to reach down and pull him to safety. An hour later, those critters were in the woods debating who could help, when they saw the little frog hopping toward them. “Hey, how did you get here? I thought you were stuck in that pothole!” the animals asked.

“I was,” replied the frog. “But I was able to hop out.”

“But, you’re so small. I thought it was impossible.”

“Me, too,” the frog said. “But I heard a huge truck coming from a distance, and I had to get out!”

For years, this little fable has reminded me of the power of incentive. There are loads of things we think we can’t do, until the time comes and we have to. At that point, we often discover the ability was in us the entire time. We just never put it to the test.

And this is especially true for our students.

An All Too Familiar Story

I have very dear friends who learned this recently. Their son, Liam, just graduated from college and moved back home for a season. Liam’s dad met with him, man-to-man, and talked about the excitement of launching into his career, into his own apartment (and eventually a home) and learning to provide for himself. In those meetings Liam was visibly eager to set some goals and deadlines for moving out and starting on his own.

That is, until Mom had a conversation with him. While running errands one day, Liam began to share what he and his dad had talked about. Missing the cue that he was excited about this big step, Mom said, “Well, let’s just see how things go. You can stay with us as long as you want to, sweetheart.”

Those words, while warm and well-intentioned, do not help a boy become a man.

The next thing he knew, Liam was telling dad he needed to stay longer, trying to find the perfect job and the right apartment before “launching.” Dad asked about the new plan and discovered Liam wasn’t feeling as sure about himself as he had earlier. He was hesitant, less confident and apprehensive that he could do it. While Mom’s words were very comforting and nurturing—she did not realize how they stole ambition and incentive from her son.

Five Gifts That Deadlines Provide for Young People

You and I probably both agree that Mom was simply trying to furnish a “safety net.” All parents desire to offer such security to their young adult children. Without a goal to reach and a deadline to meet, however, that “safety net” can become a “hammock,” says financial advisor Dave Ramsey. This merciful approach sounds so right; so loving. But real love calls out the best in someone if we know it is there.

When leading teens or young adults, we must remember—deadlines can be lifelines for them. They can be the source of energy for initiative. In fact, deadlines:

  • Create incentive and ambition. Given in the right spirit, deadlines can provide a sense of urgency and ambition to get the job done, just like the frog in the story above. It’s amazing how resilient we can be when we have to be.
  • Force resourcefulness in us. The more resources people have, the less resourceful they tend to become—for all of us. Deadlines can push a young person to be creative as they solve problems for themselves.
  • Help us prioritize. When we are forced to make something happen, we quickly discover what our real priorities are. In Liam’s case, he learned what he needed and what he didn’t need in a new apartment.
  • Can generate confidence in us. When a deadline is set for us and there is belief expressed that we can meet it, it’s empowering. We can borrow some of their belief and start to feel capable of taking on adult responsibility.
  • Empower us to focus our life. Deadlines cultivate clarity in our thinking that isn’t there when there are loads of options. The human spirit can face all kinds of adversity when focused on what’s most important and valuable.

I was 21 years old when I married my wife, Pam. She was 19. We weren’t completely privy to all that marriage entails, but we struck out on our own. I finished my senior year of college, while working a full-time job. We both have parents who loved us enough to say—we believe in you. Call if you need us, but enjoy the satisfaction of striking out on your own. In the first two years, we ate mac and cheese a lot, and had two pieces of furniture, and a used table someone gave to us. They were the greatest days of our lives. Our secret? We learned to lean on each other, get the support of a community we established around us and we set goals and deadlines for ourselves. I became a man during that time—self-sufficient and able to self-regulate because Mom and Dad didn’t step in. Instead, deadlines stepped in. Always remember…

  • Students learn on a need-to-know basis.
  • Students act on a need-to-initiate basis.

Let’s help them create deadlines that become lifelines.

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  • Create an ongoing plan for personal growth outside the classroom
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Five Reasons Why Deadlines Are Lifelines for Students