The One Question You Must Ask Yourself Before You Accept Any Invitation

Arts, entertainment, and more.
May 29 2014 12:34 PM

Before You Accept Any Invitation …

You must ask yourself this question.

Indecisive.
Vanquish invitational indecision with this one simple trick.

Photo by Marijus Auruskevicius/Shutterstock

What an honor! You have been asked to appear on a panel, to keynote a conference, to advise a celebrity, to be publicly acclaimed. Perhaps you have been offered a plump check. Perhaps you’ve even been promised a prize! Of course you’re flattered. Of course you accept, because you have so much time to prepare. After all, this thing isn’t happening until October. It’s next year. It’s in 2018. It's so far in the future, you’ll probably be dead by then.

David Plotz David Plotz

David Plotz is Slate's editor at large. He's the author of The Genius Factory and Good Book.

You’ve made a terrible mistake.

Here’s what will happen. Though the engagement seems infinitely far away today, it will eventually, inevitably, be a week away. Then it’s a day away. And you still haven’t written the speech you need to write. You still have to make a hotel reservation and buy a train ticket and find a baby sitter and apologize to your sister for missing her birthday dinner and beg Dan to cover for you in a meeting. (Sorry, Dan.) The opportunity that sparkled so brightly when they flattered you into it six months ago isn’t gleaming anymore. It’s just a gigantic hassle.

Advertisement

But I have the miracle solution. (To give credit where it’s due, this tidbit was passed along to me by my wife, Hanna Rosin, and her friend, New Yorker staff writer Margaret Talbot.) Anytime anyone invites you to do anything, ask yourself this question before you accept: Would I do it tomorrow?

That’s it—those five words. Not: Would I do it on some theoretical day in the future? This is the crucial question: Would I upend whatever I am doing tomorrow so that I can go there and do that?

Are they paying you enough to skip your daughter’s soccer game tomorrow? Is the panel interesting enough that you don’t mind asking your colleague to cover for you, tomorrow? Is the conference important enough to your career that you would blow off your college roommate’s visit, which is tomorrow. When you get the invitation, pay no attention at all to its far-flung date: Move it mentally to tomorrow.

Tomorrow makes decisions simple. Meeting the president? Of course I would do that tomorrow! You’re proposing to pay me that much? Then I would speak to your annual meeting of anesthesiologists tomorrow. Driving to North Carolina to give a speech? Not tomorrow. Serve on that important-sounding committee? If I have to do it tomorrow, no way.

Don’t thank me for this life-altering advice. Just pass it on. And do it today.

David Plotz is Slate's editor at large. He's the author of The Genius Factory and Good Book.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

Why Indians in America Are Mad for India’s New Prime Minister

The Strange History of Wives Gazing at Their Husbands in Political Ads

Television

See Me

Transparent is the fall’s only great new show.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 12:04 PM John Hodgman on Why He Wore a Blue Dress to Impersonate Ayn Rand
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 30 2014 2:36 PM This Court Erred The Supreme Court has almost always sided with the wealthy, the privileged, and the powerful.
  Business
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
  Life
Education
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 30 2014 11:42 AM Listen to Our September Music Roundup Hot tracks from a cooler month, exclusively for Slate Plus members.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 2:56 PM How Faithful Is David Fincher’s Gone Girl?
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 2:38 PM Scientists Use Electrical Impulses to Help Paralyzed Rats Walk Again
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.