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Angela’s Orderliness

May 10, AD2016 1 Comment


Orderliness is an important human virtue. It is the good habit by which a person does what he ought to do, when and how he should do it. It is about properly managing time and tasks. Here is a parable about one person’s experience with order and the vice of disorder.

Angela was bright but she was not at all prepared for college. She did very little work in high school and had developed few study habits. The pattern actually began in elementary school. If a teacher made her work hard, she worked. If the teacher made her write down assignments or re-do sloppy work, she would. But if not, she did the minimum. On her report cards, under “Completes Assignments,” “Demonstrates Organizational Skills,” and “Assumes Responsibility,” Angela usually got check marks, which meant “needs improvement.”

Early Disorder

In high school, Angela did fine in classes that only required her to show up, watch and listen, and take part in class discussions. Actually, she was insightful and intellectually curious—something her teachers liked. However, Angela could not fake her way through math and foreign language. These were organized fields of study in which one thing built upon another. She had to drop Geometry halfway through the year and took only one year of Spanish. Because of her “easy” load of classes, Angela maintained a decent grade point average and nobody got on her case. The first time she felt there might be something wrong was when she took the S.A.T. She saw the hardworking students around her completing item after item, and it struck her how much she didn’t know, and not just in the Math section, which she knew she bombed.

Angela went to a state college—her academic background was too weak to attend a university. This was just as well, as she didn’t have any idea what she wanted to study. She tried many different majors, ending up dropping lots of classes. Angela also got into the party scene and kept terrible hours. It was hard (for her impossible) to get up for an 8:00 a.m. anthropology class if she were up most of the night. The ends of semesters were the worst: she would cram for exams and somehow crank out slews of essays that were due. Angela also began racking up debt through easily available federal loans. Nobody at the college seemed to mind her only completing nine credits per semester while paying for fifteen.

After her freshman year in the dorm, she and some girlfriends found an apartment to rent. Angela’s room was a mess, but so were the kitchen and bathroom the girls shared. Sometimes Angela would clean her room, organize her materials, and work hard for a full day. Then she might do little but attend class for the next three. In the summer, Angela found a job in a fast food restaurant. It helped pay for college. She actually worked very hard, even though she hated it. It was boring and tedious and when she got home she was exhausted.

Just Finish Something

Halfway through the first semester of her fourth year of college, Angela had a kind of awakening. A lot of her classmates were talking about graduation. Angela didn’t have enough units in anything to get a degree, and in the field in which she had the most classes—history—she had no job prospects. While she was brooding about this, she bumped into Jodi, her freshman roommate. Back then, Angela considered Jodi “obsessive,” because she was wide awake during the day, studied in the evening, and slept at night. Today, Jodi told Angela she had a job lined up at a biotech firm in California. She was a Chem major. This didn’t exactly cheer up Angela.

That night, lying in bed, Angela remembered something Jodi had said one afternoon. Jodi had been studying (as usual). Angela heard Jodi say brightly, “Done!” Angela looked over and saw Jodi putting away some assignment. Lying there in the dark, Angela realized she never felt “done” with anything. She was always behind, playing catch-up, rushing through things, and hardly ever able to give her best effort. Now she had wasted more than three years and was $45,000 in debt. The thought came to Angela, “Just finish something.”

Starting Over With Orderliness

The next day, Angela saw her advisor and learned she could cobble together a liberal studies degree by passing all her current classes this semester and taking a further 30 units. Part of that would be a required, accelerated foreign language program.

It was hard, but Angela turned over a new leaf. All the rest of that fall, she crawled out of bed in the morning, attended class, went to the library to study, started writing down all her assignments, tried planning early for papers and finals, and somehow passed all her classes.

After Christmas break, Angela was even a little bit excited to start school, as this time she meant to get her act together. She realized that it was not so much that Jodi was a hard worker—Angela worked hard too—or at least in fits and starts—but that Jodi was so much better organized. In fact, she understood that Jodi simply was doing what lots of her fellow students had mastered in fourth or fifth grade: basic study skills.

As Angela resumed college that spring, her Spanish class took center stage, because she had to attend one hour of class every day, Monday through Friday, and it took two solid hours to do the grammar exercises and memorize the new vocabulary. Angela bought an assignment notebook and wrote down her work, even planning backward on longer-term assignments. Every time she finished a task, it felt good to cross it off her list. Though Angela hated doing laundry, it felt right when she folded her things and put them away in her dresser. She began to keep her desk in order with neat stacks of paper. That felt good too. So did having a clean, dusted, and a vacuumed room. Angela now had more time.

Angela felt a lot of satisfaction as the semester ended with B+ average and an “A” in Spanish. But after she saw Jodi in her cap and gown going to commencement, she went to her room and cried.

That summer, Angela worked two jobs for at total of sixty hours a week, forty of them at a fast food restaurant. She was determined not to have to borrow any more money. She also spent a half-hour every evening before she dropped off to sleep reviewing Spanish, reading some Spanish-language magazines, and looking up words.

Starting Over Again

Angela graduated college mid-year, happy that she was “done.” Then reality set in. She was almost $50,000 in debt and her only job prospect was the restaurant. She had to move back in with her parents, too.

Many times Angela felt humiliated at work, especially when kids she knew in high school came in for lunch or dinner, dressed nice for their white-collar jobs and driving new cars. She regretted that she didn’t begin college with the attitude she had when she ended it. At least she felt satisfaction every time she paid down her loans.

At work, Angela’s manager was impressed by the way she followed directions and did jobs right the first time. The manager let her train new workers—mostly high school kids—and Angela wrote out the procedures herself. Angela could always be counted on to come to work every day on time and to put in a full day’s work. The manager began to give her more and more of the bookkeeping jobs. Angela found she was good at this and kind of enjoyed it.

It seemed like it took forever, but she finally paid off her last dollar of college debt. Now Angela was thinking of enrolling in an evening MBA program. She knew it would be hard to work full-time and go to school evenings and weekends, but she thought she was organized enough to pull it off.

By the time Angela was twenty-five, she had acquired the habit of orderliness. Even though she might have mastered this habit fifteen years earlier (as Jodi did) and made much more progress in her life, still, she was now “somewhere.” A big part of Angela’s problem was that she didn’t even have a goal until her awakening to “just finish something.” Her subsequent goal to pay off her debts also helped orient her post-college life. Is there much doubt she will be able to get an MBA, if that is what she decides? There isn’t, because Angela has developed the habit of doing what she needs to do, when and how she should. She can manage her time and tasks.

More Orderly Orderliness

If we now stand back from Angela and her experience with the virtue of orderliness, we could ask some broader questions about order. When we think about getting one’s life in order in the biggest way, we have to look at the person’s final end, which is eternal life (or not) with God. Once that end is seen, then isn’t the challenge living with the end in mind? Do you think it is worth pondering these two questions?

  • How might Angela’s awareness of the importance of the virtue of orderliness and her development in it been different if she had a right relationship with God at the beginning?
  • Now that Angela’s life is much more in order at the human level, how much more disposed is she to receive God’s grace and to respond to it to orient her life to her final end?

While eternal life is a gift, this gift requires our cooperation. We are greatly assisted in cooperating with God’s grace through our practice of virtues, like orderliness. The most basic order is ordering one’s life to its end, eternal life with God. Keeping that end in mind helps a person see what he ought to do, and when and how he should do it.

To learn more about virtues, Families of Character and Gretchen Rubin are great resources.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

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About the Author:

Kevin and his wife have seven children. He has a MA in English literature from San Francisco State University and a MA in Theology with an emphasis on Sacred Scripture from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He teaches English and theology in a Catholic high school in Central Illinois. He has an extensive background in teaching, school administration, character education, and curriculum development. He also writes screenplays, TV pilots, novels, and non-fiction books and articles. His weekly homiletic lectionary-based blog is Doctrinal Homily Outlines.

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