I spent a career being late. I used to think it was quirky. Now I think it was an expression of arrogance.
The late entrances, the feeling that people were waiting for me to start, I think it fed my ego. I wasn’t just part of the audience. I was the spark plug. No starting without me. I liked that, although subconsciously. Consciously, I just thought I was uncommonly busy, always trying to juggle clients, staying too late at one meeting in the spirit of tying up critical loose ends and then tripping into the next meeting carrying big bags of papers and spouting faux apologies.
Then it hit me. I came into a meeting late as usual, a small group of people waiting for me. “Traffic was really bad?” one person asked. “No,” another person answered, “that’s just Jan being Jan.”
That had become my signature action. Being late. Jan being Jan was really Jan making people wait, wasting other people’s time, thinking her priorities trumped everyone else’s. It wasn’t a good attribute. So I ditched it. I started being early to meetings. I’d show up early to help with set-up and be able to chat with people before business got started. I changed my game.
But being late is a hard habit to break and it continued but only with some people. Big shots I wouldn’t dare be late meeting. Elected officials, agency directors, clients, all of them were on the list of ‘you need to leave early so you’re not late’ that I kept in my crammed little mind. With them, I was often so early, the meeting room was still locked.
But friends? Not so much. Until one day, a young, very direct, friend of mine who had witnessed my be ‘early or die’ meeting behavior and whom I had just kept waiting for twenty minutes in a coffee shop while I piled a futile parking search on top of an already late start said, “How come you are always on time for meetings but always late for me?”
So I wondered, was this the last little vestige of me wanting to claim some tiny superiority? This young man should wait for me because I am older and more experienced? Because I am worth waiting for? Because I deserve to be waited for?
It stung, this young man saying to me essentially and in the kindest possible way, ‘I’m not going to let you get away with your carelessness and your arrogance about me.’ He checked me, as they say. And I’m very glad he did. I wish it had happened a dozen years ago.
So now I’m early. And that has its benefits. Like time to look out the window and reflect on when I used to be late.