Mind Soul

The Real Reason You’re Always Running Late
March 25, 2017
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When you have a social engagement with someone and you call to ask where they are and they say, “I am en route,” they obviously haven’t even left, right? We all know that one person who continually arrives at the office late and disheveled, tie in one hand, a comb in the other – first stop, the washroom. There are those of us with a loose interpretation of the term ‘en route’ and a warped sense of time to whom “I am leaving now,” pretty much equals “On my way”, (even when we were supposed to have left thirty minutes earlier). Now before all you punctuality nuts bite my head off, let me just say on behalf of other late persons that it’s not usually on purpose – not for typically late people anyway. Chronically late persons are another species altogether.

Typical late people are usually aware of the detrimental impact lateness has on their relationships and careers. They often suffer anxiety on their commutes and in the rush to get to places on time, not to mention having to apologize to a person who has steam coming out of their ears. For this reason, they may even dislike being late. Nobody sets out to acquire a reputation of being rude, inconsiderate and irresponsible – well, maybe a few people do. For most others, there’s always a good reason why they’re late – okay, it’s almost always traffic but when you live in a city, it is what it is. If not, it is simply a case of optimism overshot. I am always confident that I can get ready in an hour but what happens if I can’t find my keys on the way out the door?

While some people enjoy getting to meetings early, like eager, little roosters, others simply don’t want to be early. Why get there early and have to mill about the place, winding down the clock, when you can get there on time? This particular trait about them is consistent with impatience, so it’s not ironic at all that people who are characteristically late do not like to be kept waiting themselves. Early birders often argue that tardy people are just disorganized, poor at time management or make the default assumption that lateness is a plain sign of contempt for other people’s time. It does seem selfish, and perhaps on some level it is, but I wouldn’t immediately jump to those conclusions.

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some people simply don’t want to be early

Chronic lateness goes further than just a bad habit. For some it’s an issue with procrastination, for others it’s obsessive perfectionism. Looking at it from a spiritual perspective though, I argue that it’s an ego issue, and because we happily live in the realm of duality, it goes both ways. In any interaction between two or more people, a power dynamic must emerge. Typically, the person who keeps others waiting has the upper hand, so to speak, and some people do use lateness as an underhanded, passive-aggressive means of asserting dominance and control. Control, as we know it, falls squarely in the Ego territory.

Now, in comes the red-faced person with steaming ears. “How dare you keep me waiting?” Unbeknownst to them, (or not), they are already engaged in a power struggle. Their ego has already perceived a slight, which may or may not have been intended that way, and out of the fear of being in a disadvantaged position, seeks to reassert control. This is done through the expression of anger, a natural defense mechanism that wields false power over another individual, but in reality serves to protect the ego when it is under siege.

There are many practical ways to address lateness (and no, learn to read the time isn’t one of them), such as:

  1. learn to accurately estimate how long a task will take and leave time for contingencies
  2. plan for less tasks within the time before you have to leave
  3. quit procrastinating
  4. address perfectionism
  5. set the clock 15 minutes ahead (although I don’t understand how that works for anyone but apparently it does!)

If you have identified your reasons for lateness to be ego-related, find out the 5 ways to conquer your ego’s fear and need for control here.

Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.
― Evelyn Waugh


About author

Wanjiru Ndung'u

Wanjiru Ndung'u writes fiction, poetry and essays. She is an irretrievable night owl, tea-lover and cat mom. She enjoys books, alternative music, movies and streaming shows.

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