On my last day at high school my year tutor decided to give us all one last embarrassing farewell. Naming each of us in turn she proceeded to read out a nickname she had chosen for us, based on the
Mr Men and Little Miss children’s books, and a personalised message, before inviting us up to the
front of the class to collect a laminated slip of paper with the character and message printed underneath as a memento. Among them, there was Little Miss Perfect, Mr Strong and even a Little Miss Fabulous. Then there was me; Little Miss Late. (The fact that all the young women received "Little" Miss and the young men Mr, was harmful enough but I will leave that rant for another post.) After 4 years of attending that school, building and developing my personality, this was who she saw me as, the one who was always late. It’s not like I actually had a good relationship with her anyway. She wanted to be cool so was pally with the 'popular kids', of which I was not one. But this didn’t mean her mockery hurt any less though.
Don’t get me wrong, I was at least 10 minutes late for school nearly every single day. For most of my time at that school, I lived about an hour’s walk away. So, why didn’t I just leave the house 10 minutes earlier than I did you may ask? I just couldn’t, okay! It’s not like I went out of my way to be late. It just seemed to happen on a daily basis.
For the final year of school I only lived a 10 minute walk away. You could literally see the athletics track area from the house. And guess what, I was still late. Every. Single. Day. Did I enjoy being late? No. It actually gave me immense anxiety.
Even after being given a head teacher’s detention for lateness, I still didn’t change my ways. I was the kind of kid that went under the radar. I would blend into the background. As an outsider, I even soaked up the local Lincoln accent to fit in. (If you have heard me speak in the last 5 - 10 years, this might seem weird to you). Blending in had its advantages as I managed to not go to that detention, and no one even noticed. I was pretty good at avoiding things and pretending they weren't a problem. Even though I was allocated some support in school for my, at the time “difficulties”, that were later diagnosed as dyslexia, I didn’t attend. Why not? Because that was something that would make me stand out.
So why was I always late?
It came down to a few things.
1. Disorganisation. Or pure chaos an outsider might say.
2. It had become a deeply ingrained habit.
3. It was my identity.
4. I tried being early but it gave me more anxiety than being late!
Being the kid who blended into the back ground, I don’t think anyone even noticed how anxious I was back then. On the rarest occasion I was ever early for school, I worried about getting inside the school gates and not see anyone I knew. Then having to stand around awkwardly, feeling like everyone was watching me. Then feeling the effects of the added tension on my recently eaten breakfast, which was now questioning whether or not it should escape the confines of my stomach, and project itself across the yard. Back then, I couldn’t think of anything worse than the public humiliation of not knowing where to place myself without the company of my friends. My identity lay heavily within my friendship group, I didn’t know how to stand there on my own two feet without them.
So where did the lateness start?
My Dad is ALWAYS late. So being late has always been acceptable in my world. As long as you can make up a good enough excuse that is. Loosing car keys and traffic is always a good one.
Unfortunately for me, the lateness didn’t stop at school. No, I bought it into work life too. Even money couldn’t motivate me to be on time. I was forever punching in late to my first job. Why would I want to be early anyway? That’s just a waste of my time, right?
I have missed buses, trains and even a flight. Did that make me learn my lesson? Nope.
My last full time job was at The Rebel Business School (then PopUp Business School). Alan Donegan, co-founder and now good friend, pulled me up on my tardiness. I told him I was sorry I was late to meet him for breakfast in Yeovil, an 80 mile drive from where I lived. "The traffic was bad", I explained. "It's not the traffics fault you are late Laura, you didn’t leave with enough time to allow for traffic."
Google said it would take one hour and fifty minutes to drive there at that time of day and I gave myself 2 hours to get there. I felt quite pissed off with Alan, I believed I had left with enough time to get there on time, with 10 mins to spare! I (in my mind), was actually trying to be on time for once. I now see what the problem with that was. I was trying to be ON TIME, when I should have been trying to be early.
I've now developed systems to be on time and value what it means to show up. It also helps that I'm comfortable enough in myself to stand alone and wait.
Why be on time?
· Being on time helps you be calm and collected. You are allowing yourself space to think.
· Being late is wasting other people’s time. You are literally stealing time from them and time is the most precious asset anyone has.
· Showing up on time shows respect; it shows you care.
What to do if you are running late.
· Accidents happen we are all human but letting someone know as soon as you know you are going to be late is respectful.
· Take the blame. "I regrettably didn’t leave enough time to allow for traffic. I'm running a few minutes late and I will be with you as soon as possible"
Excuses, excuses, excuses. If you are late, don’t blame it on anyone/ anything else. You are in control of your own life. By accepting responsibility it reminds you that you are in control of your own life. And when you see that you are in control, you realise you are able to change your life. This was the most empowering thing I realised.
At the time I didn’t understand Alan’s frustration with my lateness and I thought him harsh for judging me for it. I am thankful for him teaching me this lesson, though I didn't understand at the time. But now I get it, and even find myself slightly annoyed at others for being late to meetings. But then I remind myself to not judge. After all I have spent 90% of my life (so far) being late. According to my mother, I was even late to my own birth.
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