The Arrogance of Being Late


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.



6 Comments on “The Arrogance of Being Late

  1. I have a nasty habit of procrastinating. Even if I get an early start I can wind up late, especially if I have to go someplace I really don’t want to go. It took half a lifetime but I broke the habit mostly. I still don’t like to be early because I don’t like sitting around waiting. Talk about selfish, right?

    • Me, too. Especially about things/places I don’t want to go. It’s like if I have three hours to spare I can still figure out a way to be late. It’s really nuts.

  2. Owning past (bad) behavior is hard, especially in a public forum. Thanks for setting an example.

  3. Good for you – change is hard. I’m chronically early but with certain people who I know are always late, I’ll time myself accordingly. To be on the receiving end feels like the friend is saying – my time is more important than yours. Sucks. Kudos!

  4. I often tell my sons being on time is common courtesy–simply being respectful of others’ time. But I, like you, used to be late. Took me some years and maturity to figure it out.

  5. thanks. it’s a tricky bit of relational business the who comes late and who comes early and the whys, why we do either, and why and when we tolerate it and how we manage it especially when it is who each party to the relationship has become
    you are lucky to have had a friend who cared enough to say what was on his mind, and he to have a friend who paid attention

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