Time Junkie

My first memory of the emotional cost of running late  is as a five or six year old.  

My father, after impatiently honking the horn as a warning,  left my mother and brother and me without a ride to church.  I actually may have been ready and just waiting for my mom to finish up, as I clearly remember seeing my dad, fed up by now, pull away from the drive leaving us behind.  Surely he will stop or turn around, I thought.  Instead, I watched as the back of his grey blue VW disappeared from sight.   It was a traumatic event for me.  I can remember my mother mumbling through tears,  “I have three people to get ready and he only has himself.”   Those were the days when roles, at least in our household, were clearly defined.  The irony of the situation was not lost on me.  Afterall, we were on our way to church!  In spite of the lesson that gesture was meant to instill, I continued on with a life of running late. 

Missed the school bus on numerous occasions.  Skipped college classes rather than bear the embarrassment of walking in late…again.  Late to the airport, missing a flight on one occasion. Too late for the doctor to see me.  Doctors, being the exception to the rule.  They can keep you waiting but not you them.

I have spent time thinking about this flaw in my character.  I am fully aware this is something I can control–unlike my complete lack of any sense of direction.  (Who knows, perhaps there is a correlation with that trait as well.)  I admire a co-worker who is early to everything.  We have similar work efforts and high levels of conscientiousness, yet she has the “punctuality gene” and I don’t.  Clearly, whether inherited or not, I need to get a grip on my sense of time. 

I remember coming across an episode of Dr. Phil where he equated being late as a selfish act.  Being late says, “My time is more valuable than yours.”  It says, “What I am doing is more important than .”  It is the trait of a narcissist.  I took this to heart and tried to view my lateness this way even though I am not a selfish person.  I scolded myself for being selfish, wondering, “Wow.  Am I really a narcissist?”  But this diagnosis just didn’t fit. I don’t think it’s justifiable to keep others waiting because what I’m doing at the moment is more important.  In other realms, I am known for my thoughtfulness and empathy.  And, this isn’t a lifestyle I want.

I believe that, as a good friend often says, “People are the way they are for a reason.”    If a problem is chronic, telling someone to fix it or knock it off just doesn’t work.  It’s like telling someone with attention deficit disorder they need to focus more.  Being of the mindset that seeking to understand is a more productive problem solving approach, I decide to reflect and look further into my issue of non-timeliness. 

Like my mother, I have always been a night owl.  This means, of course, I am not a morning person.  Morning routines have always been rushed, pegged down to the last minute.  As a growing teen who stayed up later reading under the covers, Mother’s chirpy voice as she came into my room to raise the blinds with a sing-songy “Rise and Shiii-ene” only resulted in me groaning and burrowing my head further under the pillow. 

Staying up too late.  Sleeping in til the last minute.  This has always been my pattern.

To this day, I portion out the morning minutes to ensure that I am in the car and on my way to work by a certain time.  It never fails to surprise when those  minutes have slipped away and don’t match up with my internal clock. Looking at the time on the radio clock, I swear that somehow, the minutes fast forwarded.  The rush is on.  The panic sets in.  Sure am hitting all the red lights today.  Hope I’m not late to the meeting.  Another red light.  A little more traffic.  Stuck behind a car at  a right on red turn.  Waiting.  Tensing up.  Anxiety.  Would have made it if…  Why didn’t I leave earlier?  Why do I do this to myself?   Self-criticism sinks in.   How is it that I, a bright, accomplished individual, can continue to allow this to happen?  Self sabotage, I wonder?

I know I’m not alone.  Many people struggle with punctuality notes Diana DeLonzor, author of Never Be Late Again: 7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged.  “Though it may seem a simple matter of people being rude, it’s far more complex.  It’s really more than poor time management.  It tends to be a lifelong pattern,” says DeLonzor, who lives in San Francisco and teaches punctuality seminars.   Source, Seattle PI.

In addition to recognizing self-esteem takes a hit in the chronically late, DeLonzor notes that there are too many downsides to chronic lateness for most people to do it willfully. Some, she says, like the adrenalin of rushing. “It’s the same reason we like sports,” she says. “The suspense: Are you going to make it?”  DeLonzor confesses to being chronically late, too.  “I was suspended three times in junior high school for tardiness,” she says and admits to getting a little jolt from pushing deadlines.  

Finally, a woman who speaks my language.  I recognize this.  It is like a test or a challenge each time I catch a green instead of a red.  The sports analogy makes sense, too.  I do get a rush from rushing.   And then it hits me: I am a time junkie.   I get a high from beating the clock or making a deadline.  But it a precarious thrill.  Once the minute hand goes past the hour and my destination is not yet reached, all self-esteem crashes once again. 

DeLonzor also says folks that often run late are usually procrastinators as well.   Again, I identify.  I was always convinced that I did my best writing “under pressure.”  Little did I know, I was really addicted to an endorphin induced writing frenzy.  I could never imagine what it would be like to plot out a paper weeks in advance.  This changed somewhat by necessity during my master’s program. however.

DeLonzor places the chronically late into seven categories , narcicist not being one of them.  I can see bits of myself in the first three.  For example:

The rationalizer has a hard time acknowledging responsibility for lateness and tends to blame outside circumstances. (The car in front of me from preventing a right on red?)

The producer wants to squeeze as much into every minute as possible; they are always busy. (I’ve always said my self-esteem is tied to how much I can accomplish.  You’d think this would make me want to come in to work early.  Instead, I’m usually the last to leave.)

The deadliner subconsciously enjoys the last-minute sprint to the finish line; they feel more alive when running out of time. (Definitely a factor I never realized before.  This defines me as a procrastinator better than indulger, below.).

The indulger exercises less self-control; tends to procrastinate.

The rebel resists authority and everyday rules; might run late as a form of control.

The absent-minded professor is easily distracted, forgetful and caught up in their own introspection.

The evader feels anxiety about his or her environment and tries to control it; their own needs or routine come before being on time.

I would imagine that most of us with a tendency to run late are a blend of two or more of the categories above.  Seeking to understand is the first step.  If you can relate to the issue of timeliness, which category fits you and why? 


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2 Responses to Time Junkie

  1. Aly Hughes says:

    I really enjoyed your post! Oddly enough though, I am an early bird who is so paranoid about making it to things on time that I arrive 15 minutes early to everything! Going to the movies? I have to be seated before the previews start. Going to class? I’m waiting outside the doors before the previous class has ended. Picking up a friend to go get coffee? I give a courtesy by only arriving 5 minutes early. Going to work? I’m sitting in my car in the parking lot 10 minutes before my shift.

    You’re right though, it’s not something that can easily be helped! My boyfriend tells me to stop being so high strung, to relax, and that I won’t be late if I leave just 5 minutes past when I usually do. I think I just dislike the waiting game. I end up getting ready early, and then because I KNOW I’ll be leaving soon, I feel like I just have to sit and bide my time until I actually do leave. Which, of course, makes me think, why not just leave now, since I’m going to be leaving in 5 minutes anyways?

    I think it’s rather opening and great to hear from an opposite prospective!

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