“I am invariably late for appointments… I’ve tried to change my ways but the things that make me late are too strong, and too pleasing.” ― Marilyn Monroe
I was planning to visit the children in Hobart, a four hour drive away. The spreadsheet file I had been working on had to be sent to my accountant by 11 am. When I checked it, I realized it had been corrupted. I spent an hour retrieving the previous saved version and retracing my steps to get it to the required finished product to send on. There were a few unexpected queries from work that needed my urgent attention. Time was marching on. The house looked like a tornado had hit it. I still had to have my morning walk, shower, dress and pack.To top it off I was fighting this tremendous pressure in my chest to make sure that I got away on time so that I could be there on time. This made me frazzled. As if reading my mind the children each sent me a text, urging me to make sure I left on time, to make sure I would be there at the appointed time for dinner. I became anxious at the texts. This was not a child’s graduation, a wedding, catching a plane, or a medical appointment. This was not a national emergency. This was dinner. When the third text came through, everything descended down on me and I sat down on the floor and cried.
It was a descent of my own making. I had not been able to put myself above the moment. I had let it get to me. I has lost control of this moment because of all the other moments that had gone before. It was all the other moments. They all came flooding back.
My life had always been that we must be on time.
I had lost so much of myself over the years due to worrying about being on time and often not quite making it anyway because of lost time in the worrying. ‘Come on, get ready. Quick, quick.’ I would never feel quite ready and would become flustered in feeling not quite ready, applying make-up hurriedly, leaving behind a mess in the kitchen, arriving to wherever-it-was-so-important-to-be-on-time all anxious and stressed.
When being on time counts, such as catching a plane or attending a medical appointment or attending to a national emergency, I can and do prioritize being on time. At other times, other things are more important to me. My priorities differ.
My preference is to always be there for people; either late or on time, I will be there. My preference is to finish what needs to be done over here so that when I get over there, I can fully engage in the moment of over there. My preference is to remain calm so when I arrive I can relax and enjoy the moment of now. My preference is to calm the distressed child, attend to the unexpected accident, take the phone call from a friend in need, mop up the spilled milk then try, as best as I am able, to get there on time. My preference is to attend to whatever I feel is most important, to take in my stride those ‘things’ that get in the way of plans and schedules. My preference is to remain calm and, if too many important things crop up, slip the ‘being on time’ to a lower priority – and not worry about it.
My values and priorities are important too.
The point is not whether being on time is a good value to strive for or not. The point is, it is not my value. It is a value that belonged to someone else. I became stressed and anxious by not living up to a value that belonged to someone else.
The reason that I was feeling upset now, was not because I may be late, or because I was overwhelmed by too much to do before getting away. I was grieving for those times I had violated my own values, for those times I had not taken the time to calm the distressed child, or mopped up the spilled milk, or taken the phone call from my friend and for those times when I was not there when I should have been because I was rushing to be on time to somewhere else for someone else.
I nodded my head through this entire piece. Yes, yes, yes. I look back now and regret so much of my conformity (and pushing my children to conform) because it wasn’t about my values, it was about fitting in with someone else’s values.
Well, those days are over!
I agree. Living by my own true self is the way I shall go.
Life is what happens when we’re busy making plans.
Sounds like a stressful day for all concerned.
I do try to be on time, but when life gets in the way and refuses to cooperate, I call and say I’ll be late. Most people understand the occasional late-breaking emergency.
The fact that you received 3 different texts to encourage you to be on time says something about your children’s expectations and/or past experiences.
Hope you made it to the dinner and had a great TIME. 😎
The occasion was actually 18 months ago, and yes to both counts. It is only now that I understand why I became so upset that day.
What a great realization Elizabeth! There is always a tinge of sadness when we see the truth we weren’t able to see before.
The acorns don’t fall far from the tree…. and maybe you can show them a different way of being. There’s always time to hit the reset button and share from our hearts.
Thanks. “The acorns don’t fall far from the tree’. I love that. Is that your own quote?
Really Love this Elizabeth. It actually helped me understand my relationship with my wife at another level, as I can be an “on time guy”. She, when reading this, identified with it so much there was a tear in her eye. Thanks for enlightening me.
Thanks, I really appreciate your personal perspective and am humbled that it touched.
Great post Elizabeth, I related to all the above. As a compulsive “on time” addict I was always angry at those who could not do the same. As life is a series of constant changes and letting go, I realised my control and anxiety over being ‘on time’ didnt help anyone and when I changed, so did everyone else ha!
Yes, funny how it was my husband who always HAD to be on time and me who was the one who was always making us late. Now, I don’t have that pressure, I am finding that I am nearly always on time – without the fuss or angst. Incredible really.
I too was nodding my head as I read this Elizabeth – how often I have ceded control to time, self-imposed pressures and/or imagined shoulds. I typically arrive early and will wait in my car rather than be late (an idiosyncratic behavior learned at my dad’s knee) – and whenever I find myself behind I feel a desperation that is inexplicable. Slowly (with the emphasis on the adverb), I’m starting to ease up on all of this angst about time. And I’m pleased to read that you are too.
It is an incredible feeling not to be governed by the clock. I am glad to see that you are slowly finding that peace too.
I have just nearly finished a post that alludes to what you are talking about (I think!)
I am glad that this supported your own thoughts Julie.
Elizabeth, you sound like me. So difficult to live by someone else’s timetable. Even now I have dreams of being late for work at the bank, and I haven’t worked there for seven years.
You are correct. It is a bit of a mini-post-trauma effect. I find it silly that it is (that we fuss about time) and yet the whole modern world runs from that platform. I am trying to put that behind me.
Brilliant insight Elizabeth — The gentleness and kindness of your spirit shines through in every word.
It always amazes me when I have that moment of realization that my response in the here and now is all about the there and then! Such freedom!
Yes, the there and then. They do keep getting in the way of the here and now.
I’m reading a book right now on aging. One of the author’s main thrusts is that you can sit and read a book all day. You can garden. You can cook to your heart’s content. But the deadlines, the rush, the worry, have faded. I’m far from that point in my life, but it sounds very nice . . .
My mother is 87 and she has not reached that stage yet as she is as busy as ever. So I am not hanging my hopes on that for a while, but I agree that it sounds very nice.
I think this was such a different side of you, that I had to read this twice, Elizabeth! I picture you always being on time, but balancing all your ‘balls’ in the air, drying teary eyes, cleaning up spills and all, this was not the lister and organizer that I know! It is a more human and special woman, that I have met today. I am not kidding, I felt you must have been super woman, all the time.
So glad you are going to ease up on your worrying and try,please, to not get stressed over the past. We all made mistakes, you did, I did and others here did, too. We wish we could have done more, I am so pleased to tell you that you can erase a lot of those times in your mind, because others were not focusing on you, they were like us, focusing on their own errors and idiosyncrasies. I loved the line that you will “always be there for people, whether late or on time.” That is a great goal, I will try this one for my life, too.
Your response really touched me. I really mean that. In fact it made me realise that I have been putting on this stoic front and underneath is this soft vulnerable child just yearning to be heard. Thanks for this message that has allowed me to see my truth.
Your truth will be met by people who care here for your journey and the ways you have shared your growth. I feel you are definitely a butterfly in your present form (or an escaped child), Elizabeth. Your comment back to me, touched me. I am so glad that this comment I made, allowed us to be more open from here on out. . . Hugs, Robin
Yes, I think you are correct that I feel like a butterfly or maybe not quite yet. I keep flying out for a bit and then retreat again. Slowly, I am learning to stay out of that cocoon. Your comments made me think about things and I have written an extra post or two on this subject (of hiding behind masks rather than being myself).
Elizabeth, this post pushed all kinds of interesting buttons.
When I was growing up, my Dad was always late for dinner. Not just family dinners, but Sunday dinners and holiday dinners with multiple guests. I hated it, especially the older I got, and the more I saw it as his way being important, making us wait. He was so good and kind at everything else, but this really bothered me. It also made me a compulsive on-timer. Which didn’t resolve anything.
The pendulum swings based on the experience and our reaction to it, doesn’t it?
It certainly does. I wondered when I read this. Why was he late? Was he working or simply doing his own thing.
I had a terrible time getting to places on time because I was always so busy. To get anywhere on time, I would have to leave the house messy. It is interesting now that I am living on my own, I am on time most of the time and the house is rarely messy. I am much more organized. So all this time I thought I was unorganized and I was just trying to do too much for other people! 🙂
I love this. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about temperament lately, after a parenting coach reminded me that I can not change my sweet, sensitive and introverted child into a gregarious extrovert. And then I took the Myers Briggs test myself. And of course then there’s Anne Lamott’s essay on growing up a certain kind of child surrounded by adults of the opposite temperament.
I think it’s wonderful that you were able to slow down and figure all of this out for yourself. And then figure out your values, priorities, and temperament.
Who could ever expect more than “I will always be there for people?” No one that I would want to be friends with!
Yes, as you have observed with your own child, I do feel that I am that child that grew up with extroverts (two siblings, and several cousins) and then married an extrovert and as extroverts tend to dominate and push their wants on the world, my introverted self has been hidden.
It is actually empowering finally discovering this true self and allowing her to just be. Thanks for this kind comment. I really appreciate it.