The Philosopher's Cornered
by Dan Wolaver
I was young—in my twenties—I had a reputation for always being
late. Hard as I tried to be on time, I was always 10 to 20 minutes
late for appointments. It seemed like some adversary was foiling
my every attempt. I'd forget to watch the time, or it would take
longer than expected to get ready to go, or I'd run into heavy traffic
or take a wrong turn on the way. I didn't like seeing myself (and
having others see me) as irresponsible, so I decided to prove that I
could beat this "adversary." I'd make an all-out effort
by aiming to get to an appointment thirty minutes ahead of time. It
worked! I was there ten minutes early.
But I didn't like wasting time by being early. Having proved my point, I went back to trying to being on-time. I'd keep painting (or whatever I was doing) up to the last second before I had to leave. But then I'd remember that I had to put the dog out for a couple minutes and fill her water dish, and then it would take four minutes to find the folder I had to take with me, and I had to brush my teeth. I'd be twelve minutes late again! Even if I left on time I'd be late if I didn't hit all the traffic lights just right. (My estimate of how long the trip would take was always based on the shortest time it had ever taken.) So I was right back where I started—always being late.
Finally I realized that will power wasn't going to solve the problem; something basic in my attitude had to change. If I really wanted to leave on time, I'd have to stop painting thirty minutes before leaving so I could certainly do all the last-minute things. Then I could sit and read or something until I actually had to get in the car. But reading was wasting time when I wasn't done painting! Then to guarantee that the trip wouldn't make me late, I'd have to plan on the longest time it had ever taken (hitting all the lights wrong and running into construction). But that would mean that I would usually get there early and waste time waiting for others to arrive.
So my problem was that I hated to waste time (which had seemed like a good quality). I was busy with a lot of things and wanted to make every moment count. But I was saying that my things were so important that it didn't matter if I wasted other people's time by being late. What a selfish attitude—my life is more important than yours!
So being on time really became important to me—more important than getting as much accomplished as possible. It was OK if I read a while or waited in the car listening to the radio; I was being considerate. The transformation wasn't over-night; I had to work at establishing new habits. But I had finally gotten the victory over the "adversary."
Today I'm almost always on time, but I still have to work at it. Twenty minutes before I leave I'll find something I'd forgotten that needed doing, and I have to hurry as if I were late already. Sometimes I'll forget that the car needed gas, and I am late for an appointment. I don't offer excuses because I don't deserve sympathy; I should have started sooner. But on the whole I feel good because people can generally depend on me. I'm not holding up their plans, and that's important to me.
And that's my philosophy.