Why I’m always late
And why you shouldn’t be mad at me
I am one of these people who are never on time. Despite my best efforts at setting the alarm early to enjoy a few minutes of conscious meditation time or to start of the day with an energising workout, my mornings are all the same. Early alarm: what on Earth was I thinking? Just no way. Real alarm: get up, eat, get ready, OMG I’m late. It’s a running gag at work. Looking for me before 9:08? You must be joking right? Whatever I try, I am consistently at least 10 minutes late. There or thereabouts. I’d like to say I have an excuse. Some people are night owls, some people have a different beat. Some people have young children and school runs. Except I don’t fit into any of those categories. For me, the explanation is simple: I am a perfectionist.
No, I am not talking about the kind of perfectionism you boast about to potential employers as your worst flaws in a shy and fake giggly interview manner. ‘What’s my worst quality? Well I guess I just like everything to be perfect.’ By the way, that’s never worked ever, so you can all quit it. No, I am talking about the kind of crippling perfectionism that stops you from doing just about everything you’d like to do because you just won’t be good enough at it.
What’s the link with chronic lateness? Well for starters, I cannot leave the house unless I am satisfied that I look OK. That my hair is OK, that my make up is OK, that I don’t look fat and that my cat’s basic needs are cared for. Seems reasonable right? Except my level of OK is not your level of OK. Mine is probably along the lines of ‘I watched YouTube tutorials about hair and make up techniques from pros for two hours yesterday and now have to re-enact them perfectly before work whilst also ensuring my cat’s emotional needs are fulfilled without getting cat hair on the outfit I planned 2 days ago whilst eating a calorie-controlled balanced breakfast that contains B12 because apparently without it I’ll get cancer or something’. Which doesn’t happen often, so I always spend way more time than I should on things that really shouldn’t matter that much without being able to say ‘yes, good enough’. Hair a bit flat? Who cares! Well I do. Justin Trudeau could be waiting for me for an important meeting about naming me the designated survivor, I will redo that hair and make myself late until it is ‘OK’. Which for you really means ‘OMG did you go to the hairdresser’s’? Sounds heavy? It’s because it is. For both the perfectionist subject and their friends and family.
Whilst you may think work would benefit from such a trait, it can be a real hindrance. Of course I can be extremely productive. When in my comfort zone, whilst being pretty much assured of the outcome. Ask me to put together a strategic presentation on a new topic I know nothing about and it’s likely to go like this: ‘Can I see a draft?’, ‘Yes sure, not quite there yet but I’ll show you as soon as I have something concrete.’ Except something not quite finished, not quite polished is never good enough to show. I don’t do Minimum Viable Product. I do amazing at first try or nothing at all. So time goes on whilst I agonise alone about how to make this presentation go from crappy to mind-blowing. I can’t ask for help because this would mean showing a terrible version of my work to respected work colleagues and exposing myself to ridicule from others who are bound to re-assess my professional capabilities and wonder why on Earth I am in this job. In a suit that has cat hair on it. So I procrastinate and secretly hope you’ll get bored of chasing and ask someone else.
Being a bit of a harsh critic means I can also be like this towards others. If I hold myself to impossibly high standards, it does unfortunately mean my view of what is OK is skewed in all situations. Loyalty and devotion are values I hold dear. I will give help whenever it is needed, whether at 3am when you need a lift home, a share of my granola bar (and for those who know me, you know this means a lot) or a sofa to sleep on. I will also fight my paralysing fear of height to climb on your rooftop to help you shovel the snow and save your struggling roof structure. But should the same devotion not be returned… Well you will probably not even be aware of it. The punishment for letting me down is complete friendship death. Total friendship recall. So why bother even telling you about it? Those impossibly high standards have affected my life over the years and I have had learn that not everyone will choose the best path, all of the time. Emotional Intelligence is a skill I am working to develop, and I am conscious of trying to be more understanding towards other ways of reacting, thinking or doing things. I am also trying to take into account different realities, contexts and more than anything, the fact that people are, quite simply, imperfect and flawed human beings who will not always chose the best path in life. And that good enough, 99% of the time, is good enough.
But whilst I can be harsh on those close to me, that is nothing compared to the harshness I impose on myself. I mean if I feel guilty leaving my cat behind when headed for work because I haven’t spent the Google-recommended amount of time playing with her and developing her motor skills, you just know I will be the kind of person who agonises over pretty much everything. Thoughts of how I didn’t react the right way, say the right thing or handle a situation perfectly haunt me during my sleepless insomniac nights. Boyfriend left me? I should have done X. Car broken down? Gimme a bit of time to find a reason why it was down to something I said. Or did. Or didn’t do.
Whilst this may sound a bit doom and gloom, I am indeed a pretty functional human person and I am mostly able to go through life without collapsing into the foetal position wondering what I did wrong for my whites to not be as white as they once were. I am also aware of my acute perfectionism, which is a wonderful advantage as I can work towards making life easier. Hence currently working on developing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) version of myself. I figured that if I can cut all the extras and just go through life with greasy hair and sweatpants for a while, surely I will then be able to identify the areas of my life I truly need to focus my efforts on and what was actually a waste of time. Starting with something easy, I guess I could I replace the fancy homemade freshly-ground cold brew with instant coffee every morning? Actually, let’s not start with that one. Having friends over for brunch but not getting up 3 hours earlier to clean the apartment? Oh the horror! Taking up a dancing class and showing the world my terrible coordination skills? Kill me now!
So I guess I am still figuring out what the MVP version of me would like and how to let go of the added expectations of being perfect at everything I do. My own expectations, that is. In the meantime, please be kind when I turn up 10 minutes late. And if you can, just tell me my hair looks nice. I have probably desperately redone it at least half a dozen times before finally deciding I could get out of the house.