The Early or Late Conundrum

Always 10 minutes late? Or do you prefer being 15 minutes early? Does your spouse always have to do yet another task before leaving the house? Are you and your family quarreling endlessly about when to leave for an on-time arrival? First, stop fighting! Then, explore the possible reasoning behind each person’s viewpoint. Get curious, ask questions, and try to understand why people behave as they do. A glimpse into the past is the first step in getting to where you want to go with a smile!

It was a blustery winter afternoon in the San Francisco Bay Area; I was in my car’s passenger seat, waiting impatiently for my driver (my husband) to meet friends for a show in San Jose. As splotches of rain dropped messily on the windshield, I felt anxious about possibly arriving late. It was a Friday night with traffic, slippery highways, road ragers, etc. The plan was to leave at 6:00 pm, but at 6:06 pm, I was still sitting in a parked car in front of my home, thinking, “Wow, how disrespectful. A 6 pm departure is the same in every language, right? Why can’t he just be on time for a change?”

My thoughts screeched to a halt as I saw my husband walking hurriedly toward the car, covering his head with the hood of his rain jacket. But instead of hopping into the car, he flew by me, hauling the garbage bin down our long flag lot driveway. “You’ve got to be kidding,” I fumed.

He was in the driver’s seat eight minutes later, soaking wet, keys in the ignition, and announced playfully, “Buckle up!” At first, he was completely oblivious to my annoyance until he saw my face (after 30 years, he knows the look), which said it all, and so much more. Attempting to lighten the mood, he added, “Don’t worry, we’ll be on time!” “I hope so, ” I whispered while focusing on relaxation, my breath, and the melodic drumming of rain on the windshield.

At that moment, I had a choice on how to react. I could have become angry, ruining the evening, or stayed grounded and let it go. I decided it wasn’t worth the headache, so I let it go. The upside is I didn’t have to bring the garbage down the driveway in the rain!

Can we both be right?

Who is Right?

Before getting into yet another circular argument about his chronic 5–10-minute late performances, I asked Arda, “Don’t you think he’s being selfish and disrespectful? I mean, he did prioritize garbage over me!”

With a hint of a smile, Arda lets me in on a secret, “I used to be three or four minutes late for everything. Do you know why I used to run 3-4 minutes late,” he asked rhetorically. “I never felt as though there were enough minutes in a day to finish what I’d set out to do. I was in a constant state of anxiety about not maximizing my time. My yearning to be efficient pushed me to send out one last email, put away one straggling item, and complete one forgotten task.” 

“Arda, you sound like my husband,” I exclaimed. “I’ve read about people like you. I’m officially pathologizing your behavior, diagnosing you with one more task syndrome,” I joked.  

“Oh, really,” he asked with raised eyebrows. “I’m so glad I finally received a diagnosis! Thank you.”

He added, “Elizabeth, do you really think your husband is thinking, ‘Well, she hasn’t been angry in a while. I will take my sweet time tonight, so she’ll be upset and won’t talk to me all evening. Let’s do this thing!’ “

“No. Of course not,” I replied. “I never really thought about the whys of the matter, focusing instead on how frustrated I felt.”

Arda continues, “From time to time, I still struggle with being on time; I may occasionally run 1-2 minutes late, but I’ve realized this tendency results from my past conditioning. Thanks to my meditation practice and inward journey, I can resist sending that last-minute email or running into the kitchen to get that glass of water.”

“Well, Arda, you and I are exact opposites regarding this debate,” I admit. “I was taught if you were on time, you were already 10 minutes late. So, when I have a meeting, a Zoom client session, or a dinner date, I am almost always 10 minutes early. Why? I’d rather have time to spare than be held up by traffic, fiddle with tech issues, or deal with computer glitches. I want to be early to maintain my composure, get grounded, and appear together.”

What are you really afraid of?

Playing devil’s advocate, Arda asks me to visualize my being 5 minutes late for a scheduled Zoom call. “How do you feel,” he asks. “What are you really afraid of?”

With a pounding heart, I admit, “I feel extremely anxious, ashamed, and afraid my clients will think I’m disorganized, disrespectful, and incompetent.”

Challenging those thoughts, he asks, “Are those thoughts true? Will your clients really think that?”

“No. Well, I don’t really know, but I don’t think so.” I replied. “Now that I think about it, these thoughts belong to me, remnants of past conditioning. I’ve never really tested out the truth behind the fears. Like my dad, I associate tardiness with disorganization and chaos. I still carry those beliefs, which obviously are not serving me well.”

Then Arda threw a doozy at me, “Have you ever considered what a client might think if they ran late? Since you are strict with your time, they may feel awful about being late to one of your client sessions.

“Hmmmmm,” I ponder. “I never thought of that. It’s a possibility. Adopting different perspectives sure does help understand oneself and others, doesn’t it?” 

Putting the focus back on Arda, I inquire, “So, why did you decide to work on changing your 3-4-minute late tendency?”

He immediately answers, “Because I don’t like the stress you try to avoid.”

“Now we’re talking,” I exclaimed. “We are all so different yet so alike in many ways. Fascinating!”

 Returning to my 5-minute late husband ordeal, I now realize he was not purposely trying to be late or to get me to react. An entirely different story unfolded. Knowing him well and reflecting upon his own past conditioning, he was probably just trying to be ultra-efficient with his time by doing what he’s always done – fitting in that one last task. The first step to understanding the root cause of his behavior was getting curious, asking questions, and understanding the framework within which he operates. It all started to make sense.

I still don’t want to be sitting idle in a car waiting for him to finish up last-minute to-do items, but now that I know why he does it, we can have a calm and collected conversation. “Honey, we need to talk!”

In a future article, I’ll explain how we worked together to reach a  compromise that works for both of us and meets our communal needs. It’s a work in progress, but with a bit of digging and a few invaluable Rise 2 Realize communication tools, the results will astonish.

This article was created from the materials gathered in an Ask Arda podcast featuring Elizabeth and Arda Ozdemir.

Elizabeth is a Certified Rise 2 Realize Life Coach.

Arda Ozdemir is a spiritual mentor, author of the book Getting Unstuck and founder of Rise 2 Realize Life Coaching School and Ask Arda Coaching.