Stories brought to you to inspire discussion and peer-to-peer helping hands.
Wall Clock
Opinion: Is your inner teen making you late…again?
Janine Castro

Why are we chronically late? Perhaps it is because we actually believe our own excuses.


My morning ritual: tea, shower, food, drag son out of bed, get said son to school on time. The first three are challenging, the fourth is exasperating, and the fifth, nearly impossible! Last year my son had 10 tardies in the first two months of school. I’ve tried everything, including high doses of caffeine, but he has a stereotypical teenager’s sense of time. If there’s something he wants to do, he’s up and out the door. If it is imposed, he stumbles around in a stupor, growling at inanimate objects. While I somewhat expect this of teens, and realize that it is fairly normal behavior, I do wonder how much of this time disassociation carries forward into our work life?


Let’s face it, people loathe lateness. I loathe lateness, even when I am the one who is late. Being late says much more than “I’m disorganized”, it screams:


 “I am more important”

 “My time is more valuable”

 “I would rather be doing other things”


You may not actually feel that way, but that is how you will be perceived. Being on time demonstrates respect and professionalism. We are all familiar with the general disruptive and negative impacts of lateness, but I want to explore the underlying reasons why we are late. Sure, we’re all delayed sometimes, because bad traffic does happen to good people. If you are chronically behind schedule, ask yourself these questions.  Are you late for everything, whether it is personal or professional? Are you late for particular types of meetings or with specific individuals? Does it matter if it is a field visit or a meeting within your office building? Are you more likely to be late to stressful or confrontational meetings? By probing into the patterns of your lateness, perhaps you can discover the “why”.


I work with a wonderful, intelligent woman who is so notoriously late that no one will carpool with her. Coworkers regularly tell her meetings starts 30 minutes early, and yet she still manages to be the last one in the door. On one occasion, when she was actually running on time, she turned the car around 20 minutes into a 40 minute journey to retrieve a pair of sunglasses. Is she trying to avoid conflict? Does she not believe in the project? Is she seeking attention? 


Sure, it’s easy to criticize lateness in others, but it is much more challenging to look in the mirror – to look at the person that we can change. This morning I was 8 minutes late to a meeting that was 25 miles from my house. I checked Google Maps last night, and it reported a travel time of one hour. Given that everything in Portland hinges on traffic, I allotted an hour and 15 minutes, knowing even that much time was pushing my luck. Why didn’t I leave an hour and a half, or even two hours, early? I didn’t want to be late – remember, I loathe lateness. Sitting in my car this morning, solidly stuck in traffic, I realized that I am in denial. The fact that it takes me over an hour and a half to travel a mere 25 miles is almost more than I can stomach. And the denial is followed by fatalism. “Oh, it doesn’t matter when I leave because traffic is going to be horrific anyhow”. I discovered that my lateness is deeply seated in “traffic rage”. I don’t want Portland traffic to rule my life, so I rebel by being late. Now that I understand the “why”, perhaps I can find a reasonable solution.


So, why are you late?

Janine Castro's picture
About the Author
Janine Castro
Janine is a geomorphologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland, Oregon, and holds a joint position with National Marine Fisheries Service. She provides technical assistance on a wide variety of water related projects, and teaches courses on stream restoration and public speaking for scientists.