A few years ago I took a series of emotional intelligence workshops. On the first night we had to agree to rules and expectations. You were either all in or all out.
One of the rules was that you couldn’t be late — if you were one minute late you wouldn’t be allowed into the training.
You could feel the tension in the room. There was a quiet uproar—eye rolls, arms folded across the chest, and a few barely audible are you serious?
Who were these people, and who did they think they were? And what was with the extreme expectations? Our coach then unfolded the why: being on time had everything to do with our word. And our word is the essence of our integrity.
Think about it. Are you the person who is always so late that your friends tell you to arrive at 8:00 hoping you’ll get there by 9:30? If so, your friends don’t trust you. They don’t trust you at your word. That’s a breach in integrity.
Or maybe your struggle is a little more discreet. I used to consistently show up 5-10 minutes late. Whether it was a meeting, church, or a date, I somehow found myself running around like a crazy person at the last minute.
Since I lived in New York City I had an easy out — everyone blames the train traffic, or a subway car stalling. Sometimes it was a legitimate excuse. But most of the time the real issue was my poor planning, because I hadn’t given myself enough margin.
If I’m consistently 5-10 minutes late to the events of my life, I’m sending a message to those around me:
· I don’t take myself seriously.
· I can’t be trusted to be where I say I’m going to be when I say I’m going to be there.
· I don’t value or respect your time.
· I think my time is more valuable than yours.
If I don’t trust myself to do what I say I’m going to do, how can I expect others to trust me? And if I don’t value or respect you, how can I ask for your respect? Again there’s a fracture, a break in trust and integrity.
To actually be on time may seem like a small thing. But it’s the minor, almost unnoticed decisions that prepare us for what lies ahead. If you can’t be counted on in the everyday moments of life, how can you be trusted with the pivotal circumstances life brings your way?
One way to say it is, “One who is faithful in very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in very little is also dishonest in much.” (Luke 16:10)
I’ve often heard it said that integrity is who you are when no one is watching. I always thought that meant what you do in secret, and in part it is.
But I think it also means being faithful even when it doesn’t feel like a big deal.
photo c/o Jen Trahan
It’s like when people say they’ll be more generous when they have more money. However, if you’re stingy when you’re poor, you’ll be stingy when you’re rich. A flip doesn’t switch when there’s more money in the bank. Some of the most generous people I know are friends who don’t have a lot.
Although it initially seemed ridiculous that if you were one minute late you’d be kicked out of the entire training, after hearing the reasoning behind it I changed my mind. I ended up agreeing to the rules, and chose to show up to the training not only on time, but early.
I no longer wanted to be the person who was 5-10 minutes late to everything. I wanted to start being my word, and doing the things I said I was going to do when I said I was going to do them.
It was a small thing, but it shifted a lot of things for me.
Sometimes I still struggle with being on time. But I now have the tools to make different decisions, and I have a grasp on how my actions impact others.
When it does happen I get the opportunity to admit that I blew it and ask for forgiveness. Rather than blaming the traffic I can simply admit, “I didn’t manage my time well.” It’s not about attaining perfection, but making strides towards growth.