The other day I met a friend for lunch at a designated time and place. I had planned a very busy day, but I really like my friend and the restaurant we were to meet at, and I could not wait to break bread. I was on time, but my friend was late. As I sat at the table, dodging the polite stares from my waiter wondering when my guest would arrive, my mind drifted to a story that took place many years ago. (Cue the dream sequence music.)
I was a 21 year old insurance agent, speeding down the Rockville Pike in Maryland on my way to a client meeting, when I was about to get the lesson of my life called “being on time.” I knew that a 9:00 am appointment meant unpredictable traffic, but chances were good that I could weave my way there without too much of a problem. As I was getting ready to leave, I let time get away from me with that one extra phone call I wanted to make… but didn’t have to make. I just left a little bit late, and I almost pulled it off.
As I slid into the waiting room, I looked down at my watch and noticed I was five minutes late. “Not bad” I thought to myself, considering the maze of traffic I had circumnavigated. A moment later, my client, a rather pompous lawyer, came from around the corner and walked me back to his office. He made a quick comment about my being five minutes late, and the meeting began. I was on my game as I went through the various policies that my client had expressed an interest in a few days earlier, on the phone call that set up the appointment. He seemed interested, and pleased. That’s when he knocked my legs out from under me.
“Everything you have said makes sense, and I am going to move forward with this purchase. Unfortunately, I am not going to move forward with you. As a matter of fact, I’ll never buy anything from you, and do you know why? You were five minutes late.” Before I could get to my story about the traffic on the Rockville Pike, he continued.
“You are going to walk out of here, and you are going to convince yourself of what a terrible person I am, and how you have a really good excuse as to why you were late. Now you might not believe this, but once you get done cursing my name, you’ll realize I did you a huge favor today because I don’t think you will ever be late for an appointment again.”
He was right on all accounts. I did think he was a terrible person, and I did recite my perfectly good excuses as to why I was late, and I did curse his name all the way back to my car… and he did do me a huge favor. Over 30 years later, I have never been late again. I’m not late for a seminar, or an appointment, or a meeting with a friend. It just doesn’t matter. I’m not late… ever.
Let me answer your next question – before you shout, “How is that even possible?!” I’ll tell you how it’s possible:
• I have never been late for a seminar because no matter what the distance, I plan for extra time for travel. If it requires air travel, I’m not only there the day before, but I’m on an early flight the day before. I watch weather patterns, and if there is a winter storm in play, I’m out two days before. My seminars are that important to me.
• I have never been late for an appointment because I was born and raised in the Washington Metropolitan area, and I am fully aware of the traffic nightmares that go with living here. That’s why I am typically fifteen minutes early when I’m meeting someone. My appointments are that important to me.
• I have never been late for a lunch with a friend because I treat those meetings just like I treat a business appointment. My friends are that important to me.
There’s always more you can do before you leave your home or office. There are more emails to write, calls to makes, bills to pay, but at a designated time, to insure you are on time, you have to leave. When you do this you will understand why when others are late to a meeting and launch into their excuses regarding traffic, or emails, or phone calls, or whatever caused them to be late it will mean nothing to you. As a matter of fact, I believe the excuses will almost sound insulting to you.
I always laugh to myself when I hear a person tell me, “I just can’t seem to get anywhere on time.” Really? If I told you that the appointment you set for tomorrow had the potential to dramatically change your life in a positive way, but if you are one second late the deal is off, would you be late? Not only would you not be late, you would carefully map out your moves to insure you arrived early. Why can’t you apply this level of discipline to all your appointments? Are you intending to tell the person you are meeting that the things you do on a daily basis are more important that then things they do, or that you don’t really respect them? Being late is not some kind of prison you can’t escape from; it’s a decision.
I suppose it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun to meet me for lunch, or an appointment, but you could think of it this way; if you ever meet with me, I’ll do everything I can to be on time. By doing that, I make sure you know that your time is every bit as valuable as my time. That’s not so terrible, is it?