I grew up with a punctuality problem.
In my Year 12 yearbook, under the “Famous for” section of my profile, it read: “Famous for sauntering into Periods 1…2…3…4…5…6…7… five minutes late.” (So many ellipses in one sentence!)
It never felt that way. I wasn’t sauntering; I was rushing to fit the important (and unimportant) things that needed to happen between periods. Why let it wait if it could be squeezed between periods?
I still remember one awkward night in Year 12.
The new Headmaster had invited our entire year group to his home for dinner throughout the term in batches of 10-12. It was a salubrious affair; we dressed in our formals and used all the cutlery imaginable.
I was late. Not enormously, but the normal five minutes – my modus operandi, it seemed. When I walked in at 7:35 pm, everyone was seated with one empty chair. Mine. I sat down and did my best to break the ice, saying ‘I’ve heard it’s fashionable to be five minutes late’. There were polite sniggers but mainly heads down. As dinner resumed, my mate beside me subtly leaned over and whispered in my ear, “You’re thirty-five minutes late, not five.” I felt the blood drain from my face.
Yep, I had pedigree.
At some point, I either resigned myself to lateness or grew comfortable with the notion of being ‘almost’ on time. Usually by a matter of minutes, but late nonetheless.
Over the years, it cost me. I’d missed a race, a plane flight, a concert, and even getting to the toilet on time. But, hey, it was just part of my personality – blame it on a busy life, it sounds more impressive. And it wasn’t entirely habitual. There were many times I showed up on time; I just had a reputation weighted on the not-so-timely side of the ledger.
Then a funny thing happened.
In 1998, I joined a new church. I caught up at a café with one of the pastors and showed up on time.
We agreed on a second time to meet up and, again, I was there a minute or so early. When he arrived for our coffee, he remarked, “You’re one punctual guy!”.
I realised he didn’t know that I had a problem with punctuality. He believed I was punctual.
I decided at that moment to own it. If he knew no better, surely I could un-decide myself?
Decision is a powerful thing. One big yes can create a million little noes. Decisions bring clarity and commitment, purpose and potential. These are all good things.
But I’ve discovered that the power of un-deciding has potency as well. Not indecision, un-deciding.
I’ve met plenty of people who’ve told me they’re a late person; not a morning person; not a runner; not a good friend; hopeless with discipline; always procrastinating; always eating bad food. They’ll say that they are too introverted to invite; unable to have tough conversations; too afraid to accept an invitation; and too old for new friends. I’ve certainly said a few of those about myself. Those things can paralyse you for a lifetime.
I’m not suggesting that all it takes is un-deciding, but un-deciding certainly opens the door to change. Our iron-clad affirmations of immovability are given unnecessary power. Perhaps they give us comfort, too. Perhaps we find solace in our resignation because it requires little of us since we’ve determined that we’re ‘lifers’ on some of this stuff.
Un-deciding unloosens thosee shackles of resignation.
Un-deciding carries enormous possibility. It’s not accompanied with the resources and wherewithal to see behavioural change through to its victorious destination, but it sure makes it a conceivable proposition. One that’s back on the table rather than one that can never be considered.
The thought of un-deciding on some things may well scare us poo-less. Some of the decisions we’ve made about ourselves were out of self-protection, fear, and negative experiences. Real stuff.
I don’t want to be glib about those experiences, but locking the door on innately life-giving stuff for a lifetime based on negative experiences, seems to be giving something far more power than it deserves. Perhaps we need to keep challenging ourselves about the power of un-deciding to open ourselves to an even bigger decision; an even bigger ‘yes’.
“It might be unbelievable, but let’s not say ‘so long’; it might just be fantastic, don’t get me wrong.”
By the way, I’m still a reforming ‘on-timer’ and prone to slip-ups. I’ll attempt to go for a run, stop sweating, make school lunches, make breakfast and coffee before getting to a 7 am meeting in Leederville every second Friday. I sometimes fail, but I like to think of my failure as more of an aberration rather than a problem I’m incapable of shaking! (All the same, apologies to Michael and Keith!)