I’m Always Running Late and Forgetting Stuff–Am I a Bad Person? 

running late

Today’s trait is running late and forgetting stuff and therefore, potentially letting other people down. Let me just say, I FEEL this one. If I get somewhere 5-10 minutes late I feel I am right on time. And between parenting and working on this podcast and working with clients and managing household stuff, a lot of things, particularly voice mails and emails, can slip through the cracks. And when I wake up in the middle of the night (which is when your inner ‘I think I might be a terrible person?’ voice–aka your ego–loves to kick in) the first thing I’m thinking about is the person I forgot to write back. 

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Let’s look at lateness first

Plenty of articles talk about how it’s inconsiderate to be late, and I get it. Making an appointment with someone, whether it’s a friend or a doctor, is basically entering into a contract. Let’s both decide not to do any of the many other things we could be doing at a particular time and commit to each other. You want to hold up your end of the bargain. And if you’re late, you can feel like you’re letting the other person down. 

Also, rather than being a character flaw, lateness can just be evidence that your brain is wired a little differently. Researchers from San Diego State University have found that chronically running late is a symptom of a Type B personality. Which, as you might guess, is a lot more laid back and creative than Type A. Also, other research has found that people who run late are more optimistic than those who tend to be on time. Which makes sense, because you if you’re late, you might optimistically think you can make a trip that takes 15 minutes in 10 minutes. 

Being laid-back, creative, and optimistic aren’t bad things

The world needs Type As and Type Bs. It’s just that our collective expectations are set more toward the Type A end of the spectrum because it ties in well with the American dream myth that says working hard will get you everything you want. 

Here’s something I notice. Many many times when I am late the other person is relieved. They say, oh, I got to sit here and do nothing for a few minutes and it was wonderful! You don’t want to bank on this, of course. Not everyone will feel this way, but I share this to that is is not 100% a bad thing to be a little late. 

Let’s take a look at the tendency to forget things

Whether it’s an appointment or an event or an email or a voicemail it can also feel like a broken contract. Like lateness, it can make you feel like a bad person because it can feel like you’re letting someone else down. It can also make you feel like maybe there’s something wrong with you or you’re not organized or not smart. 

But really, how could we NOT be dropping a few balls here and there? Just looking at the sheer volume of communication we receive, you see why stuff slips our mind. The average American gets 120 emails a day. And our overall screentime has increased by almost 50 percent just between 2019 and 2021. And the thing people are doing 78% of the time they’re on their phones is texting. 120 emails plus 78% of our increased screentime spent sending and receiving text messages and we’re managing a LOT of information and communication every day. It’s really not possible to be perfectly on top of every inbox. 

I think we have to do some managing of our own and others’ expectations of how on top of it it’s really possible to be. If you forgot something, just own it. “Gosh, this slipped right through the cracks, sorry about that.” I guarantee you the other person has done it too. I think if we could all admit that we forget stuff sometimes, it would relieve this pressure that so many of us feel to look completely buttoned up and on top of everything. 

Ugh, let’s just be OK with being a bit of a mess, can we? 

Daily Tiny Assignment

Your tiny assignment is to own your tendencies toward being late or forgetting things. In fact, I often tell people straight up that I appreciate reminders if they feel I’m not getting back to them. I say something like, if you haven’t heard from me by Friday, please don’t hesitate to reach out again and bump yourself back up to the top of my inbox. 

And for things that you really can’t be late for, like a doctor’s appointment or a job interview, put it in your calendar as 15-20 minutes earlier than it truly is. I started doing this about 6 months ago and it really works to get me where I need to be at the actual time I’m supposed to be there. 

Also, “negative” traits aren’t here to torture us. They’re not something we need to exile. They’re something we need to accept and integrate so that we can be more whole. 

To that end, is there something beneath your running late and forgetting stuff that you can see is something that it might be beneficial for you to think about differently? 

In other words, is there some clue in this thing that can make you feel like a bad person, that, if you started to work with it in a loving way, would help you feel like a better person? 

For example, one reason I’m often running late is that I’m constantly trying to squeeze in one more thing before I go somewhere. I’m trying to increase my tolerance of times when I’m not taking care of something. That way I can leave myself a little more space in my schedule and not try to jam every minute with something to do. In other words, I’m trying to give myself more intervals of rest. And to break the association between how good of a day I feel I had and how much I got done. So perhaps there’s something behind your perpetual lateness or forgetfulness that’s ready to be seen and could benefit from a little loving attention. 

What things make you worry you’re a bad person?

Shoot me an email at beabetterpersonpodcast.com. Or DM me on Instagram @katehanleyauthor, and I’ll do an episode around them if I can. ALSO, I just launched the Am I a Bad Person quiz on katehanley.com, which is a very light-hearted look at those things we do that we may or may not have good reason to feel bad about later. Again, you can find the quiz at katehanley.com. 

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