Me and punctuality
When my boss said to me, “You are not a late person. Let’s change the narrative on that,” it seemed an overdramatic way to talk about my tendency to arrive a few minutes after a meeting starts. Narrative is a word we use to talk about how we include or exclude Indigenous Australian perspectives from our country’s history. Or the shift from global warming to to climate change to climate justice. Or how we view women in leadership.
In short, narrative is a word academic types use to talk about systemic change – not about individual behaviour.
Because, of course, punctuality is a matter of behaviour, not identity. Yet I have assimilated lateness into my self-concept such that rather than saying, “I’m a person who is often late to things”, I use the shorthand of “I am a late person” (the comment which led to my boss’s statement above).
In my mind, it’s always been this way – I’ve always been this way. It’s one of those little behaviour traits that’s become an ingrained part of who I am. When I read that late people are just time optimists, it not only resonated – it actually helped me self-legitimise this part of my behaviour. The worst thing is I am kinda proud of being a time optimist who’s never missed a flight.
Over the past couple of months I have been thinking about the ways in which I have put myself in a box, consciously or subconsciously.
I’ve realised that I do this to the point of rationalising behaviours that were I to change them, I would somehow no longer be me.
That has been part of the reason for my struggle with no longer being a nomad. Other examples are recurring thoughts like:
I am a cold person – but at least I’m not fake.
I am unromantic – and I’m proud of not being the kind of person who buys into Hollywood hype.
I am not very feminine because I’m cold and unromantic and hate shopping.
Of course, none of these things are actually true of me. Many people have described me as warm. I love flowers and holding hands. And a love of shopping is the most awful way to define feminity.
Another mostly unspoken narrative I often encounter is I may not be pretty/good-looking, but I’ll make up for it by being smart/kind/funny.
Behaviour justified in this way can be self-perpetuating. These “truths” we tell ourselves drive our behaviour. When we cling to these behaviours as essential to our identity, it makes change, when it comes, so much harder than it needs to be.
So the more I think about it, the more it does seem lateness has become part of my narrative. And maybe it’s time to change that narrative.
The narrative changer
In a big way, Jesus has already changed the narrative for all of us: from being mortals plagued by death to humans headed for life eternal. From being distant from God and fending for ourselves, to God-with-us, Emmanuel, as Christmas reminds us. From seeking fulfilment in spouse or status, fame or fortune, to finding it in our Creator.
If that’s too abstract, he did it in the physical, too. Matthew was known as the tax collector – a money-grabbing betrayer of his own people, serving the Romans for his own prosperity. He would have seen himself as a tax collector, an outsider. But Jesus changed his narrative. Matthew became, instead, one of the twelve disciples and writer of the first Gospel in the New Testament.
Sometimes we read the Bible and we think Jesus clicked his fingers and stuff happened. Sure, some of the healing looked like it occurred instantly. But I’m guessing there was an inner wrestle in Matthew before he left his old life.
Similarly, Jesus changed the narrative for Simon Peter, Andrew, John and James – once fishermen, they were transformed into fishers of men. But they had to leave behind the lives they knew, their “truths” about themselves, to step into this new narrative.
Human beings are flawed. Each of us has some serious structural issues. Changing our narrative about ourselves doesn’t automatically change reality. It doesn’t magically make our bad habits and negative thinking disappear.
What it does do is help us detach these things from our identity. It “unsticks” us from feeling resigned and sorry for ourselves (or stubborn and defiant) for being the way we are. It is a step towards agency and moving forwards.
For me, being a person of faith is about having God – not advertising, not peer pressure, not my own head – set my narrative. While I’m undoubtedly influenced by other factors all the time, whether I like it or not, my intention is to live by the bigger narrative that Jesus has cast me in.
As the song says, I am who he says I am.
Flawed but redeemed and so, so loved. My worth as a person comes from the fact that God loves me, not from anything to do with my behaviour, temperament or personality.
I am not a late person
Lately I’m more intentional than ever about punctual. It doesn’t mean I’m not late anymore. What it does mean is I’m more conscious of the clock and I make a point of stopping tasks earlier, factoring in the time needed to go to the bathroom or grab some water and join the meeting.
And I am going to try to stop saying that I am “a late person”. Because the only person who ever decided this would be or needed to be part of my identity is me.
What are the key narratives that drive you? Can you name them? Can you identify the healthy and unhealthy things you consciously or subconsciously believe about who you are? In what ways have these messages become “truths” to you to the point of shaping your behaviour?
Header image: Jacky Zeng.