At a self-improvement seminar I attended years ago, their rules for attendance were simple.
1. Arrive on time.
2. Do not leave the room during the program unless given permission.
3. Participate fully.
Pretty easy, until I began to test them out. At first, I found myself participating fully, snapping my brain back whenever it wandered, but after a while, it became harder and harder to concentrate. The breaks were well scheduled, so my bladder didn’t protest, but my brain didn’t want to follow rule 3. I worked on it and by the end of the program, my ability to concentrate, to be there in the moment and not have my head somewhere else while my body occupied a chair, dramatically improved. What a wonderful skill to learn.
The killer of the rules for others was rule one. There is something about showing up on time that seems to get in the way of people’s lives. Or is it people’s lives that get in the way of showing up on time? The program leader explained that wherever you are RIGHT NOW is exactly where you are supposed to be, and wherever you are is more important. I was confused until he explained that whatever you were doing that made you late in the first place had to have been more important than arriving on time. If the program is most important, you will do whatever it takes to be there on time, no matter what. No excuses. In Seattle, many don’t just rely upon cars and buses. There are ferry boat schedules influenced by weather, extremely congested narrow bridges and highways, and other hazards that can influence transportation times. For me, who felt that the program was most important, I would leave my home with plenty of time to spare. No excuses. For others, they blamed the traffic, the weather, their cars, their family, and all kinds of things. I looked at their excuses and found them wanting. After all, I gave up precious sleeping and working time to be there on time to participate fully. Why didn’t they arrange their schedule to accommodate the weather, traffic, family, and keep their vehicles filled up and well maintained in order to show up on time?
I learned that rule number one was about more than just being on time. It was about integrity. If I commit to be somewhere, I’m there. If I commit to do something, I do it. No excuses. Sure, life gets in the way, but I learned that I have choices all the way along that influence my ability to keep my integrity and commitments. I have a lot of options and learning how to look at your choices and not your problem is a way to live your life with integrity and honesty with yourself and others.
As I came to embrace rule number one, I stopped making excuses, and not just for being late. If everything failed me and I did arrive late, instead of giving a huge story and opera of excuses, I would just apologize and get on with the business at hand, moving forward instead of backwards. I finally broke my habit of living my life making excuses all the time. I found myself taking better care of myself and my time, padding time around appointments so that I could have the time to get there and be ready for the meeting instead of blowing in at last minute. I learned how to say no when I realized that I couldn’t keep every commitment requested of me. I learned how to value my time and honor those who also value it enough to meet with me. And most of all, I learned that if I’m late, wherever I am and what ever I am doing must be more important than being there.