People do not ‘stumble’ upon success.
Every successful outcome, every good idea starts with a dream. Well, that’s not technically right: dreams aren’t the genesis, dreamers are.
Let me restate - every good idea starts with a dreamer. Every success is birthed by someone who dares to envision possibilities, and who by their sheer force of volition, calls them into being.
The dream vs. dreamer distinction is foundational. In the ‘which is better, ideas or people?’ debate, people win because people come up with ideas. In his blockbuster (and dare I say life-changing) book Creativity Inc., Pixar founder Ed Catmull said "If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.” Bingo. People > ideas.
Success is not about ideas, it's about a person, a very specific type of person. It’s why two people can have the same brilliant idea, but one revolutionizes an industry and the other does nothing. One changes the course of the world, the other ends up wearing pajamas eating Captain Crunch in their parents’ basement.
So let’s be done with the I-happened-to-be-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time myth. Success isn’t circumstantial, it’s intentional.
Whether you’re a bright-eyed teenage girl or an assertive, no-nonsense middle-aged man, the following principles, will work to garner success in all areas of your life: career, relationships, fitness, finances, etc. A successful person will have the following qualities:
Said simply, you have to believe, deep down, that you can achieve it. It may sound Polyanna-ish, but it couldn’t be more true. You have to believe. You have to be your biggest cheerleader; don’t abdicate that role to someone else (people are fickle and will put down the pom poms to grab a hot dog and a soft drink). If you don’t believe in your success, it will certainly not happen. Isn’t it funny how we believe those closest to us could set the world on fire, but when it comes to ourselves, we’re sheepish about our own potential? Imagine what we could accomplish if we believed in ourselves as much as others believe in us.
A plan is a dream with legs. If you are under the impression that just having a dream will get you to your destination, you will stay stuck on the ground. If you want to get to the moon, yes, your first step is looking up, but then you must make all the smaller steps along the way: get fit, get a spacesuit, go to astronaut school (is there even such a thing?). A good plan involves smaller chunks. It doesn’t just ask ‘where do I want to be’ but ‘what small step must I take today to to get there.’ And it doesn’t just ask that question once, it asks that question every. single. day.
If success was easy, everyone would have it. You have to continue to believe in your dream when naysayers arise, when obstacles appear, when circumstances say otherwise. Most people see roadblocks as ‘signs’ that they are on the wrong path. Really? Roads have potholes, that doesn’t mean you stop the car and turn around. Ride over the bump and keep going. Let the bumps remind you that you have a kick a** Jeep and that the place you are going is worthwhile.
Good things take time. Success is no different. If you want to be a world-renowned writer, it’s not going to happen overnight (can you tell I’m projecting here?). If you want to be head chef in a kitchen, your first souffle isn’t going to be perfection. Success is a flower - the blossom is beautiful to behold, but gosh the patience it takes to get from seed to bloom is is nothing short of grueling.
And it’s not just about patiently waiting for that which you so actively pursue; it’s about being patient with yourself in the process. When you stumble on the way, are you overly critical of yourself? Do you think poorly of yourself when you screw up? We usually define a patient person as someone who is patient with us, but a truly, authentically patient person is someone who is patient with themselves. They know the following secret: throughout the journey, we are becoming fit to receive that which we seek. Trust the process.
Most people want what success has but aren’t willing to do what success does. Success dreams, success believes, then success rolls up its sleeves and works.
"Why can’t I just keep using the training wheels?" I ask defiantly.
"Because life doesn’t have training wheels."
The sun was beating on my five year old forehead and my little black cotton shorts were soaked through. All I really wanted to do was go inside and drink some lemonade. I knew my sister wouldn’t let me do so until I at least attempted the seemingly psychotic death ploy that was bicycle riding with two wheels.
I gave up arguing. With my best pouty face to boot, I mounted the bike and started pedaling.
I came down quicker than a John Wayne holster draw. My knobby knees were scraped and began oozing a bright red. There was the hot pulse of physical pain, then the even hotter flash of shame that I somehow failed on a basic level. The second pain hurt more. I was all ready to give up (pain has a way of doing that), but my sister shot me a ‘Is that the best you got?’ glance.
Suddenly I wanted to prove her wrong. Or maybe I wanted to prove to myself I had what it takes. Whichever it was, and in spite of the pain, I gritted my teeth and got back on the bike.
It is a truth universally recognized that all humans experience suffering. It’s Newton’s Fourth Law that never reached the presses. Pain may come as a consequence of our own poor decisions. Other times, pain is the solicitor who arrives at our doorstep uninvited. Chronic physical pain that comes out of nowhere, relational pain, pain of financial reversals -- all of these are a loss of something: our freedom, our future, our health, our happiness. Just by nature of engaging with the world and those in it you open the door to suffering. It cannot be avoided.
If pain is not to be avoided, you’d think by now we’d be really good at the healing. Wrong! It’s shocking how people run from pain, are surprised when it happens, and then have no game plan on how to deal with it. So the question stands: how does one heal?
The socially acceptable answer to this question is: time will heal. Phrases like ‘give it time’ or ‘time with heal’ have always bugged me. The concept that time heals is ludicrous, given the examples in real-life that prove otherwise. We’ve all met that middle aged man who is bitter, selfish, jaded. Nothing is satisfactory to him and every utterance that leaves his lips is a criticism. He has that ‘get off my lawn!’ quality about him. You can tell he got really hurt a year ago, two years ago, a decade ago, heck maybe even in his childhood, and still has not moved on. He sees every encounter and person through the lens of his pain. He might as well have a I’m-Wounded-Stay-Away sign plastered all over him. While he is 10 years removed from his suffering, it’s as fresh as if it happened yesterday. Time has not healed this man. How incredibly sad and unbearably tragic. What a waste of a life. This is just one example, but there are countless others that come to mind. Time does not heal.
Okay MaryBeth, if time doesn’t heal, what does?
What you think about yourself says more about you than your choices, your past, and your circumstances combined. Mindset is what heals, transforms, and redeems. Have you ever met someone who, on paper, had things that would disqualify them from being in your life, but when you met them it became no big deal at all? All of a sudden the circumstance became very small because the way they thought about the circumstance was so attractive. You see? Mindset.
There are certain ways of thinking that will get you through the deepest of valleys. I was told by a friend recently that I have a PhD in pain. The hilarity of this statement is rivaled only by its truth. I’ve experienced every gradation of pain you can imagine - physical, relational, financial, emotional. As rewarding as my life has been, I can’t deny the fact that it’s been hard. When you’re on suffering’s frequent flyer plan, you have to get really good at healing.
I present to you today my choice jewels: the mindsets that have helped me heal. They don’t come free of charge; I paid the price. It is my hope that you use them well and that you find the healing and freedom you desire. It is also my hope that you are willing to let go of the pain, because sometimes we are surprised to find we like the hurt more than the healing.
1. No feeling is taboo.
All the feels. There are no ‘wrong’ feelings during the healing process. Anger, sorrow, anguish, grief, relief, longing, fear, resentment, malaise, excitement. Give yourself permission to feel it all. Grieve the lost years. Weep for the betrayal. Fear that things may not get better; hope that they will. Mourn not what it could have been but that it wasn’t what you thought it was. Marvel that you got through it. Anticipate what the future brings. Reflect on the bittersweet moments. It’s important to fully feel everything. Stifling emotions will stifle your healing. We often think that feeling certain emotions makes us weak. That is total bs. It means we are human beings with a heart that feels. It means we’re strong enough to be vulnerable and wade into that which is messy and wild and unpredictable. Don’t buy into that lie, and instead, grab onto this: If we never fully face our pain and the emotional fallout that comes with it, we hijack our healing. Be kind to yourself and give yourself space to feel all the feelings.
2. Pain isn’t permanent but the reward is.
When you’re in the middle of pain, it feels like it will never end. The light at the end of the tunnel seems mythical. I vividly remember an interaction five years ago that elucidated this point. I had been going through a long season of chronic, physical pain. Every day I woke up with what felt like a sinus infection. It was hard to work, go out, and even function on a basic human level. I went from doctor to doctor, like a sick game of hot potato. No answers, no root cause, no remedy. The unrelenting pain was only exceeded by my loss of hope that I’d ever get better, that I’d ever have a normal life again. It hurt to hope, maybe even more than the hurt itself. I remember sharing this sentiment with someone, a middle-aged woman that I had gotten to know over the past few months. She looked me in the eye and said "It will get better." I felt like clubbing her across the face. "You don’t know that! This torment will be eternal!" (I raged, silently).
The next thing she said almost knocked me off my feet. "Pay attention to who you’re becoming in the process." Bingo. I began to see the light. I was so focused on my pain that I was missing out on how it was shaping me in the process. The pain was building in me grit, perseverance, follow-through, dedication, and most of all, humility. The most precious and noble of human traits can only be forged in the fire of pain. Have you ever met someone who has overcome deep adversity? They shine so brightly you can barely look into their face.
It is through suffering - not success - that we develop the marks of resilience. Our values are tested, our character deepens, and all the nonsense fades away. If you’re going through pain, remember this: pain has a reward. And it’s not some dinky trophy you put on a mantle, it's the strong, victorious person you carry with you every day. No elite university can mold your character quite like the school of pain.
3. Nothing is wasted.
Because pain has a reward, nothing is wasted. Oh, humanity. If I could plaster this sentiment on every billboard, every Facebook add, every airwave I would: Pain has a purpose. It is valuable, it is rich. It challenges us, edifies us, refines us. Pain isn’t a feeling to be avoided, it’s an experience to be embraced.
One of the hardest human emotions to grapple with is regret. ‘If I had done things differently, I wouldn't be in so much pain, I would have gotten what I wanted, I would have a better life right now.’ Hogwash. Regret, in this instance, is short-sighted and cowardly: short-sighted because it ignores who you became in the process and cowardly because it keeps you mentally stuck in the past instead of taking the necessary steps to propel your life forward. The next time you regret an action that brought pain, remember, nothing in your past is wasted. Which brings me to the last mindset..
4. There is agency in the meaning.
Most people think life is a biography, but it’s more a choose-your-own-adventure. Life isn’t linear, it’s a cyclical spiral. Just because something happened to you in your ‘timeline’ doesn’t mean you can’t go back and revisit it. And revisit it you must to reframe it, to decide what meaning to give it, to determine what lessons you will extract. Therein lies the beauty. Even though something happened to you in the past, determining how you will interpret it gives you agency in the present - wonderful, empowering, agency. In this way, your past is not fixed, it’s malleable. You decide what the pain means, not the perpetrator or the circumstance. You look back on it, evaluate it, and carry the lesson forward into your present. Don’t you see? This makes you impervious to pain’s sting. ‘No weapon forged against you shall prevail.’ Indeed. If you control the narrative, no supporting actor can undermine your story.
It’s a warm, summer evening in the neighborhood. The sun is setting to the symphony of crickets chirping. I had just come home from a long day at the office. I rush inside - not to eat or turn on the TV - but to change into shorts and a tee and hit the garage.
I pull out my red bike and start riding through the streets to the forest preserve. As I pedal faster, the wind casually picks up my hair and grazes my face, like a sweet serenade. I have a date with the universe tonight. As I turn the corner I lift my hands up and tilt my head back. I feel so free.
In my mind’s eye I look back at my five year old self. I thank her for not giving up. She fell down over and over again. She scraped her knee more times than there are decimals in pi. I thank her for getting back up again. I thank her for giving me my best shot.
Now that particular pain is a distant memory. This sensuous summer night is all reward.
Thank you, life, for the valleys, because gosh it’s all mountain now.
4 Things to Do Instead (and no, it's not 'Be Quiet')..
We’ve all been there.
You’re in a conversation at a party with someone you barely know. Let’s call this person Assuming-new-kid-on-the-block. You share an anecdote about the lazy co-worker (who somehow gets paid more than you) that drives you up a wall. The story barely escapes your lips and this newcomer pounces like a jackrabbit during mating season. It’s a word salad of ‘ignore him’ + ‘you’re better than him anyways’ + ‘here are ways you can motivate him’ + ‘he probably had a hard life’ + ‘why don’t you just drive him crazy back’ + ‘there’s this guy at my work who does the same thing and here’s how I handle him..’ YAWN. You’re 10 minutes into the monologue and Assuming-new-kid-on-the-block is off-base and unaware. How can someone be so confident to weigh in on a situation when they know only .01% of you and nothing about the key players? You’re looking for the exit ramp, and not soon enough.
Or how about this scene. The person who’s been in your life for a while but hasn’t earned the right to speak into it. Let’s call this individual Disengaged-old-kid-on-the-block. She has been around for a while but hasn’t really invested in you in any concrete way. She could be a family member, a colleague, a childhood friend. She hasn’t taken the time to get to know you, to understand you on an even quasi-deep level. She never actually leaves though, like a late winter cold that just lingers. You happen to mention that your car is having trouble starting. Disengaged-old-kid-on-the-block suddenly becomes WebMD for automobiles and tells you what is wrong with the car, different ways to fix it, and at the end of the conversation, even suggests that you sell the car and buy something new. As soon as this person starts talking, you tune them out. ‘We’ve been here before,’ you think. How can someone be so oblivious to the fact that you don’t value their advice and never have due to their lack of investment? You’re looking for the aspirin bottle, stat.
While the advice-giver of both scenarios is different, the outcome is the same: you don’t take the advice. In fact, you might be tempted to do the exact opposite. After this onslaught of unsolicited advice you feel agitated, bewildered, and burdened with a desperate desire to shower the interaction right off of you.
What’s so wrong with unsolicited advice?
Stop assuming you know people so well. Assume, instead, that people are complex and mysterious, and that maybe, perhaps, you know very little about the situation. Pride comes before a fall, and baby, you’re tripping all over yourself.
The majority of the time, people don’t want answers or advice, they just want to vent. Get in the habit of asking ‘What do you want right now: advice or someone to listen?’ 90% of the time it’s the latter. When someone is sharing something with you, the last thing they usually want is advice. Which leads me to the next point..
It’s based on a wrong understanding of human need.
People don’t want to be fixed, they want to be known. Deep in the heart of every human being is the desire to be seen and loved anyway. When I share a small, undesirable part of my life with you, it’s not so that you can ‘fix’ it, it’s so that you can stand in the space with me and witness it. So you can see me and know me in a deeper way. Humans aren’t problems to be fixed they’re mysteries to be unravelled - beautifully, reverently, unravelled.
Tell me, when was the last time someone asked you for advice? If you can’t remember, chances are you’re an advice offender who gives it too freely and unearned. People don’t respect you enough to seek your advice. That may sound harsh, but it’s the truth.
So how do I position myself to be sought out for advice? (aka how do I stop being that guy that no one listens to?)
Shift from advice to interest.
The following four strategies will help you communicate interest:
1. Ask follow-up questions.
Get curious. Assume you know very little (in general). Ask the person follow-up questions. Some examples with our co-worker scenario would be:
2. React with them.
This one’s my favorite. Pretend you’re in the scene with them. Some examples with the car scenario would be:
3. Make observations.
If you’ve done it right and asked enough follow-up questions, you’ll start gathering impressions about the situation. These impressions may or may not be right. It’s helpful to verbalize these impressions and see how your friend reacts. Some examples would be:
4. Seek what they need.
This one’s simple. Ask: ‘What would help you most in this situation?’ I’ve always been astounded by the sheer arrogance of people assuming they know what other people want or need in a situation. Last time I checked, omniscience was not part of the human genome. When someone is explaining a problem they are having at work or in their personal life, it is to our credit to say ‘I want to help. What do you need most right now?’ Most of the time you’ll hear responses like:
Notice the common thread in all four strategies: the focus remains on the person and not on you. If we’re really honest, too often our advice comes from a place of self-absorption, of turning the conversation back to ourselves (our most favorite topic by far!). When a friend is sharing something they are struggling with, it’s imperative to keep the focus on them and what they need. It shows restraint, it communicates respect, and it will make them feel safe & seen. Oh & you best bet that once you establish a pattern of this kind of response, they will start seeking you out for advice.
It’s worth noting that not all strategies work on everyone. You may have people in your life where the first three strategies work like gold, but the last one is a real turn-off. That’s okay. Get comfortable with social experimentation to see which strategies work best with those in your circle. Remember, the goal is for our loved ones, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances to feel known and valued. The little gaffes along the way are worth the relational reward.
If advice is the oxygen you breathe, take a moratorium on it for a week. Just try it. In its place, implement your own unique blend of the 4 strategies. It may feel unnatural or odd at first, but stick with it. This approach will convey interest, communicate care, and deepen your influence. And the fact that you’ll be sought out for advice? Icing on the cake. 😉
‘Beautiful people always have a beautiful story,’
It was the Fall of 2013 and my first year teaching. I was the kind of awkward you feel when you’ve just started your career. Overly excited, a bit insecure. Like a newborn chick waddling out of the nest for the very first time.
I had become close with the teacher next door. Seasoned, spunky, no-nonsense. The kind of teacher you never forget.
After sharing a bit of my life story with her, she turned to me and said, “When I met you, I knew you were beautiful. Now I know why. Beautiful people always have a beautiful story.”
It was the first time I remember someone calling me beautiful. It was the first time ‘beautiful’ had less to do with my outward appearance and more to do with my inner constitution. It spoke of integrity and grit. Her comment warmed up my insides. It was both a validation and an invitation to be greater. It made me stand taller.
To this day, ‘beautiful’ is still my favorite compliment.
When you see a beautiful woman, she has something about her. A quality you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s something like resilience and grace and freedom all rolled into one.
The closest I can get to its essence is strength.
At the base of beauty is feminine strength. A strong soul.
We enjoy the beautiful woman's presence. It both refreshes and inspires. But we rarely ask: How did she get this way? Where did her beauty come from?
We reap the benefits without knowing the source or understanding the journey.
In celebration of women everywhere, I lift the curtain...
Reading a book while all the other kids are playing: a profile in courage.
Choosing good friends, not popular ones: a profile in courage.
Spending more time at the library than at the mall: a profile in courage.
An 18 year old, backpacking abroad with a best friend: a profile in courage.
Pursuing the career of her dreams: a profile in courage.
Taking a job that wasn’t the career of her dreams: a profile in courage.
Admitting she LOVES the job that wasn’t the career of her dreams: a profile in courage.
Communicating her standards to someone she’s attracted to: a profile in courage.
Choosing to be vulnerable while the pain of her recent loss is still fresh: a profile in courage.
Wearing bright red lipstick to work: a profile in courage.
Starting something new: a profile in courage.
Believing the best in others, even when she’s been taken advantage of: a profile in courage.
Saying no: a profile in courage.
Saying yes: a profile in courage.
Not speaking ill of others unless they are present: a profile in courage.
Saying ‘I’m not picking that up’ when people drop their emotional baggage at her door: a profile in courage.
Speaking kindness to anger: a profile in courage.
Making peace, not keeping peace: a profile in courage.
Entering an interaction with the desire to give, not take: a profile in courage.
Holding out for a partner that will fight for her: a profile in courage.
Being as kind to herself as she is to others: a profile in courage.
Speaking unpopular opinions to an unforgiving audience: a profile in courage.
‘I don’t know’: a profile in courage.
Knowing she is responsible for her own happiness, no one can complete her: a profile in courage.
Choosing to stay gentle in a world that can be so cruel: a profile in courage.
Believing the opportunity is bigger than the potential shame: a profile in courage.
Believing her looks are the least interesting thing about her: a profile in courage.
‘Show me how I can do this better’: a profile in courage.
Making mosaics out of broken pieces: a profile in courage.
Trying something new when there is a high probability she will suck at it: a profile in courage.
Embracing the ‘not yet.’ Not waiting till something is tied in a pretty bow to share it with others: a profile in courage.
Responsibility over excuses: a profile in courage.
Wearing heels on a date with someone shorter than her: a profile in courage.
Cracking a joke in a room full of very powerful, very serious looking people: a profile in courage.
Choosing to re-enter a situation she flopped in previously: a profile in courage.
Walking across the room and introducing herself to a very handsome man she does not know: a profile in courage.
Being perfectly content watching Perry Mason by herself on a Friday night in her pajamas: a profile in courage.
Forgiving someone who isn't even sorry: a profile in courage.
Forgiving someone because she knows it doesn’t let them off the hook, it lets her off the hook: a profile in courage.
Forgiving herself: a profile in courage.
Keeping her word, even when it looks to be to her disadvantage: a profile in courage.
Saying no to distractions veiled as opportunities: a profile in courage.
Stepping up to the plate and leading: a profile in courage.
Letting others lead: a profile in courage.
Choosing class over revenge: a profile in courage.
Refusing to timestamp people, looking at others with fresh eyes every day: a profile in courage.
Respecting, treasuring, and honoring men. Celebrating masculinity when the world is intent on defacing it: a profile in courage.
Initiating: a profile in courage.
Waking up with chronic pain, everyday, and choosing still to be joyful: a profile in courage.
Believing someone’s actions not their words: a profile in courage.
Going all in, when she knows the last time she did this she got burned: a profile in courage.
Moving to a new city where she has no friends (yet): a profile in courage.
Staring deeply into someone’s eyes and knowing there’s a possibility they have no idea what they are holding: a profile in courage.
Caring: a profile in courage.
Lifting others up with no strings attached: a profile in courage.
‘This stumble is an opportunity to grow’: a profile in courage.
Laughing in the face of uncertainty: a profile in courage.
Not holding on to that which wants to leave: a profile in courage.
‘Thank you, next’: a profile in courage.
Getting the car moving: a profile in courage.
Making space for someone new: a profile in courage.
Being equally comfortable lighting up a room and flying under the radar: a profile in courage.
Turning down a flashy job offer because where she is feels like home: a profile in courage.
Karaoke singing in public: a profile in courage.
Letting someone hold her in his arms and make her feel safe: a profile in courage.
Blessing those who curse her: a profile in courage.
Blessing those who ignore her: a profile in courage.
Admitting it’s time to change course when her idea isn’t working: a profile in courage.
Wearing a cocktail dress to your run-of-the-mill pub: a profile in courage.
‘I was wrong’: a profile in courage.
Telling someone what she wants: a profile in courage.
Trusting someone at their word, & continuing to honor herself even when the trust was misplaced: a profile in courage.
Cherishing scars. They remind her of what she’s overcome. They remind her that she is a victor: a profile in courage.
And, then -
It’s no longer courage, but the air she breathes.
Like she stopped renting and finally bought real estate in her own skin.
'This is my home, can I help you?’
Embracing life, loving all of it.
The good, the bad, it’s all hers.
Suddenly, she stands before you: resilient, feminine, breathtaking.
A legacy unfolding.
Nothing is wasted. The strong woman knows that no pain is too deep, no dream too far-fetched, no encounter too unredeemable. Every experience - whether good or bad - enriches her. The world is her classroom. Like a gazelle, she grazes in the open field. The good leaves and the prickly thorns both benefit her. She roams freely fearing nothing.
She’s not clutching a megaphone on the street corner, angrily-shouting. She is not callous. All is well with her soul. To be in her presence is to be seen, known, cherished. Like exhaling completely after a tense day.
She is gentle and kind in a world that is harsh. She is the adjudicator of contests, but enters none herself. She radiates confidence, not because she hasn’t been mishandled, but because her identity is not up for negotiation. Topple her you cannot, because the ground on which she stands is not built on human opinion. She communes with life on her own terms.
She’s going from one degree of glory to the next, and whispers ‘come fly with me.’ Those who join her are in for an incredible ride.
“Even to see her walk across the room is a liberal education” (C.S. Lewis)
Like a cool drink of water that both satisfies and leaves you wanting more.
Woman: wild, beautiful, free. An old soul that’s just getting started.
Dedicated to my amazing mom! The strongest woman I know.
In honor of International Women’s Day & Women’s History Month <3
Today I’m going to share with you a time hack that serves both the Annoyingly On-Time & the Chronically-Late.
I started implementing this strategy two years ago and, at the sake of sounding grandiose, it quite literally changed my life.
Come join me.
A tale of two people. So different, and yet so in need of the same solution.
Person #1: The Annoyingly On-Time.
This person is never late. They follow the old military adage: ‘early is on time and on time is late.’ They would rather slide down a banister of swiss army knives and land in a pool of povidone iodine than disrespect you by making you wait. And that’s what it is in their mind - disrespect. Tardiness communicates ‘my schedule is more important than yours.’ And they would never want to be rude to people they care about.
While the Annoyingly On-Time (AOT) is proud of the level of respect their timeliness exudes, they often have a gnawing sense that they are missing out on opportunities. On a way to a barbeque, AOT stops for coffee at Starbucks and notices a handsome individual across the room. ‘See I would stop to talk to them, but if I do, I’ll be late,’ they think. They get in their car and continue driving to the barbeque. Missed opportunity. While driving they see a new and fairly interesting looking thrift store. ‘See I would stop to take a look, but if I do, I’ll be late,’ they think again. They keep driving. Another missed opportunity. They arrive at the barbeque on time, but with an underlying feeling that they may have missed out on something special along the way.
Person #2: The Chronically Late.
This person cannot make a timely appearance if all the clocks in Scotland Yard were attached to their personage. ‘On-time’ is a relative term defined solely by them, steeped in the context of what arose that day. Why is that? Because each day is unique, as are the opportunities that present themselves. Chronically-Lates(CLs) pride themselves on being fully present and leveraging in-the-moment circumstances to their advantage, whether it be to their pleasure, their monetary increase, their social enhancement, etc.. And if punctuality has to be sacrificed on the altar of advantage, so be it. Why be on-time when you can be so many other things? Successful, relational, open to possibilities? In their mind, missing out on an opportunity just to arrive on time is plain stupid.
While Chronically Lates pride themselves on their flexibility and perception, they often feel guilty for disappointing others, especially when it comes to being on-time. If the Chronically Late was going to the same barbeque as the Annoyingly-On Time, and had the exact same Google Map directions, the CL would arrive an hour later than the AOT. Why? Because the CL would have seized the opportunities along the way. They would have talked to the handsome gentleman in Starbucks; they would have stopped at that thrift store. Hence, they arrive to the barbeque very late, much to the chagrin of whomever they were meeting. They would feel guilty for disappointing someone they cared about, but resolute that doing anything differently would have compromised their character.
AOTs plan just enough time to get to their final destinations with the methodicity of a lawyer looking for loopholes. Not a minute wasted. As a result, they often miss out on spontaneous moments. To those on the other side, they can come across as boring (at best) and inflexible (at worst). They seem to lack the ‘seize the day’ special zest that is so darn attractive!
On the flipside, CLs have a loose plan that is subject to whatever arises that day, even if other people are involved. Opportunities over schedules. As a result, they inconvenience others relying on them as they seize those daily opportunities. To those on the other side, CLs can come across as undisciplined (at best) and disrespectful and selfish (at worst). They seem to lack the thoughtfulness that is oh-so-attractive.
‘Okay MaryBeth, you’re depressing me. How can we fix this?’ you say.
Did I forget to mention there is a third type of person?
Person #3 is a rare unicorn. Someone who can hold structure and spontaneity in perfect harmony. The person who talks to the handsome man in Starbucks, checks out the thrift store, AND gets to the barbecue on time.
How, you ask? Margins.
Person #3 is a Margin-Holder.
Margins are the extra white space around a term paper. They are the spaces we tried to manipulate to make the essay seem longer 😉. Or how about the concept ‘margin of error’ (for you statistics nerds), where we allow for a buffer of random error in the result? Or what about when you’re parallel parking your car and you allow for a margin of space in between you and the car in front and behind, lest they scratch your car when attempting to leave the spot.
Margins are the extra padding in life. Margins act as a cushion between expectations and reality. Margins are the Twilight Zone, where anything is possible and nothing is possible.
The trick to being punctual and spontaneous is implementing time margins.
For any event where you have to be somewhere at a certain time (going to work, picking up the kids, arriving at the wedding, etc), plan a 30 minute margin. If you have to be at work for 8am, plan to be there for 7:30. If you have to arrive at the church for noon, plan on being there for 11:30. Then, when on the way, you encounter an interesting person at the coffee shop or in the parking lot, you have time to chat them up. Time to make a personal connection that could serve you in the future. Opportunity seized.
I can already hear your objections. ‘But MaryBeth, isn’t this just wasting time? What if nothing happens in that 30 minute margin and I arrive 30 minutes early. I hate waiting.’
Yet you have no problem making other people wait for you. Kidding (sort of). 😉
Your hypothetical concern is true. When I started implementing 30 minute margins, there were days when nothing interesting arose on the way to my destination. I would get there with 30 extra minutes to spare. I used that time though, to catch up on phone calls, catch up on emails, retouch my make-up, read a book that I left in the car for this exact purpose, and mentally reiterate my goals for the day. Who says you have to wait? Use the extra time to your advantage to best position yourself for a successful day. In fact, I’ve come to savor the days when nothing happens in the margin time. It’s when I have that extra time in the car to myself that I show up the best version of me.
‘But MaryBeth, isn’t this the same as just telling yourself that the event starts 30 minutes earlier? I’ve tried that tactic before and it’s never worked.’
Of course it’s never worked, because you’re smart and you know you’re lying to yourself. You know the wedding starts at noon, so even if you tell yourself it starts at 11:30, while you’re getting ready, you know deep down that you really have to be there for noon. Margins aren’t telling yourself an event starts when it doesn’t. Margins are acknowledging the true start time while also consciously giving yourself space to be the curious person you are who takes advantage of opportunities along the way. It’s a mental shift of ‘Yes the event starts at noon. Yes I choose to arrive at 11:30 so I can respect others and take care of myself along the way.’ Margins aren’t a mind game to trick yourself, they are a strategy to honor both yourself and others.
‘But MaryBeth, 30 minutes extra seems like a lot of buffer. Can I do 15 minutes instead?’
You sure can. If you are an Annoyingly-On Time, I recommend starting with a 15 minute margin. If you are a Chronically-Late, I recommend a 30 minute margin. Once you’re used to regularly giving yourself that extra margin, you’ll see what time you actually need to both respect others with your timeliness and respect yourself in regards to seizing opportunities.
For the longest time, I felt like a victim of the clock. I couldn’t get done what I wanted to do in the 24 hours I was given. I felt acted upon by daily time constraints. I would go to bed feeling like there was more I could have done in the day, that there were missed opportunities. Since implementing temporal margins, I couldn’t feel more different. I am in control of my day. I utilize time better. I get done what I set out to do, plus I have genuine exciting personal encounters throughout the day that have opened up my world. I meet so many people I wouldn’t have if i didn’t allow the extra time.
Connection isn’t born, it’s made. Margins give you the space to make connections on a daily basis while still honoring your commitments and being a person of your word. Yes, you can be punctual and spontaneous. Yes, you can have your cake and eat it too.
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