I am perpetually late. No matter how much I look forward to an event, it seems physically impossible for me to arrive on time. This quality is something I have always tried to overcome, but with limited success. I’ve set aside extra time to get ready, but I somehow find other tasks that need to be done before I leave. I’ve told myself an event begins earlier than the declared start time, but I can’t shake the knowledge that I’m lying to myself. By the time I walk out the door, it seems I’m always texting my friends: “Running five minutes behind – so sorry!”
In high school and college, I gained a reputation among my friends for this behavior. When we coordinated group hangouts, they jokingly told me I had my own start time five minutes before everybody else’s just so I would show up according to schedule. I truly felt guilty about this habit, but I could not seem to escape it.
Then I came to MIT for grad school. Before classes even began, I knew I’d found my home. Predictably, I arrived to the first event of orientation week about two minutes late. I rushed across campus to Kresge auditorium and quietly opened a door in the back, fully prepared to tiptoe to my seat so as not to distract others from the presentation. But to my relief, when I opened the door, I was met with a loud buzz of conversation. Students were still milling about and chatting with one another; the President’s Welcome Remarks had not yet begun. Relieved, I found a seat and introduced myself to the girl next to me. About three minutes later, President Reif took the stage, and the event began.
This same pattern repeated itself at various other orientation events. One day, I spoke to another student in my Master’s degree program who had attended MIT as an undergrad. The topic of tardiness came up, and she introduced me to the glorious concept of MIT Time.
“Oh yeah, everything here runs about five minutes late,” she told me. “Even our classes don’t start until five minutes after the scheduled time. It’s most professors’ policy.”
I gaped at her. “You’re kidding!”
But she was not kidding. When the semester began, I learned that professors do indeed wait five minutes past the hour to begin lessons. Meetings and dinners, too, have belated starts. Even outings with friends often end up delayed. Although the majority of them show up to the restaurant (or shop, or museum) according to schedule, someone always ends up texting the group: “Hey guys, I’ll be a little late!” Of course, this means these events begin right as I arrive. The timing is perfect.
I still believe punctuality is important because it communicates to others that I value their time. I am still trying to kick my habit; however, now I feel less guilty when I inevitably slip up because I have a new text to send to friends: “Running late – I’m on MIT time!”