In my teens and early twenties I was always the first to arrive, and had to consciously make an effort to not be early. I hated being late. Hated it. But when I moved to a bigger city, started a more demanding "grown-up" job, and generally developed a more complicated—sometimes unpredictable—life, my ways changed. While the only people who beat me to office meetings these days are interns, I'm not quite the stickler I used to be regarding promptness. It's just too hard to be all over it, all of the time.
Nowadays, if I'm going to be late, my strategy is to text early and text often. (Safely, of course!) I let friends know what's happening—"Traffic—ugh! So sorry!!"—and how long I'll be. And I'm accurate. If it's going to take me 20 minutes to get there, I don't say ten, I say 20. And I think a "Just parked!" text is always a nice gesture, too, when you're late to arrive.
When I'm on the other side of things and my normally punctual friend is running behind, I can now gracefully say, "No problem—drive safe!," and make sure there are chips and salsa waiting at the table when she gets there. Because if she's anything like me, she (still) hates being late.
When is it okay to be late?
September 5th is "Be Late for Something Day," and that's a good enough reason to let yourself off the hook. But on any other day of the year, remember to be gracious with others and forgive yourself when the day gets away from you. Sometimes, it's OK to be late.
Something goes awry at work
An end-of-the-day meeting goes over, your new boss does a "drive-by" to see how things are going just as you're about to grab your coat, or you realize you completely spaced a task that's due EOD. There are certain situations where you simply can't leave when you intended to. So get the job done, then get the heck outta there.
Yes, you generally have an idea of how busy the roads are going to be at any given time of the day, and you should plan for that to avoid being late, but you can't plan for randomness. To me, traffic is one of the great mysteries of the world. Things can be blocked up for miles for seemingly no good reason, which is frustrating because if there's one thing I hate more than being late, it's an unsolved mystery.
I don't know what it's like to have kids, but I have enough friends who are parents to know that working out unexpected stuff with them often takes more time than there is. For example, my best friend informed me upon one such late arrival that she had just finished shoving every last one of her daughter's dresses into a garbage bag. Details were limited, yet I understood. Similar to work stuff, there's just some kid stuff that you can't cut out on when you're in the thick of it.
[Insert dumb reason here], and you almost never do that
If you are usually an on-time person, I say you have a couple free passes a year for just straight-up being late because you are. Did you go through a few too many wardrobe changes? Push your luck with the snooze button? Didn't start getting ready when you knew you should have? I find these situations very easy to forgive in friends that are normally very reliable. We all have our moments.
Do you let yourself off the hook for being late once in awhile?