Previous: The Stories We Tell Ourselves: Thoughts from Amsterdam
Next: How to Stop Being Late Forever (advice for myself and other chronically late people)



View count:317,326
Last sync:2022-12-26 20:15
In which John makes a video about punctuality that is also kind of a video about everything else in 2018.

Subscribe to our newsletter!
And join the community at
Help transcribe videos -
John's twitter -
John's tumblr -
Hank's twitter -
Hank's tumblr -
Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday.

Specifically, it is the 323rd consecutive Tuesday I have made a Vlogbrothers video, except for one Tuesday where I had meningitis, and another Tuesday when I had labyrinthitis (a disease with a very metaphorically resonant name but an extremely low pleasantness factor).

What I'm getting at is that I usually upload these videos on time because I am a punctual person.

Like, I join conference calls exactly one minute before the call is supposed to begin, I arrive at the doctor's office exactly fifteen minutes early in case there's paperwork to fill out, and I must arrive at the airport at least ninety minutes before my flight is scheduled to depart - and when I say must, I mean must, like if I don't, there is a five-alarm fire in my brain.

There's this line in the Great Gatsby where Nick says "everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people I have ever known."

And that's nice Nick, that's a nice sentiment, but do you show up at Gatsby's house at the exact moment the invitation indicated the party would begin?

Because I would. Punctuality is the cardinal virtue I suspect myself of. I might not be calm, I might not be pleasant, I might not be good. But I will be on time.

I also really like it when other people value punctuality, like Rosianna once called punctuality "the most important commandment on the tablets," and I'm not sure she was kidding. She's always two minutes early to conference calls.

To me, being punctual is a way of saying to other people "I value your time enough to show up when we agreed to show up, or even slightly earlier."

And I think that's important because ultimately time is all we have; it is overwhelmingly the most important human resource.

You know how sometimes you identify so closely with an ideal that it becomes part of how you understand yourself? Like, when I think about who I am, I think I am a husband, I am a father, and I am a punctual person.

And once you get to that point - like I don't just believe that punctuality is unambiguously good, I believe it is inseparable from what constitutes good - it's difficult to listen to voices that disagree with you, let alone take them seriously, right? I mean, who could be opposed to punctuality?

E.B. White, as it turns out, who is best known today as the author of Charlotte's Web, but also was a brilliant magazine writer, and I was recently reading a collection of his, in which he wrote: "we teach our child many things I don't believe in, and almost nothing I do believe in. We teach punctuality, particularly if the enforcement of it disturbs the peace. My father taught me, by example, that the greatest defeat in life is to miss a train. Only after many years did I learn that an escaping train carries away with it nothing vital to my health. Railroad trains are such magnificent objects we commonly mistake them for Destiny."

I've always defended my punctuality absolutism by saying "it's about respecting other people and their time." But if I'm yelling at my family to get in the car so we're not eighty-six minutes early for a flight, am I really respecting people and their time, or am I just disturbing the peace?

Now, I've never missed a train (or, for that matter, a flight), but until I read those lines, it had literally never occurred to me that an escaping train carries with it nothing vital to my health, but it doesn't.

Of course, I still value punctuality, but lately I've been thinking that, as with many things, extreme punctuality can become a vice.

Even when what you worship is good and noble, it doesn't always make you better or nobler.

Alright, I have to go pack for our spring break vacation - we fly out in the morning. I'm not going to miss the flight, or anything, but I am going to try to be less early.

Hank, I'll see you on Friday.