Turns Out It’s Pretty Good: Waking Up Early

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

Why are we so skeptical of the things right in front of us? “Turns Out It’s Pretty Good” is a series that examines the path from resisting the well-known to wholeheartedly endorsing it.

Almost my entire adult life, waking up early has been reserved for very specific reasons. Exceptional circumstances included the rare times I found myself having a job, travel, or saying yes when my sisters begged me to wake up at the same time as their children while I was visiting them.

If left to my own devices, I can sleep forever. There’s no part of my body that wants to wake up any earlier than 10:30 a.m., and up until quite recently that would be the earliest I’d rise on a good day. This is something I have accepted as fact, mostly because the world at large will have you believe you are either a morning person or a night owl. Waking up early is so out of character for me that during a month where I had a job where the hours were 10-6, the barista at my neighborhood café asked me what was going on. “You never come here before noon,” he said, clearly confused. “Did you get a job?”

Morning people, to me, are fundamentally type A. They do things on time. They are the kind of people who suggest hanging out at their place because their fridges are stocked and there’s no chance of an embarrassing mess in their living rooms. They remember birthdays; they have multiple chargers around their homes! Believing this dichotomy between type A and type B for most of my life has been a great source of distress and sensitivity. They were good, and I was bad, lazy, and irresponsible. All of my problems in life were because I was not type A — I stayed up all night and woke up whenever I felt like it, and that’s why I would never make it on a “30 under 30” list.

Even though I’ve been a freelancer on and off for the last four years, the pandemic has made my unstructured life feel even more unwieldy and depressing. Like most people, I’ve felt sad and unmoored since March. Between various types of heartbreak, losing work, feeling like I was wasting my time not working on any of the bigger long-term personal projects I’d only dream of taking on with “more time” — I had no control over anything.

But this summer, as I got used to what everyone was calling the “new normal,” a good friend of mine soon became a type of anchor. Because of her work, she had never been in town for more than a few weeks at a time, but lockdown meant she wasn’t going anywhere. Along with another  dear friend, we started to form a bond that felt almost teenage in its intensity. We spent hours assuring each other we were beautiful and that we’d never die alone. We cried a lot. We talked and talked and talked, and I started sleeping at my friend’s place frequently.

The first time we shared a bed, she told me, “Listen, I’m going to wake us up early, okay?” I said fine because I had no choice. She’s one of the most together people I know, and I knew what I was getting into and decided to just let it happen.

Taking me completely by surprise, waking up early became pleasant, at first because of her. Every morning at around 8 a.m., I’d wake up to her making me a latte and bringing it to me in bed (sometimes with vitamins), and we’d both scroll through our phones in silence with the news playing on the radio. The first few times, I couldn’t believe how great it was. There was so much day ahead of me! So many hours to be alive. I’d leave her place at noon and it felt like I had already lived an entire day only to have another one sprawling before me.

Soon, I began waking up early even when by myself, and it was like a whole new world had opened up. I found myself completing tasks and eating meals hours before when I’d usually wake up. I started texting everyone I know, proud of my new discovery. “Sorry I’m texting you so early,” I said to one friend at 8 a.m. “It’s just that I wake up early now!” Those closest to me couldn’t believe it and seemed skeptical, like it was just a phase or a new persona I was trying on. Upon telling my father I was writing this piece, he laughed at me incredulously. “I’m glad you’re waking up early because sleeping is what people who have no ambition do,” he told me. I asked him if he thought I was a loser before, and he said, “I didn’t say that, just that it’s loser behavior.” Thanks, Dad.

For the last few months, I’ve been trying to wake up as consistently at or before 8 a.m., and I realized what finally clicked. It’s not about enacting whatever I perceive to be type A behavior, it’s now about having control over one thing in my life after finally understanding how little control I have over basically anything else that happens to me. When I wake up early, I’m less likely to be self-destructive because I have one thing to feel good about. Talking about this with my type A best friend, she agreed and summed it up perfectly: “People don’t wake up early and decide to do something stupid like text an ex.”

Am I a changed woman? Yes. Having lived both a life as a night owl and now as someone who is trying to wake up earlier and earlier, I can say with confidence that this is the better way to live. I have very little in my life to feel truly smug about, and I intend to hold on to this for as long as I can. I still do sleep in, but now it’s a nice little treat rather than a lifestyle. And now that I’ve taken my first step into the world of self-improvement, I have no idea what’s next. Maybe I’ll go to therapy or something! All I know now is that there are definitely enough hours in the day to think about it.

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Turns Out It’s Pretty Good: Waking Up Early