On the evening of March 31, I took the long way home — as I do — and decided that it was time to make a drastic, life-changing decision.
What lead me to this point?
Not having my thesis done was paralyzing me. I felt guilty about not having it done, and I also felt unable to concentrate on anything else, like job hunts, apartment searches, important work, etc.
I could not move forward until my thesis was finished.
A thesis is like an anchor, weighing you down and serving as your one final — but incredibly strong — tie to academia. It’s the last remaining bond between student life and the real world.
In some ways, it’s comforting. You’re still a student. The full pressures of adulthood do not yet apply to you. But, it’s debilitating for the same reasons. You’re still a student. All you have to show for it is a couple of degrees, a lack of direction, and no career.
My inability to finish my thesis had been due to a lack of discipline. I work in the evenings, and I’m a night owl. I love to stay up late and sleep in.
When it comes to getting out of bed in the morning, a thesis is perhaps the least effective motivator of all time.
I’d stay up until the wee hours of the morning and sleep until lunchtime, only to spend another hour in bed catching up on the day’s news on my iPhone. If I was lucky I’d find the strength to exercise in some fashion before having lunch and going to work in the afternoon.
Sounds luxurious, but it sucked.
I was in a rut, paralyzed by a routine of ignorance and complacency, ignoring who I wanted to be and just waiting for things to get better. I would fantasize about how awesome my life was going to be, and then I’d wait for it to happen.
Several stars aligned that last weekend in March, which helped me to reverse my downward spiral.
The first was that my yoga studio was about to start a 30-day challenge for the month of April. Hot yoga, Monday–Friday, 7–8 AM; your choice of weekend classes.
I had no intention of doing the challenge. I wanted to, but I told myself I couldn’t do it.
I work too late. I don’t know how to go to bed early. I’m literally miserable in the morning. I’m a stubbornly proud night owl. Let the cheery morning people do it.
However, that weekend I had to work my monthly Saturday shift, which consisted of teaching eight three- and four-year old boys how to do karate at 8:30 in the morning. So, I was up early. Not by choice, but I was up early.
On Sunday, I decided to go to yoga at 9 AM because my schedule had changed, and I was no longer able to attend my Thursday night class. I like to practice yoga at least twice a week, so I went to bed at a decent hour Saturday night, and made it to yoga the next morning. Up early again, this time by choice.
I’d risen early two days in a row, which is a rare thing.
Which brings us back to my Sunday night drive.
As I cruised along my familiar route, I listened to no music, no podcasts. I thought long and hard about the challenge, my thesis, and my life. And then I realized…
This is the only way you’re going to get your thesis done.
This is the only way to free yourself.
This is the only way to move forward.
That was nine days ago.
Since that night, I’ve woken up at 6:25 AM. Every morning.
I’ve done yoga from 7–8 AM. Every morning.
I’ve come home, enjoyed a cold shower, gotten dressed, made tea, and read. Every morning.
I’ve been at the library when it opens, worked on my thesis, and written for three hours. Every morning.
This routine has turned my life upside for the better.
When I say it was a life-changing week, I don’t mean to be hyperbolic. My productivity, mood, and sense of self-worth have increased ten-fold. I’ve been a proud night owl for as long as I can remember, and here I am getting up with the sun every day. I never thought it could happen, and I never thought it would matter.
It did, and it does.
I love it.
Freedom Found at Dawn
When my alarm goes off in the morning, it’s cool, calm, and quiet. There’s a sense of solitude, which is what I crave and thrive on.
When I practice yoga at 7 AM, I take care of my body. I get my exercise out of the way, first thing, and I feel energized for the rest of the day. If I want to do more exercise later, great. If not, it’s no big deal.
I get home, and it’s still only 8 AM. The whole day still lies ahead, and I feel like I’ve already gotten so much done. The library doesn’t open until 10 AM, so I take my time. I relax. I enjoy the shower. I shave mindfully instead of in a rush. I have time to make green tea. I sit by the window with my iPad, reading my favorite sites or equally amazing things in Instapaper.
I drive to the library at 10 AM. It’s about a ten-minute drive; just enough to enjoy some music or listen to one of my favorite podcasts. It’s beautiful outside. Springtime. The sun is shining, the sky is blue and infinite, and the clouds are fluffy. The roads are mostly quiet, as the morning rush has ended. It’s been an amazing day, and it’s only 10 AM.
I take my usual cubicle in the library, in the corner by the window. I’m surrounded by books and people in pursuit of knowledge. I power up my Mac and work on my thesis, fifty minutes at a time. I take breaks, stand up, and stretch. It feels good to put my head down and power through the work. I keep adding words and pages. I feel like I’m making it better, and I feel like I’m getting better in the process.
I feel like I’m working toward where I want to be.
Around 1 PM, I stop working on my thesis — even if I want to keep going. I make a note of where to start tomorrow. I preserve the momentum. Then, I write something for this website, which I love to do. I take an idea I’ve been formulating, and allow it to become manifest. It’s a reward for typing about Middle English lyrics for the last three hours. The words seem to come easier, writing about things I love. I finish the draft. It’ll be reread and revised later on before being queued for publication. I feel accomplished.
And it’s only 2 PM.
I go home for lunch, feeling exceptional. Guilt-free. Productive. Healthy. Confident. I can eat mindfully, without rushing. After, I leave for work on time, or work out, or relax, depending on the day. So much has already gotten done; everything else that happens today is just gravy.
Life feels remarkable.
The biggest challenge is going to bed early, because I do work until 9 PM some nights. But, I manage to be in bed around 10 PM. I either read, or treat myself to some Netflix on my iPhone. And I’m excited to get up and do it all over again tomorrow.
The first night, I couldn’t fall asleep until 1 AM because I was still so energized from the day, starting with yoga that morning. I thought I would be exhausted all the time, but I’m not. It’s bizarre to say, but sleep feels like such a small part of my day. I used to stay up until three, four, five in the morning, messing around on the computer, playing on my iPad in bed. I can’t work on my thesis at home because it’s too comfortable. Too many distractions. Even writing for QLE was a challenge, especially if starting something from scratch. Then I’d sleep until I woke up, and lie in bed until I had to get up. And somehow, I’d still be tired.
Now, I just sleep to rest. To recharge for the next day. Sleep is a way of fast-forwarding to tomorrow and all the joys it’s sure to hold.
I can’t stress enough how important this change has been for me. I know it’s only been a short time since I’ve made the transition, and I’m still mindful of it every day. I don’t want to lose this routine or take it for granted. It will take many more of these days before it becomes habit.
I never thought I’d say it, but becoming an early riser is the best change I’ve made for myself this year. While I love being a night owl, it wasn’t working for me. It wasn’t helping me grow or move forward. But now, it’s the exact opposite. Everything’s changed. I was stuck, and now I’m moving forward.
I was paralyzed, and now I’m free.