Successful people are morning people. If that’s not just their propaganda, I’m doomed to be either the proof you can be successful as a night owl or unsuccessful. I’m beyond doubt a night owl.
A couple of months ago, during a weekend away in the countryside, I had the brilliant idea to wake up at 4 AM to see the sunrise, and then join the morning office of a Benedictine priory. Far from being a devoted Christian thing on my part (unlike the rest of the group that turned up), that’s as close as you get to being in the Middle Ages according to Ken Follett and I was excited to experience it.
I started writing this post on paper that morning when left with nothing to do before my day but pray and reflect on life, and this reinforced my idea that it’s useless to get up early in the day since you don’t really get anything done that you can’t get done in the night as well (since, technically, 4am is 4am whether you wake up at that time or you’re still awake). The sunrise on the countryside is certainly beautiful, but the world is still not going to be functioning until later in the day. Unless you catch up on work being done during the night somewhere else in the world like when you work at Buffer (which, unfortunately, I don’t), or you do something relevant for what you are going to do later in the day I see very little reason to get up early when your focus grows in the night. So if you are a morning person fine, do that but if you aren’t, that’s a whole other story.
Writing this could be considered doing what successful people do, but the propaganda behind the successful people are morning people mantra implies a degree of action that hardly is an equivalent of my late-night contemplations. Or early morning contemplations. Or up to midday contemplations. My mind is far from being functioning in the “let’s conquer the world” way until it’s fashionably late. I was born at 3.45AM in January and I think it wasn’t an early riser thing, it was an “I can’t miss out on the night” thing. Tales of daytime being a huge nap-time and my insomnia begin from day one, and you see a perfect example of unconditional love in the fact my mother never killed me for being wide awake when she had to sleep. The fact also that I look perfectly like Novalis should raise suspicions itself.
The reason why they say morning people are successful people implies a specific definition of success. I’m sure of that because it’s shouted all around that night owls are cleverer than early risers, so how can people who are smarter be less successful? The dictionary definition of success lists 3 meanings: social status, achieving a goal, and the opposite of failure.
Let’s start with the first, which is the meaning behind our mantra. If you didn’t notice, the flood of articles shouting the mantra from the rooftop come from places like Forbes and Business Insiders (and anything dedicated to entrepreneurs, really). It’s all about success in business. If you are in the Christian blogosphere you may find stuff about how to have a successful marriage but besides that, if your aspiration is to share newspapers midmorning over brunch with a husband of the like of Dr Tim Stanley (who has admitted to the same aversion for the before 10am time slots I have) after spending most night working on your next research looking like Philosophy in the Paradox of Acting, no one cares. As my dear friend and professional life coach Jack Ori says, “success has to do with achieving goals that are important to you, not everyone else”. If the world of business is not your thing, or you don’t have to get up early to get your quiet time in before the children wreck your day, you are under no obligation to see early rising as necessary for success (and, actually, I would argue it can be the case in business too, because not all ideas of success in business are the same…for some, the freedom of not having to stick to someone else’s schedule for your day is more important).
Leaving social status behind we find our 2nd definition, achieving goals. The past few years have seen a rise in messages about how we can achieve whatever we want, but we were also hit by continuous messages telling us what it is that we want. This has seen a rise in the number of failures too (as not everyone is good at the same things so why should we all have the same goals?), and reduced the smallest things to less than a success, while if I were ever able to cook soft-boiled eggs properly I would feel like the Queen of England. There is also a third definition worth mentioning, and it’s that success is the opposite of failure. I have to agree with Jack Matson (Professor, innovation junkie, and a “frequent failer”) that failure is part of success instead. He theorised Intelligent Fast Failure as an integral part of the creative process. Then there are all those beautiful images with quotes about dreaming big enough and all. And few people dream as big as someone who is wide awake at night, when the world is still and there is less pressure to just get down to doing instead of simply being.
But I want to go back to our first definition of success.