Picking up the Pieces at 6 AM


Around 18 months after graduating from college, I realized that my life wasn’t going nearly as well as I had planned.

Working at a purely commission-based artist management firm, success seemed to always be just around the corner, we just never quite attained the traction necessary to reach it.  It was the type of job where just because something was 90% complete didn’t mean that we collected 90% of the payment.  It was all or nothing.  I knew that I had to get my professional life in order because it was taking an enormous toll on my finances.  On one of those rare nights when my problems refused to let me hide from them, I finally was forced to face the reality of my situation and do something about it.

I vowed to wake up at 6 AM every weekday morning until my life was back in order.

Those were the exact words that I scribbled into a yellow notebook that I would go on to fill with notes and insights about where I was going wrong and how to solve my problems.  Looking back on it, the exact wording was very misleading, as it implied that there did exist a point in which my life had been in perfect order.  That was never the case and it still hasn’t materialized.  Since graduating college, I had about two weeks of stability before I started to fall behind on the payment that I was told I would be receiving at work.  I got inventive and resourceful and made financial moves to get me by in the short-term, all the while hoping that we would eventually get that big pay off.  Those maneuvers are still following me around today in the form of credit card debt, but I did survive when really I was in way over my head.

Waking up at 6 AM was as much an act of punishing myself as it was a way to find more hours in the day (and boy was it punishment!), but I did start off using the time wisely.  I sat down and listed my problems in the yellow notebook.  I wrote down big scary questions without answers:

How the hell are you going to survive the next two months?

How will you get beyond scraping by and start to clean up the mess you’ve made since graduation?

Then, I moved on to:

How will I continue to pursue my long-term goals and dreams while fixing my short-term problems?

How will I prevent this company from continuing to pursue myopic endeavors?

How much does this company have to gross in order to fully employ me?  

At what point do I look for a second job?

The most uncomfortable questions are the ones that you can't afford to hide from.

I started laying out my life in the form of a to do list.  Then, I started tackling each item on the list one by one.  In this way, I came up with a plan on how to get my finances back in order, how to stabilize things at work, how to be a better human being.  Things were still a huge mess for me, but at least I was finding a way out and clawing my way towards it.

You'll never figure out what path you are on by staring at your own shuffling feet.

Eventually, I fell into a pattern of using the extra hours to get a head start on work responsibilities.  I started to feel like my life was out of balance as I lost those hours that I had for myself.  Though I strayed from my original purpose, using those extra hours for work fast-tracked a realization that I was hiding from for a long time:  I needed to get out of that job.  It wasn’t my best chance for success, and no matter how hard I tried, I could never make it what I needed it to be, so I started planning my escape.

After resigning from that job, I planned on continuing to wake up at 6 am everyday, but my motivation was taxed by the fact that I was working a part-time job to hold me over until I found what was next.  It’s difficult to wake up at 6 am when you don’t have anywhere to be until 5 PM.  I backslid to 7 AM and 8 AM and have been content with myself for a while.

It’s been over three months since I left my last job and I have been extremely creative and skillful in making excuses for not trying harder to pursue the next thing.  It’s been a very confusing time for me, but I’m beginning to realize that the best way to clear my head is to wake up painfully early and think about stuff until it makes sense.

That’s why my alarm clock is set for 6 AM tomorrow morning.  Hopefully the extra hours will put me on the fast track to figuring out just what the hell I’m supposed to be doing right now!

What drastic measures have you taken to center yourself, make difficult decisions, or craft a game plan and path forward?

17 thoughts on “Picking up the Pieces at 6 AM

  1. underwaterraven

    Good luck with getting up at 6AM! The only time I ever managed to do that was for six weeks on the trot during the summer holidays two years ago when I’d get up and go for a early morning run.
    I hope you manage to sort everything out (or at least a few things). What you did before – making a to-do list – seemed like a really good idea!

    • Thanks! It was very helpful for me back then and I hope that it will be helpful again for me now. It was a handwritten inner dialogue as I tried to make sense of a lot of things. Having it in a physical format has been really awesome because now I can go back and read it and see how far I’ve come!

    • Thank you so much for the kind words. Life can be overwhelming sometimes, but I know that I can see through the fog of war if I just make sure I’m still getting my “me” time, even if I have to wake up super early to do it!

  2. One thing I have found, Brantley, is that anytime I’ve been in a situation in my life that was really making me unhappy, writing my way out of it in a journal always helped. Sometimes things just have a way of working themselves out. The hardest thing is to be patient. But I think you are off to an excellent start, with a college degree and a goal to get up a six every day plus writing in your journal — I predict one of these days you’ll look around and you’ll realize everything you wanted has happened. And I really love your Brantleyisms!!

    • Thanks so much for the encouragement. Writing has always provided a lot of clarity for me, even when it is something as utilitarian as making notes or to do lists. There’s something very therapeutic about putting things into words.

  3. You know — and this is hardly a helpful response, I know — I’ve always found that, like you, waking up at a set, early time helps me to get where I want to be. I’m someone who sets about ten different alarms in the morning and will happily ignore all of them unless I make myself. There’s just something about forcing yourself to do something unpleasant but productive every single day that, well, centers you, like you said.

    And exercising every day helps too, endorphins and all, though if your marathon pic is any indication, you aleady know that…

    • Exercise has been a major turning point in keeping myself motivated. The extra time from waking up early helps too, but its mostly just setting aside quiet time for myself to accomplish nothing more than contemplating different directions for my life.

      Forcing yourself to do unpleasant but productive things doesn’t always feel good in and of itself, but hiding from those things feels horrible, so I guess it’s an easy choice!

  4. Devoting time to yourself on a regular basis can never be a bad thing. A long long time ago I quit a job in which I felt completely trapped. I never went back to that field because it actually didn’t suit me, a fact I had not known when I went to college. You are asking yourself the right questions and listening to the answers, so you are on the path.

    • Thank you so much! Being young, it always helps to hear from people who have been through similar situations and came out just fine. It makes me feel less insane for having some of the hiccups that I do in my life!

  5. anand231

    My husband and I are in the midst of a huge life change and are dealing with crippling anxiety. Your post has inspired me to think differently and maybe a little more organized with the planning. I’m going to get that note boom and try to wake up earlier than usual..

    • Thank you so much for your kind comment. I’m so glad that this post was helpful to you. Sometimes our problems seem insurmountable, but on e we sit down and break them up into little individual pieces, we can chip away at them until they are gone completely.

      I hope everything falls into place for you. I know it will if you just keep working things out a bit at a time.

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