How to be a success? Get up before dawn
I have never understood the impulse that drives people to do things because they have seen someone famous doing them. If anything, you’d think it would be rather mortifying to buy a duplicate of the Duchess of Cambridge’s Seraphine maternity dress, only for everyone to say the first time you put it on: “Gosh, isn’t that the dress Kate wore to visit that pottery factory the other day?”
But it is hard to resist a twinge of unaccountable satisfaction when you discover that some quite ordinary bit of behaviour that you’ve been doing for years has now been adopted by a clutch of celebs. Suddenly, your dull little habit is transfigured into a Power Thing, and you feel briefly illuminated by its reflected glory.
At any rate, that’s how I felt on reading that Tim Cook, CEO of Apple,gets up at 3.45 each morning. The habit of rising super-early – what Army types call Oh-Christ-Hundred-Hours – is one that Cook shares with a formidable cohort including Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of American Vogue, and the former US Secretary of State and Ban Bossy campaign spokeswoman, Condoleezza Rice. These laggards cling to their duvets until 4.30am and 5.30am respectively, but all three are fond of violent physical exercise first thing. Wintour plays tennis at 5.45 before having her famous bob blow-dried at 6.45. Rice springs out of bed and into the gym, while Cook checks his emails on (naturally!) his Apple Watch before hitting the gym at a comparatively laggardly 5am.
Oddly enough, it isn’t a fondness for press-ups and baseline ralleys at the crack of dawn that I share with this august trio. But I’ve always loved the break of day. Since I was little girl, I have felt there is some secret complicity about starting the day at first light (or earlier in winter) that binds together a fraternity of early risers: farmers, street cleaners, stable lads, songbirds, the continuity announcer who reads the Shipping Forecast on Radio 4… and me.
I suppose the reason that I am not now the CEO of a global supercompany, the editor of the world’s most important fashion magazine or an international stateswoman is that I’ve never done anything useful with all the extra time that getting up early provides. I just drift about enjoying the delicious peace before everyone else get up and the daily racket begins.As eccentricities go, you’d think a fondness for a cup of tea while learning how our gallant mariners are surviving on the Dogger Bank is pretty mild. But my larkish habits have caused no end of trouble in my domestic life. My sweetheart is an owl of such resolutely nocturnal tendencies that we almost didn’t survive our first date. We met, had a drink and a chat and seemed to be getting on quite well until he suddenly suggested dinner. Now. That minute.
It was 10pm, an hour at which I’d usually be in my nightie, reading a good book. Some inner kind fairy restrained me from saying as much. I dutifully ate dinner at what, for me, felt like the middle of the night, and for the next few months found myself following a grim regime of trying to stay awake while he told me his life story over a single malt at 2am, only to snap briskly awake as usual just after 5am.
Eventually, dizzy with sleep deprivation, I broke down and confessed it all: the longing for a nice early night, the urgent desire to see the dawn, the terrible nostalgia for the 5.20am Shipping Forecast, the awful boredom of lying in bed listening him sleeping while outside the day was going on without me.
He listened quite sympathetically, but I could see he didn’t really believe I meant it. And it struck me that the undercurrent of our conversation was a polite version of class struggle. My ancestors were humble shepherds from the Isle of Sheppey: early to bed and early to rise is bred in the bone. His were merchant princes in the Far East accustomed, no doubt, to mollocking about in silken sheets until all hours before beginning their daily task of bossing about their underlings. We have inherited our Circadian rhythms from our forbears, along with our prehensile toes (me) and preternaturally youthful looks (him). And there is nothing much we can do about them.
For while I took a certain satisfaction in repeating to him a report published in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences, which purported to show that owls are prone to a “Dark Triad” of personality traits – narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathic tendencies. (Larks, by contrast, are conscientious, upstanding types who make admirable accountants. Apparently.)
But there is something even more satisfactory about the auroral enthusiasms of the great and the good. They flip the whole notion of early-rising peasants and late-carousing poshos on its head. It won’t last, of course. A year from now, fashion will have changed and getting up late will have become the new getting up early. In the meantime, I am relishing my own personal peasants’ revolt.