I had to get up early today. Five am to be exact. This means a couple of things. Number one, it is now 8pm and I was ready for bed two hours ago, but even worse, I am liable to break out in tears at any given moment. It’s best you just don’t look at me at all, lest I misinterpret your look and burst out crying and then you have to give me all kinds of words of affirmation to make me feel better and really who has time for all that?
I have never been a good get-up-early-er. Well, I am sure I woke my mom up round the clock and at sunrise as all babies and toddlers do, and while my mom got me up for school every day I probably did ok then because it was more up to my mom to make sure I made it to the bus stop on time than up to me.
But me and getting up early had a falling out way back in high school, and since then it’s been a struggle. Where I went to high school, we had opportunities for Saturday detention. (And they were nothing like Breakfast Club) I had Saturday detention every Saturday during my high school days, and I came to count on it as valuable getting-homework-done time. You see, on Saturday detention was for three hours, and it counted for six. For someone like me, this was a no brainer. I could be late to high school every single day, get an hour of detention per day, and get it all wrapped up on Saturday while getting my homework done uninterrupted. The other cool thing about Saturday detention was that even though you were supposed to go for three hours, they always, always let us out after two, so I really got six hours detention credit for attending two hours- yet I missed five hours of school. That math worked out in my favor and so, much to the assistant principal’s annoyance, I didn’t even try to get there on time anymore.
At my first job they were not as accommodating. I was an opener at Rax Restaurants, which meant I had to be there at nine. These days, I do not consider starting work at nine early, but back then I had just moved out into my own little efficiency apartment and I had a real knack for sleeping through my alarm, which was always set to full blast volume. I lived on the fourth floor of my building, and a friend on the second floor told me she heard my alarm going off for an hour one day. After that she started calling me every day to make sure I was up, which worked for the most part, except for when I slept through the phone. My boss and I had several serious conversations about my tardiness.
“BUT,” I would argue, “I always get all my work done before we open, no matter what time I get here.” This was not sufficient for Lyle, my poor boss who had to deal with this ridiculous 18 year old who clearly did not understand how rules work.
It turned out that later, in my five year career with Rax Restaurants, I was needed to move into a position that started at six am on Sundays, prepping for Sunday Brunch which was a large buffet ordeal that required lots of baking of biscuits and cooking of eggs and pancakes and sausage gravy. I was so good at that Sunday brunch thing, people I knew actually started asking me to help host large events like weddings.
But I was still late every Sunday.
“Listen, Lyle,” I said, after one such morning, “I am not getting here at six am. You and I both know that is not happening. I will, however, agree that I will attempt to leave my house by six am, and be here around 6:30. And I will get all my work done in less time than anyone else. Look at it as an advantage, you get to pay me a half hour less for the same amount of work.”
Lyle, having spent the last four years trying to get me to work at nine, thought about my proposal, and my ability to get my work done in record speed, and he never once after that questioned what time I arrived. One small victory for Nichole-kind.
Eventually, though, I had to get a real job. The kind where you only get three late mistakes and then they have to fire you, and that came along when I was nineteen. I wasn’t perfect, but for a few years there I managed to not get fired. At 23 I had my daughter and things got even harder, now I had to get two of us out the door on time in the morning and my daughter, who I call Bunny, was not a big fan of waking up early either. We both showed up crabby and tired at daycare drop off, and my hour plus drive to work in bad traffic didn’t make me any less cranky.
Nevertheless, I persisted. You can’t just not earn a living, and so I learned to survive on three hours of sleep sometimes and to make it to work even with a migraine, because, you know, it was time for me to be a grown up and succumb to grown up rules.
When I finally became an exempt employee, at age 26, I thought my days of worrying were over. My schedule became more flexible, and the judgement of my work was actually based on my work instead of on what time I arrived each day. I still had a set “shift” but was expected to work until the job was done, a common expectation of a salaried employee.
Then I got a new boss. This boss did not understand what exempt means, and she took her all her little notes about the days I was “late” down to HR to see what she could do about it.
“Is she getting her work done?” the HR person asked. (She, being someone I worked with often because I had a lot of direct reports, told me about the conversation afterwards)
“Well, yes,” my boss replied.
“Is being late impacting her performance? Has her performance declined?”
“Well, no,” my boss replied.
At which point HR told my former boss that unless my lateness was impacting my ability to get my work done, I was an exempt employee and not subject to the standard attendance policy.
I did not take the news of this attempted sabotage by my boss very well and after that I did a bunch of things I am not as proud of as I am of the work I actually did. I took on special projects, sometimes traveling or working long hours, and I came through in a clutch. You may not have been able to count on me to get there at seven am, but you could bet I would work until midnight to meet a deadline.
Eventually, that boss left and I changed my hours to 9-5:30- knowing I might get there anytime between 7-10, but publishing a later shift for anyone who might want to be ridiculous about it. The later hours gave me the opportunity to take my daughter to school every morning, and that was more important to me. (Also gave me a reason to stick to a schedule!)
My next boss did not care when I came in and when I left or if I worked until two am. I was working on high profile programs and proposals, and they had deadlines that were not flexible. She cared that I got my work done and made our team and department look awesome. By then, my reputation was solid enough that ever since I have never once had a boss ask me about my work hours or accuse me of being late. I have managed to bend the world to my will!!
These days I mostly work from home which eliminates, for the most part, the need to stress myself out over getting somewhere on time. This is the ultimate for someone like me. This means I can be in my bed at 6:55 and then walk upstairs and push a button on my coffee maker and on my computer and be online for work at 7 am. I feel lucky every day for this arrangement.
But sometimes I do have to go to the office for important presentations or telepresence meetings, like today, and then I have to get up (And not only get up but also SHOWER and get ready and is there gas in the car and when is the last time I plucked my eyebrows?) early. By now though, everyone at the office knows that I might cry at any time on office days, my emotions being linked directly to my lack of sleep like a toddler, and they don’t bat an eye when I leave at the earliest convenience to head back home.
I hear that as you get older, you start to wake up earlier and earlier and eventually you can’t sleep in even if you want to. Won’t my future bosses just be thrilled?
For now, though, it’s off to bed for me, before I become a total catastrophe. And tomorrow, thankfully, is a work from home day.