The Price of Things

How much would you pay to never have to wake up to an alarm?

Think about it for a second, then actually try to put a number on it. How much would it be worth to you? How much money, which you could spend on absolutely anything else in the world, would you be willing to give up to sleep till whenever you like each day?

For some, it’ll be an immense amount. The chirp or clang of that alarm each morning is one of the key quality-of-life issues they cope with, and the idea that they could go without it — could sleep in till 7:30 or 8 or 9 or 11 — is an element in a particularly bizarre dream they can’t quite believe or fully immerse themselves in.

For others, it’s no big deal. Maybe it’s an occasional annoyance, but otherwise not something that bugs them too much. Maybe they’re up before the alarm most days and turn in early each night, anyway. Maybe they luxuriate in the quiet mornings or the sounds of a city coming alive.

When I first moved out to LA after school, I hadn’t thought about things like this; hadn’t considered much beyond the paycheck, the prestige. The ability to gain some real-world experience outside of the Midwest town I’d come to see as a bit of a small pond, professionally.

And so I woke up each morning at 5, delirious with the accumulated lost hours of sleep from the previous week, groggy-eyed and barely functioning, preparing myself to perk up and make things. There have been times in my life in which I was a morning person, but that year, working for that studio, I was not.

Not being asleep, I learned, does not make a person awake.

I decided to strike off on my own after a year of that, at least in part because I wanted control of my day.

Like many people, I never truly had a say in how I spent my time. The consequence of going to school, then work, and all that surrounds these frameworks, is that you’re shuffled from one activity to the next from an early age, accepting this pre-planned agenda as scientific fact, not subjective opinion. Like thermodynamic laws, that a person wakes up early, goes to a place, does things, and then returns home to prepare to do it all again, is the circadian rhythm adhered to throughout the world. As far as I knew, at least.

Entrepreneurship, to me, was a way out of that system.

This was a bit before the big wave of entrepreneurship; back when an entrepreneur was something you could tell people you were, and people would generally understand what you meant, but would not think it was a good idea. It was socially acceptable, but not cool.

Like any big lifestyle change, tearing myself away from the implied security of a steady paycheck was difficult and disorienting. I didn’t know if I’d be able to sustain it; I had only enough in the bank for about a month’s rent, sans other expenses. But I made it work.

Part of making it work was reassessing. Prioritizing.

I suddenly had the ability to shift my schedule around however I liked, yes. But I also had a less-reliable flow of income. I had different expenses. I had a million more things to do, and accomplishing them was on me; failure would be a mark on my name, personally.

I slept in a few times during that period, but seldom. More often, I woke up at 4 or 4:30, intending to get a jump on the day. To get some work done before my clients were awake, so I could churn through the ever-increasing pile of responsibilities unmolested, never having to pick up the phone and engage with someone who had changed their mind about the color of a logo last-second, or the direction of a website after two months of development.

The dream of no alarms remained just a dream until I left LA.

We don’t tend to view sleep as something that’s negotiable. We don’t tend to see it as something we buy and sell, though we do.

You can’t go into the store and purchase sleep, of course. Having a sleeping pill is not the same thing as having the time in which to sleep.

What many of us truly want when we slap a high price on being able to sleep, sans alarm, till whenever we get up each morning, is the time required to do so. The elbowing back of activities and responsibilities that might pull us from our beds prematurely.

This isn’t something you can purchase once you’ve earned the money, but it’s something you can invest your time in, beforehand. Before you’ve exchange that time, those precious hours, for that paycheck.

It’s silly, we’re trained to think, to desire a life in which you can sleep till you’re awake, work on only the things you’re really passionate about, eat only meals you yourself have prepared, have all the time in the world to work out more and meditate each afternoon and do some yoga in the park before grabbing an espresso at that little place on the corner, going at the exact right time; when it’s filled with smiling people, but you can still reliably find a table of your own, where you can sit and read and sip and be happy.

How much would you pay to never wake up to an alarm?

Or to enjoy that other lifestyle goal of yours, whatever it is, whenever you like?

Your answer, quite likely, will have to be in hours, not dollars. Will be as much about opportunities set aside or intentionally skipped as opportunities gained.

This essay was originally published in my newsletter.