Right after I finished Laura Vanderkam’s What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast I think I
went on a tear. Is that a thing you say? Went on a tear? I got in a mood. A bad mood. Why? A
combination of things. My
professional life is stalled. (Here I resisted enclosing professional in quotation marks to indicate irony.) School
starting. Owning a teenager. (“You don’t own
me,” “Yes I do, until you are Of Age.”*) That sort of thing.
Into that blah mental field fell Laura Vanderkam’s book,
about which I have two brief overarching comments.
- The short answer to the
question, “What do the most
successful people do before breakfast?” is –a heck of a lot more than I.
- This book should be on your avoid list if you are afraid of contemplating your
mortality. Because if there’s one thing this book made me aware of in an
uncomfortable way, it is the finite number of minutes we have. Period.
Which is why I went on a tear. A bender. An irritability
bender, to be specific. Nothing as fun as an actual bender. Just a bender of
being totally annoyed with my family, especially with the husband, for doing
anything other than making the absolute most of every available moment to do
something productive and meaningful. So, the sight of his neck bent over his
phone – highly irritating. The children enjoying the last days of summer
indoors, drawing on the white board– aggravating. Aggravating is really the
wrong word, as we all learned when we practiced for the SAT, but still, it is
perfect in its misused definition for my feeling. Although, come to think of
it, perhaps my new dictionary now contains this definition of the word
aggravate, since many people use it to mean annoy.
I just checked. Yes, now this usage of the word is accepted.
Anyhoo, reading in Vanderkam’s book, for example, that a
week has 168 hours, that a weekend (from 6 pm Friday to 6 am Monday) has 60,
and that “You have fewer than one thousand Saturdays with each child in your
care before he or she is grown up,” grabbed my attention. That doesn’t sound
like a lot of hours, especially to person like me who needs her free time. And
there’s this passage:
If you’ve got young kids, it
doesn’t take long to realize that there won’t be many Christmas seasons when
the little ones will race downstairs in the morning to see what Santa brought.
They won’t always be eaeger to bake with you…Eventually they won’t care if you
don’t put up a giant tree or go caroling or make hot chocolate. They’ll allow
you to beg off making a snowman because you’re tired. But there are only a few
winters – and only a few days each winter – that your children will ask to make
snowmen with you. Someday, perhaps, you will be staring at the snow from the
too-simple room of a hospital or nursing home, dreaming of the days when making
snowmen with your children was an option.
Kill me now. I mean, how many times have I opted out of a
kid activity for a little sanity-making mommy time? Instead, I should have been
soldiering on saying, “Screw downtime. The kids will be gone before you know
it, so wait until then. You’ll have nothing but downtime.” Or, as my friend
Phil used to say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” He is doing that now, poor soul,
and I am glad of every minute he stayed awake for me. So you can see why coming
upon the husband hunched over his smartphone playing a game makes me bonkers.
Make it worthwhile, mister, or don’t do it at all!
But I digress, Readers. You want to know what successful
people – the most successful people
- do before breakfast. Well, look, I think you can pretty much guess it.
- They go to bed early and get up early. We’re
talking 5 or 6 a.m. Six am is pushing it. Put it this way, if you awake after
dawn you’ve overslept.
- They do things that require undivided attention
and willpower, but that are still appealing. LV says they use this time for
things that are “important but not urgent.” Exercise. Meditation. Planning for
work. Writing. The willpower thing is key. Willpower is limited. Science has
proved it. Science has also proved that, like any kind of energy, it depletes
through overuse. But you can also strengthen it through practice. Thus, the best
time to do things requiring willpower is in the morning, because your willpower
is fresh then. Later in the day, if you’ve depleted your energy on urgent
tasks, you will find it hard to motivate yourself to take on the important but not urgent ones.
There’s a lot
more in this book. The book is a combination of three e-books and it covers
what the most successful people do before breakfast, on the weekends, and at
work. And while it did drive me to despair – in combination with several other
non-related things – I found it interesting. I might even have picked up a tip
Would you now like to know what I do before breakfast? Just
for comparison? If I haven’t had insomnia? Which reminds me that this book
assumes people just go to sleep at their nice and early Benjamin Franklin
bedtimes, and wake up rested and refreshed, just like the peddler in Caps for Sale. There’s nary a mention of
insomnia. I guess the most successful people don’t have it. Or they take a pill
– although this option is missing from the book.
Anyhoo, I awake to the sound of the husband’s alarm. I pull
myself from sleep by thinking of things I’m grateful for. Sometimes these
thoughts are more coherent than others. Sometimes they blend into dreams. Next,
I do fifteen minutes of yoga, so I won’t crack in half, then stumble downstairs
and drink a large glass of water. Donna Karan does this too, I was delighted to
learn. The water drinking, I mean. She didn’t mention the stumbling. I make
eggs for the 10th grader, and lunches for both kids and the husband.
I feed the dog in the manner prescribed by the $140 dollar per consultation dog
trainer: To wit, I sprinkle his kibble on the lawn so that he can stimulate and
satisfy his prey drive by working for his food. I check my email and the
annoying Facebook while he does this. Then I call him in and dry off his paws.
I drive the 6th grader to school some mornings. Some mornings she
gets a ride from the neighbors. Then I eat breakfast.
Then I nap. Which only proves the obvious point: I am not
one of the most successful people.
But I get the job done.
*These quotation marks do not indicate any actual conversation between my teenager and me.