One of the habits I got into since my late 20s is to begin a day early. It might be rather called an obsession over the earliest opening time of a coffee shop or so. Here at Chapel Hill (2014-), I wake up at 5am and take the first seat at Starbucks at 5:30am to start a day, unless I otherwise choose to work from home, my office, or the library. Back in Singapore (2011-2014), I used to wake up at 5am, read on my way to work, lift weights starting 6am at a fitness club one floor below, and work on personal projects at Coffee Bean near my office from 7:30am to 9am. Apparently, doing so hasn’t always led to efficiency or productivity of a desired level, yet has been of much help especially when I was off the rail without curriculum or timelines to play on.
In my early 20s, I was a night owl. The difference between a day-opener and a day-closer even between the same hard-working persons was clear to me, and I was eager to become the former, who lives on a self-constructed timeline and thus maintains evenly high productivity throughout a day, rather than the latter, who follows a given timelines and hence produces most near the end of a day or deadlines. To become the day-opener was just not as easy as I initially imagined. Whenever I tried to do so, I immediately experienced productivity loss and had to return to a life cycle of the latter as deadlines to meet approached. The result was that I continued to be a hard worker but of a latter type, being awake until around 5am most days, when I was at State College (2007-2008), Stony Brook (2007), and Suwon (2005-2006).
It was only when I got fully off the rail going neither school nor work that I was able to turn to the former, the early bird. In 2011 I failed to enter into academia and was seeking for an industry position to take on for a couple of years before reapplying to PhD programs. On top of the uncertainty coming out of my homeless status for several years, I had to deal with additional dimensions of uncertainty. Only by putting more and more structure on my days – including the early-bird habit – was I able to overcome growing anxiety during the period. As a result, my days turned tightly planned, organized, and regular more than ever before.
My reply to my mother’s then saying may well describe circumstances having faced me and my general attitudes against them. She once said that I should visit her place more often – while I was jobless as well as homeless – and listed other expectations she had on me; I seemed, not only to my mother, out of touch with society and was supposed to have no urgent things to do. There were clearly more than what was literally meant in her words. She worried about me possibly being in distress and wanted me to take a rest in her arms. I yet responded that I was managing to have my days more regular than anybody else, beginning my days earlier and ending later than the employed, and asked back how an unemployed one could ever be employed living days less organized and making lesser efforts than the employed.
Thanks to repeated exposures to high uncertainty including the one described above, I was able to turn to the former as I had long hoped, be hired to work from Singapore, and be admitted to a dreamed doctoral program in finance.