It’s always 4:30 am.

We’ve all done it.  We’ve all looked at the travel website, considered the long list of flight options, and thought, “Well, if I take the 6:00 am flight, it will be a rough morning, but at least I’ll be on the beach by lunchtime…”

Most of us, noting that the ass-crack-o-dawn flight is not just vacation maximizing, but usually also the cheaper option, do the calculus, bite the bullet, and click to purchase, already tasting the fruity, rum drinks and smelling the coconut oil sunscreen.

And then, some months later, the endorphin rush of vacation planning a distant memory, the alarm goes off at 4:30 am, jarring us from our cozy slumber and reminding us that Past Us had a lot more faith in Current Day Us than it should have.  (Go home Past Us, you’re drunk.)  Good god, that 4:30 am hurts.  But if we are to get to the airport for that 6:00 am flight, 4:30 am it is.  (Well, 3:30 am it probably should be, but we’ve negotiated with ourselves like an addict on a bender, and we wake up already stressed and behind the, ahem, 8-Ball.)

Recently, I’ve been feeling like this every single day.  A few years ago, I set out a loose plan that seemed interesting, exciting even.  Past Me was oh so bold, oh so confident, oh so naïve.  Current Day Me should have shackled her to the heating vent and not let her out of the house.

But the plan, somehow, someway, began to work.  Bestselling author, highly booked speaker, in-demand executive coach: everything I wanted, but at a cost I didn’t foresee and for which I wish I could have prepared better. I ran full force into my own personal Wonderhell, and it’s always 4:30 am in Wonderhell.

When it’s 4:30 am, you only feel the stress.  When it’s 4:30 am, you question your purpose.  When it’s 4:30 am, you second guess what it all means and whether the plan – despite its success — is even the right plan for you.

When it’s 4:30 am, you lie awake in some hotel bed, away from home, staring down a morning when you already know you’ll need a vat of coffee and two vats of makeup to cover up the exhaustion to do the very thing that you’ve worked your ass off to get to do.  And you don’t normally even drink coffee, so you’re already dreading the terrible night of sleep that you’ll get tomorrow, for which you’ll never even more coffee and even more makeup.  Your monkey brain is working overtime redoing that damned calculus, adding up the opportunity, dividing it by the loss of time with family and friends, multiplying it by future potential, and square rooting the fuck out of your resolve.

But, here’s the thing about 4:30 am: 4:30 am precedes 6:00 am, and 6:00 am precedes the mai tai with that pretty little umbrella and the waves lapping up and swirling that sunny sunscreen scent through your nostrils.  4:30 am is just the darkness before the light.  4:30 am is the work.