top of page
  • Writer's pictureJustin Key

Standing Outside the Fire

It wasn’t my alarm ringing at 5:30am that woke me up; instead, the angry shaking from my wife was what started my day. It took a moment to realize what was emitting the harsh jingle before blindly petting the carpet in search of the source. Once silenced my brain was ready to fall back into dreamland as quickly as that screen turned black. My sleep-tracking app read six hours and change at 70% sleep quality. That was enough reason to roll back over and attempt to pad those stats. With every ounce of my body committed to sleeping, a little voice was awake enough to remind me I’d already pulled this maneuver twice this week.

I'd set an easy goal to start with, wake up early enough to meditate and get a quick run in before work a couple days a week. So far my desire to sleep outweighed my new agenda and procrastination was there to remind me tomorrow would be there to fall back on. The shame of sleeping in hit me on my way to work both Monday and Tuesday. On the third attempt, that shame was there waiting to make sure I rolled out of bed.

The meditation that morning was basically 15 minutes of trying to keep my head up. The following mile and a half run lit my lungs on fire and had me researching respiratory diseases while I ate breakfast. On the way to work, however, there was a sense of pride. I limped through my eight hours on sore legs and laid down in bed that night with an adjusted plan for the next workout that included stretching.

My weekly plan adjusted as my comfort level grew. The first run had shaken off most of the rust because the second jog felt much smoother. When I hit a consistent three days a week I could feel the momentum building. I was still receiving kicks and shoves in addition to my alarm but there was less resistance to getting up. After blindly scrolling through my phone for 15 minutes as a snooze deterrent I would mosey into my routine.

The program expanded to five days a week about a month in. You could say I was slow playing this lifestyle adjustment but waking up before the sun was only appropriate for fishing trips in my opinion. Trying to get those wheels rolling each morning was like trying to ride a skateboard through the sand. The additional two days introduced longer runs to my schedule and added ab workouts to my short run days. My routine soon extended to all seven days with weekend trips to the gym for extended weight sessions.

My routine may have reached seven days but I found plenty of reasons to skip workouts. Busy was the most common excuse with exhausted next in line. The transition to full weeks coincided with the start of the festival season and my priorities chose photography. My goal was a workout every day but in reality, it was more like two or three days a week. It was easier to roll the alarm back rather than quit working early to ensure a good night's sleep. Fortunately, the feel-good mood that followed a workout became an addiction and when the festivals slowed down my routine ramped back up.

Similarly to when I started my photography business, it was all about baby steps. Each day I battled fear, rejection, and doubt as they told me I'd never make it. I’m still amazed at where I am today. Every time I hang a piece in a gallery or at a festival I’m overcome with the heart-dropping reality that this is happening. For so long I told myself I couldn't but here I am watching it blossom before my eyes.

The path has not been easy though. I’ve been down some dark roads this year. Dark enough to contemplate hitting the eject button at times. Then I return to my hellish 9 to 5 job and the future that doesn’t exist there. I could give up and accept the safe option but that route scares me more than throwing myself through this wood chipper and coming up short. When I watch someone make a beeline to one of my pieces, bubbling with excitement, I know I'm hitting on something. That something is evolving, learning and consuming me. Knowing my work can light someone up like a Christmas tree is enough reason to keep playing with the pieces of this puzzle.

I like to joke that artists toe the line between optimism and delusion. You can’t help but be optimistic about every opportunity but when the wheels aren't lifting off it's hard not to wonder if this is my destiny. At what point does optimism switch to delusion? The truth is never. Optimism always creeps back in. There's always another chance, another opportunity for my story to take a turn for the better. The truth is I've already crossed the line between optimism and delusion. I left delusion behind when I stopped saying I can't.

Last week I woke up at 5am every day. I forced myself out of bed and into a meditation session before going for a run. Now, three days a week that run is followed up with a half-hour trip to the gym and a short ab workout. The other two days feature longer runs and longer ab workouts. On weekends I’m back in the gym for a lengthy session of weights. Every night I’m exhausted, begging for bed, but when I finally hit the pillow I’m happy because I earned it.


bottom of page