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Stop Sleep-Shaming Us, Tim Cook

Stephen Lam / Getty Images

On Monday morning, hours before his company’s biggest event of the year, Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted the following: 

This may seem innocent enough: that Cook is merely conveying his excitement over the launch of the Apple Watch. But really he’s sleep-shaming you. 

This is a pernicious, distinctly American scourge, and it’s hardly new. The country’s rich, successful businessmen—they’re almost always men—have long bragged to the masses about how many hours they work and how few hours they sleep. It’s not uncommon among political elites, either: Just last week, at a Playbook Cocktails event, former top Obama aide Dan Pfeiffer said he used to wake up every weekday at 4:20 a.m. "Now I wake up at that hour a couple days a week, other days I sleep a little bit later... like 5-something.”

But now that sleep-shaming has infiltrated Silicon Valley like a measles epidemic, and is being enabled by Twitter and a fawning press, there’s no telling how far it will spread. 

Cook’s morning routine, in particular, is well documented. As Gawker’s Ryan Tate reported in 2011, “The COO prides himself on being the first into the office and the last one out.” Nonetheless, Cook’s Twitter followers obliged him this morning with predictable awe.

Never mind that when an executive on the West Coast tweets about waking up at 4:30, those of us on the East Coast are reading his tweet at work. Instead, note that word: “boss.” The implication is that to become a literal or figurative boss in America—to be truly successful—requires long days and little sleep. As Pfeiffer said last week, "Get to work before your boss and leave work after your boss, [and] you're going to have a real shot at making it far."

This timeworn capitalist mantra obscures some essential truths about professional advancement in America. Yes, hard work is often rewarded, but not always, and it depends greatly on factors such as race, gender, and education. For many, there's a low ceiling of reward—a 75-cent raise, a better shift. Working 12-hour days doesn’t really get you anywhere, professionally speaking, if those hours are spent washing dishes and sweeping floors. And that kind of hard work, the truly taxing kind, doesn’t garner 6,000 retweets.