Every day Paul Ollinger wakes up at 5 a.m., turns on his laptop, and gets straight to work.
It’s not because he’s got colleagues in other time zones, and it’s not because he answers to a workaholic boss who expects him to be on call all the time.
In fact, Ollinger doesn’t have colleagues or a boss per se. He’s a stand-up comedian, and he rises at 5 to start working because he’s just too excited to stay asleep any longer.
Ollinger, 47, was one of the first 250 employees at Facebook, working in sales; he left the company in 2011.
About two years ago he became a full-time comedian, fulfilling a dream that he’d had for most of his adult life. In April 2016, he published his first book, a comedic guide to applying to business school titled “You Should Totally Get an MBA.” (Ollinger graduated from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in 1997.)
The fact that he wakes up so eager to start writing material for shows is, for him, a meaningful sign that he’s doing exactly the kind of work he’s supposed to be doing. He calls it the “laptop test.”
“What’s your orientation toward your laptop when you wake up in the morning?,” he told Business Insider. “Are you dying to open it – do you see it as opportunity? Or do you see it as Pandora’s box?”
It’s an important moment in the day, according to Ollinger.
“If you wake up and you look at that laptop and you’re excited about it – if you look at it and see it as opportunity and you can’t way to open it – that’s a really good sign,” he said.
On the other hand, “If you look at it and you dread opening it to see what exploded overnight, then that makes life a little bit more challenging,” he said.
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Ollinger said he’s felt that dread at certain points during his professional career – he’s also worked at Yahoo! and a social ad technology company called Shift – which makes his current experience all the more rewarding.
At the same time, like almost any job, his work as a comedian comes with significant challenges. Sometimes, Ollinger said, he doesn’t start performing until 10 p.m.
“I’ve had a pretty long day by the time I walk out on stage,” he said.
But to him, those long days are more thrilling than they are stressful.
And anyone can apply the “laptop test” in their own life, according to Ollinger.
Of course, a major career shift like Ollinger made might not be possible right away. But the “laptop test” is a relatively easy way to figure out whether this is the kind of work you really want to do for the rest of your life.