Beyond Showing Up

Looking out at Moraine Lake at Banff National Park.

A few months ago, I attended an awesome marketing conference in Boston. Speakers from Michelle Obama to Billie Jean King and Issa Rae graced the main stage, and at the end of 4 days of walking back and forth throughout the conference center, I was about ready to collapse. My phone was really proud of me for getting so many steps in (thanks for the support, Samsung Health!)

What struck me afterward, reflecting back on the experience, was that several speakers echoed an idea I’ve been hearing a lot recently: that we have to “show up” in order to be successful.

“Show up,” my Instagram feed orders me regularly.The first step is showing up! a pretty font on an aesthetically-pleasing background reminds me. Decisions are made by those who show up. (Do a quick Google search, you’ll see what I mean.)

The wonderful Brené Brown, also a speaker at this conference, wrote that “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

I don’t like Woody Allen, but no doubt he’s been successful, and he’s credited with the quote that “80 percent of success is showing up.”

Lately, I’ve been thinking about that other 20 percent.

You showed up. Great job. What do you do now?

Patting myself on the back

As an introvert, a lot of my personal wins come from just showing up. I’m here! I left the house! In real clothes much less comfortable than my pajama pants! Gold star to me.

To be fair, just showing up can take a lot of mental energy.

This David Brooks article in the New York Times on “The Golden Age of Bailing” splashed all across my social feeds this past summer. It rings true, in my experience – memes describing the immense relief felt when your friend cancels plans and you can crawl back into your dark pit of Netflix and wine; real life experiences where friends may or may not respond to your group chat, leaving you to flounder in the sea of self-doubt amidst the people you’re closest to.

And, of course: “Sorry I’m late,” a t-shirt proclaims. “I didn’t want to come.” (#Relatable.)

Image result for sorry im late gif

So, showing up doesn’t just mean physically dragging your worthless hungover lifeform to your best friend’s sister’s bridal shower because you said you’d be there. (Though props to you. Baby steps.) We have to set sliiightly higher standards for ourselves.

Actually showing up

Brené Brown and other inspirational people mean this phrase in the sense of willing to be vulnerable, in that you must bring your full self, your wholehearted passion, to whatever you want to accomplish in life regardless of what other people will think or say.

I love this sentiment, but hearing this phrase time and again left me feeling stuck.

Let’s say I’ve made the decision to go after what I want, and apparently step one is opening yourself up to discomfort, to making yourself vulnerable, by “showing up.” Well, that’s great. Now what?

Step two, in my experience, is action.

Any sort of action, really. Just move forward.

Want to start a company to forge connections between people in a meaningfully way? Show up. Oh, and also, maybe start sending some emails to your own connections.

Want to write that novel you’ve been talking about writing for forever? You have to show up first. Oh, and also, sit down and write. (I have a hard time with this. But if anything is actually going to happen, you have to do something, or else 5 years will pass and you’ll be in the same position you are now, talking about all the things you want to do someday.)

So yes, showing up is important. But what happens once you do – the action you deliberately take, as opposed to just letting life happen to you – is equally so.

I’ll leave you with this quote I love from Brené speaking about her top 10 rules of success, which I wasn’t able to find in long lists of her inspirational words around the internet but that really spoke to me, anyway:

If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.

Show up to the arena. Get in there and get your ass kicked. Something good will come of it.