The Essential Art of Showing Up
In an age where the only constant is change and political and societal turmoil seem to be the norm we are bombarded with new and catchy, sometimes blindingly obvious ways to simplify our lives, to reduce the noise and to make life in 2017 more palatable. Whether through the simple act of tidying our surroundings and minimalist living, adopting the principles of Hygge (the Danish process of living simply, apparently) or mastering the subtle art of not giving a f**k, we’re presented with tools, techniques and mind-sets that will help us to ease the mental and emotional indigestion and make life a little easier.
I’m a practical kind of guy. I appreciate the importance of adopting the right mind-set to achieve my goals, but I’m definitely more about the action than the intention. As such, I want to share my own recipe for success in life (or at least one of the most essential ingredients) which seems to be getting lost increasingly. The importance of showing up.
Outside of a fairly average day-job in IT, my main calling in life is in working with those undergoing divorce or separation and helping them to build a life after divorce that brings greater fulfilment and happiness than they might have enjoyed in married-life or ever conceived as a possibility after divorce. In one of my coaching calls I was challenged by the client to name three things that make me a good father to the kids from my first marriage.
‘Good’ is a very subjective term. In context I suspect he meant it in reference to his own situation and was asking as a means of trying to figure out some guiding principles he could apply in the relationship he was working on with his kids.
I certainly don’t feel like a good father at times; sometimes I feel like I am killing-it but sometimes I feel like killing them (not literally of course, for disclaimers sake).
When put on the spot I didn’t have an immediate answer, but quite quickly after the call I figured out number one on the list. Put simply, I show up.
I show up for them, I appear where I say I will, I do what I say I will, I act with consistency as much as I can. Is this such a good thing? Is it a differentiator? Would my kids agree? I think so.
Showing up isn’t so-much a lost-art or a new idea, I just think it’s something that you either do, or do not (there is no try, as Jedi-master Yoda tells us). It stuns me regularly how many don’t really get this and don’t show-up in their lives.
It’s not just a logistical thing, a case of being where you say you will be (although that’s part of it). I pride myself in having raised the two daughters from my first marriage in a co-parenting arrangement with their Mum for over 10 years now. Although my custody of the girls has always been one-week on, one-week off, I’ve shown-up at as many school parents-evenings, sports practices and tournaments, karate-gradings and orchestra performances as I could. I hold a 100% record for seeing my eldest daughter sing (or more accurately, mime) in her primary school choir at performances across the North West of England even though these were spread between my weeks and her Mums. My stance has always been that unless there was a good reason I couldn’t be there, then by default I would be. I don’t say it for applause, but just because I think of it as common-sense.
It’s about more than showing-up in a place though, indeed just being there physically is seldom enough. It’s about committing to doing what you say you will, promising and then delivering; in fact, the essence of showing up is in under-promising and over-delivering and most definitely not the other way around. To show-up is to repeatedly take the rough with the smooth, to accept and expect the knocks but to carry on regardless.
For your kids it’s about setting the example of someone who acts with consistency, integrity, dedication and devotion. These words and principles don’t mean much to kids but they learn these traits through observing their parents and others as we show up in their lives and as they experience those who don’t. They test us, challenge us and give us hell. At times it’s rewarding, heart-warming and uplifting. Sometimes it results in laughter and happiness, other times it leads to tears.
Regardless of how each day ends, I show up the next day for more of the same because that’s what showing up means.
The principle of showing up applies so much more widely though. As I help my community work through divorce and navigate the many tests and challenges this entails I emphasize the need to show up repeatedly. Showing up is a mind-set that encompasses the intention not to be ground down, broken or beaten by circumstance. It’s about knowing that something won’t be easy but instead of hiding from it we will take it on and come out the other side. Crucially it’s about not shying-away and cowering in a corner or even just letting circumstances and events unfold around us as we cocoon ourselves in denial and fear. Instead we feel the fear and do it anyway.
When we face times of challenge and difficulty, showing up is essential. Relationship difficulties, money-worries, troubles in work and business are only dealt with by persistently showing up until they are dealt with.
Showing up is required to maintain good things too. How many fitness and dietary regimes have calamitously failed when the person started to feel complacent about their programme and ultimately their gains were lost. You’ve got to keep showing up at the gym, making the right dietary and lifestyle choices to maintain health and fitness. A healthy and happy relationship requires you to continually show-up too; telling your spouse that you love them daily, not just when you want something. Showing up is part of the ongoing process, not just a remedial step to resolve problems and issues.
Finally it’s something you have to do consistently and persistently for the benefit of others and for yourself. Living your life in service of others is an admirable intent but one that will ultimately fail if you aren’t showing up for yourself and meeting your own needs first and foremost. There’s a reason why the safety instructions on a flight tell us to get our own oxygen mask on before we help others; if we can’t breathe then we’re no use to anyone else.
Like most instructions offered to us these days, to tell you to show-up may seem obvious or futile, impotent as a means of helping you through challenges or to make life a little simpler. Like good cookery lessons though, there is beauty in mastering the art of doing the simple things well. How will you bake a cake if you can’t even mash a potato?
Show-up for yourself, then you can show-up for others. Sometimes you’ll be glad you did and other times you won’t. The reward is in knowing that either way, you showed up regardless. In each instance it demonstrates the consistency and resilience as someone who faces things rather than avoids them.
It won’t change what goes on around you and it won’t change what others do, but you WILL feel better as a result of it.
Toby Hazlewood is an author, parent, husband, project manager and in his spare time, cycling enthusiast.
As founder of the Divorced Lifestyle Design movement, he encourages, helps and guides those who are divorcing or separating to thrive, not just survive in the process.