In 2019, my friend who lectures at a nearby university asked if I could host some African American students for a short tour of our corporate campus.
After some back and forth we were eventually able to find time to make it work and the date was set.
As I made my way after a meeting on the appointed day to the building on our campus where the tour was to take place , I couldn’t help but wonder to myself what I would say to these young students when I received them. I am Nigerian and had only moved to the United States about 3 years ago and so did not attend elementary, college or high school in the United States meaning that I could not relate to them on that level. It also did not help that it had been a taxing week that left me drained and not feeling sure if giving a tour was what I needed to be doing at that time. So as I walked into reception to see my friend and the fine group of students with him, I was still asking myself what I could do to make the visit worthwhile for them.
After all the protocols and pleasantries were done, I led them into the campus courtyard. As I turned , faced the group and introduced myself again I heard myself say these words (or something close to this at least):
“…I would like to start by thanking you for showing up”
That set the theme for the rest of our conversation that day .
The common thread through our discussion that day turned to how being consistent and showing up even when it was easier not to is a key success factor in life. By the time the tour was over , my entire mood and energy levels had changed for the better.
Everyone of us can look back to some time in our lives when we have changed things and taken control of the situation by simply choosing to show up so please do not see this article as a tutorial or a TED talk on showing up. I do not think I have anything extra special to give you. I just wanted to share a few super short stories (with some names and locations tweaked to protect the innocent :-D ) as reminders more than anything else for anyone who reads it (including me a few months from now) that sometimes all you need to do is show up…and show up again…and again.
Please enjoy them and take from them what you will.
Story one: When will it end?
Sometimes we get discouraged and are tempted to give up when we get a sense of the size of the mountain ahead of us. These are those times when the road seems long, windy and full of uncertainties.
A friend of mine, lets call him “Obinna”, was a first year student at the University of Nigeria Nsukka studying with another friend at a building called the “New Science Lecture Theatre”. It was a cold rainy night and there was a thick cloud of mosquitoes floating around the class at knee and ankle level biting and sucking anything that moved. It was almost midnight and he was hungry with no food in sight. At some point in the night, when it hit him that he was just in first year and there was at least 4- 5 years of nights like this ahead of him, he raised his head and asked everyone within earshot:
“Kedu mgbe oga ebi!!!???”
Which in English means “When will it end?”
At that moment, I believe that Obinna must have felt that dropping out was a valid option. Thankfully he did not, which is why today he is successfully practicing his career as a doctor.
I remember hearing his story 2 years later as a first year student in the same university. Those words remained burned into my memory. For some reason his story gave me hope when I experienced similar nights . Alone, awake at 1am, reading a boring subject and asking myself what I was doing here. The story made me realize that I was not the only one who felt this way and that if he could make it then I could make it too.
Story 2 : Show for Las Giddy
Sometimes we have no idea of what awaits us and the only insight we have about the future is the feeling that we may not have everything it takes to succeed.
By the time we were writing our final exams at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka some of my close friends had landed jobs at what we would today call a startup based in the big intimidating city of Lagos thanks to their amazing computer programming skills. They had perfected advanced skills in Java enterprise web development at a time when this was still novel in Nigeria. By the time we finished exams they were off to Lagos to start working at a startup that leveraged these skills. About a month later I received word from them to come down to Lagos and join them as a programmer. To put in Naija street slang,
“Them say make I show for Las Giddy”.
I knew very little about Web and enterprise programming in Java at the time and only had two internship experiences under my belt but here I was being asked to come and take up a full time role as a computer programmer in “the real world”. I accepted the challenge, packed my “Ghana must go” bag and “Showed up”. Many years and countless bouts of imposter syndrome later, here we are.
Story 3: When the tax man came calling.
At other times you may be called on to show up at what is, to say the least , an inconvenient time. Those times when it may actually be more comfortable (not to mention sensible ) to find a rock to crawl under. Those times when you are called to show up for not only yourself but also for what you represent to others.
A friend of mine who was running a startup had fallen on hard times. Maybe you have heard (or have experienced) how it is when you are barely managing to make payroll every month? Well, that was his condition at that time. And as if things had not gotten spicy enough, the tax people showed up one day and sealed his office because he had not been ale to remit his taxes due to low liquidity. This happened in the middle of the day. They showed up with the police, asked everyone to leave and sealed the office. As he stood in his office watching the tax task force asking people to leave, a member of his leadership team saw the staff milling aimlessly outside looking confused and asked him:
“Maybe you should say something to them?”
My friend had to pull himself together and go out to explain to his staff what was happening and told them to come back the next day, that everything would be sorted out by then. Even though in that moment, he had absolutely no idea how he was going to get out of that mess. He showed up.
The next day somehow, the office was open. Today the company is doing well and playing a major role to drive a major sector in Nigeria
Story 4: The demo
There are also times when you have just failed woefully and have to pick yourself up and try again because even though you lost the game, the tournament is still on.
I remember once earlier in my career, I had gone to do a project in a foreign country. The project kick off involved a demo to the entire ICT team of a major university in that country. Well, to put it lightly, the demo was a total failure because of an avoidable error in the software I was meant to be demoing. I remember being in the near empty room and packing up my laptop and projector with a feeling that it was the end of the world, when my friend and then colleague, “Ed”, said to me in his characteristically quiet voice:
“ Tomorrow will be better”.
I nodded my head and smiled even though I did not believe him.
But we showed up again the next day and the day after that and while the ending did not exactly make it to fairy tale levels, things did get better and now… here we are.
The stories could go on and on about the times when life has knocked us down and we kept getting back up. That is what we do, we show up. Sometimes it’s in the big things like the taxman sealing up your office while at other times it’s in the little things like the proverbial “bad day at the office”.
Of course showing up is not the whole story. There is another conversation to be had about How to show up…and all the things we could do to ensure that we show up correct, but that’s a story for another day.
The first step is to show up and ensure that you bring your best each time even if you think your best is not good enough, bring it anyway and keep improving until it gets there.
One interesting thing is that when we show up, we are not just showing up for ourselves but we might also be inspiring others who we may not know are looking to us for support and validation and this was why I thanked those students from San Jose state for showing up. Many of their peers who had signed up for the tour did not or could not make it but those that did, by showing up, not only inspired each other but also did a lot for me as well.
I will end with this quote:
If you can achieve an improvement over yesterday, even if it’s small, you have gained significantly. You are taking charge of your own world. You are becoming a creator.
— Harold Klemp
The Language of Soul
Do you have a story of when you made the choice to “show up”? It does not have to be an earth shaking testimony. It could even be related to the little things in life. How did it play out? Feel free to share if you like , either here or on a platform/audience of your choosing. It might just be what someone in your circle needs to help them take that next step.
Thanks to Karen Baker for nudging me to finally write this.