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Showing up is over half the battle

The Subtle Art of Showing up

The bar for basic success is much lower than we think

Years ago I watched Hardball with Keanu Reeves and one scene has rolled around in the back of my mind ever since. I don’t remember the whole plot of the movie but he is coaching an inner-city baseball team and this is a talk he gave to his team.

“I want you guys to take a good look at yourselves and feel proud. We made it here. We’re here. What I’ve learned from you is that really one of the most important things in life is showing up. I’m blown away by your ability to show up through everything that’s gone on. The league never wanted you to play this game, but you showed up.”

Showing up? It is such a basic and simple thing. I kept wondering if that really is “one of the most important things in life”? As I look back at my life and I watch the lives of others, it has become clear to me how that basic act affords so much. For me, my biggest personal example is my education. I have a Master's in Computer Science. If you really know me, you would know I shouldn’t have that degree. I’m not that technical of a person, I don’t see myself as a math person. I have a Bachelor's in Elementary Education and was two classes short of a Bachelor’s in Psychology. With my Master’s in Computer Science, I have a minor in Psychology. The humanities are what drives and inspire me. I respect technology, but it doesn’t drive me.

So, why did I get a Computer Science degree? I was teaching school in the early 1990s. Computers were just starting to come into the classroom and the software was awful. I saw the potential for educational games, grade books, lesson plans, etc. I saw that technology was the future of education and decided to learn about computers and be part of the growth of technology in education. For five years I showed up. I worked full time, the night shift at Advanced Micro Devices from 7 PM to 7 AM, and took classes part-time. It was an hour's drive to work, an hour's drive to school, and an hour's drive back home. But I showed up to work, I showed up to school, and I showed up for my family.

I remember very clearly walking with my wife one night and telling her I should quit. I was taking classes like Algorithms Design and Analysis, Design of Program Languages, Artificial Intelligence, Discrete Mathematics, Operations Research. I had a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education and was in no way prepared for the courses I was taking. I was in over my head and very stressed out. But I didn’t quit and I kept showing up. One of the classmates in Artificial Intelligence would have study sessions. She lived an hour away but I showed up. Ends up she didn’t need to study, all of the material in the course made perfect sense to her and she explained it to all of the class members who showed up. My showing up to her sessions was why I passed that course in Artificial Intelligence.

In another class, I studied and studied and still failed the tests. I was walking in the same direction as my professor one day and was talking to her. I said, “I’m sorry I’m not doing better in your class. I’m really trying.” She looked at me and said, “I wanted to talk to you about that. You’ll do okay.” I got a B in the course. It was a gift from her for showing up.

As you read this, I know you’re thinking, “It sounds like you worked hard. That’s why you succeeded.” Yes, I worked extremely hard for that degree. Getting that degree will probably be the hardest thing I’ve done or will do, but showing up changes things. I was sitting in class so I might as well listen and take notes. I was planning on showing up next semester. If I didn’t pass this course, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to show up next semester. I saw plenty of classmates stop showing up. They didn’t get the degree. If you don’t do the basic act of showing up, the door is closed. Once you show up, the opportunity is there for you.

The simple act of showing up affords a lot. I have a friend doing a large patio project at my house. This friend has a history of not always showing up and we talked about that before starting the project. I’ve talked to him before about my thoughts on showing up. What is really interesting is a man named John came by and needed some money to get materials for a job he was doing. He asked if he could do some work for us to get some money. John seemed like a decent person who needed a hand. I gave him some money and told him to be there at 5:00 the next day to help my friend with the patio. Around 5:00 the next day both my friend and I were wondering if John would show up. Five minutes before five, he came walking up the street. My perception and my friend’s perception of John changed at that point. My friend needed help and even if John didn’t have the skills, we were willing to give him a chance to help and earn some money. His showing up afforded a future opportunity even if he didn’t have the skills. When John finished he said he needed some money for the materials for the other job and asked if he could get some money and work it off tomorrow. I gave him the money. John has not shown back up. What is surprising was how quickly that reshaped my and my friend’s view of John and my willingness to extend an opportunity to him next time. It also drove home the point I’d been making to my friend about how important the simple act of showing up is.

I have known a lot of people in personal businesses. One of the biggest problems they have in hiring is getting people to show up consistently. Once people show up, they can be taught the skills they need for most jobs. On the other side, having skills and talent will get you somewhere for a while, but if you don’t show up, those doors close.

Showing up is the basic entry point of success. Books like “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” make the assumption people will just show up. Until I watched Hardball, I’d never thought about how important the concept of showing up is. No one had ever talked to me about it. People talked about responsibility and showing up is part of responsibility, but I think the concept of showing up needs to be talked about separately because it is the basic building block of success. If we instill the importance of showing up from a young age, it raises it from an unconscious part of the much wider concept of responsibility to a very conscious action someone can take to control of their success or failure.

Will Holcomb is an author and playwright. Find his words on Amazon or find out more on Goodreads.




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Will Holcomb

Will Holcomb

Will Holcomb is a software engineer, writer and playwright, among other things. Find him on Amazon and Goodreads

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