Woody Allen denies that he ever said “Ninety percent of life is showing up.” Still, someone did.
Regardless of who said it, what does it mean?
I think it refers to taking chances and working hard; if not welcoming challenges, at least not shying away from them.
In and out of my clinical practice I’ve met people who don’t “show up,” sometimes literally. They don’t put the time and effort into therapy, or whatever it is that they “claim” is important to them. How many people say that their family is the most important thing in their life, but allocate their time as if it is second, third, or even lower on the list?
“Showing up” means admitting that something is important to you, treating it as important, and giving your best. Of course, if you admit that the thing has value, you are taking the risk that a failure to achieve it or maintain it will disappoint you. I’ve treated some teenagers who deny that school is important and therefore don’t try very hard. They seem to be protecting themselves against the possibility that even if they did try, they might fail. They behave as if it is better to say that school isn’t essential than to admit that they can’t do the work very well even with their best effort. This allows them to attribute their inevitable failure to a lack of effort rather than a lack of ability, thus insulating their ego from the hurt that comes with an awareness that they “can’t cut the mustard.”
Ironically, of course, some of these kids might be able to succeed with the right amount of dedication, hard work, and a little bit of help. The decision not to “show up” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, guaranteeing the failure that they fear.
“Showing up” often brings unexpected benefits, as well. If people see your face, see you making an effort, they may just give you the benefit of the doubt. They might see you as someone who is reliable and tries hard. They might think of your name before that of another person when it is time to give out a good opportunity or a promotion. You might simply be in the right place at the right time. Or, as Branch Rickey famously said, “Luck is the residue of design.”
Persistence often pays off in unexpected ways. I’ve heard countless stories from attractive women about how they came to fall in love with men who, at first, were not especially appealing to them. They eventually were able to admire the man who seemed dedicated and steadfast in his pursuit of the relationship (I’m not talking about stalkers). The strength of the man’s personality and the sheer amount of contact he had with her allowed her to see him in a new light.
Contrast this with the man who simply is too afraid to ask the woman out, unable to imagine that she might have an interest in him. The most successful men I’ve met when it came to romance were those who didn’t worry very much about rejection, or if they did, refused to let that possibility stop them from making an effort to get to know women who they found appealing. I’m reminded of a woman I talked with at a high school reunion a few years back, who said that all the attractive girls in high school wondered what they were doing wrong when the boys didn’t ask them out. Most of the boys were terrified! The few who did ask girls out on dates had the field pretty much to themselves.
Fear doesn’t get you anywhere in life. We tend to regret more the things we didn’t do, the missed opportunities, than the things that we tried but failed. Many of us have said to ourselves that we won’t act until the moment is right, as if waiting until our feelings are ready for action is a recipe for success. Rather, things often work the other way around: your feelings change because of the action you take. And nearly as often, the feelings you have can be changed by what you tell yourself about them. You can decatastrophize the situation if you look at it through an objective lens of reality and experience, rather than through the magnifying lens of emotion and imagination.
If fear prevents you from making an effort at things you value, if it makes you avoidant, you should seek treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy is especially helpful in dealing with social anxieties and other fears, and often produces rapid results. There is no shame in having fear; we all do at one time or another and some amount of fear is very healthy. The shame is in not trying to overcome it when it holds you back. If you have the courage to face your fear (with a little help), life can provide you with rewards you only thought others could obtain.
Don’t be afraid to change. “Show up” for life. As the saying goes, “This isn’t the rehearsal, this is the performance.”
The image at the top of the post is of a reporter raising his hand to ask a question of U.S. Army General Ray Odierno at the Pentagon Press Conference on Iraq that occurred on June 4, 2010. It is a U.S. Army photo taken by Cherie Cullen and sourced from Wikimedia Commons.