Showing Up

In a previous blog, I mentioned a student who failed an art class, simply because he never showed up – and because he never showed up, he never did any work. Failure to show up goes far beyond education, however. Many, many years ago, I was a lifeguard at an outdoor pool, and in the last week of August, we got a snowstorm that dumped half a foot of snow on everything. I figured that with all that snow, there was no reason to go to work. I didn’t… and I almost got fired because my supervisor thought it would be a good time to do all sorts of maintenance. While I didn’t get fired, I wasn’t hired back for the next summer.

The often praised and also often criticized actor/director Woody Allen once observed something to the effect that ninety percent of success is just showing up. I think he got the percentages wrong, but the idea is simple: If you’re not on the job, or working at what you do, you’re not going to be successful. And if you’re there, but your mind isn’t, then you’re also not there, and sooner or later, you’ll fail… or worse, you’ll do something careless and someone will be hurt, lose money, get angry at you, or even die.

Unhappily, there are many ways not to show up, besides not being physically present. The latest version of this is to be present, but to keep most of your attention on your smartphone so that you won’t miss any texts or tweets… or to be driving with your attention on whomever you’re talking to… or walking and doing the same. If it’s in class or a meeting, well… you might flunk or get fired, and if you’re walking or driving in traffic, you might get killed… or kill someone else.

Even if you’re at seated at a desk at work, comparatively safe physically, do you really think your peers or supervisor don’t know? Think again. When I was in charge of a department with some fifty odd employees, I had a very good idea who was really “there,” and who wasn’t. Most good bosses know. I made a habit of dropping in on those who had a tendency to space out, and then I’d ask about their latest project or assignment.

If the job is that bad, why are you there? If you’re there because you need the money, then you’d better be “there” if you want to keep getting paid. That sort of behavior on the job might just lead to a bad recommendation or reference, unless, of course, your boss just wants you to leave, but betting on that is akin to occupational Russian roulette.

Along the way, in the writing business, I’ve come across a handful of authors and would-be authors who really weren’t “there,” but it was amusing to see how soon they snapped back into reality when a big-name author or publisher appeared. Most of them didn’t make it, either.

4 thoughts on “Showing Up”

  1. Robert The Addled says:

    The trick is to be enough there to BE THERE when it counts. MOST jobs (from office jobs to stocking shelves) have a certain amount that you can operate on autopilot. The rest is quick thinking when something comes up that requires a solution, whether it is knowing the answer, or knowing who does.

    A personal experience variant of that is when operating mechanical systems (whether a power plant or a multi-stage device). Most of your task is to exist and monitor until something goes awry. To this day I sometimes miss that monotony of listening to the turbines run….

  2. Wayne Kernochan says:

    Two (hopefully amusing) stories about “showing up”:

    1. At the outset of WW II, my father, like many others, volunteered, but was not on an officer track. At boot camp, one afternoon when he was assigned as guard, out of boredom, he read a training manual. The next day, out of the blue, the Army gave all the recruits a test out of the manual. My dad finished second to an existing officer. As a result, he was put on command track with that officer as his boss. He wound up the war a captain.

    2. At one of the companies I worked for, we were expected to generate revenues primarily on our own. Because prospects and clients were in places like Silicon Valley, we were encouraged to do frequent travel. However, since I had an autistic son who required major help from both of his parents, I avoided travel wherever possible. And yet, until the firm crashed I was the longest-running employee except the partners, and three times the greatest revenue producer. How could this be?

    It turned out that just about every year the partners decided on a major change in strategy at some point in the year. Because I was there at the time, I was able to adjust to the change and be seen as supportive of it, while those who were travelling were seen as behind the times and resistant to change. Since I was also able to take briefings from prospects doing the “grand tour” that the travelers were not around for, I was able to do my selling at the office quite nicely. And, of course, by putting in a little time when available on weekends I looked far more committed to the job than the travelers. Go figure.

  3. Jeff says:

    Another insightful post. Showing up means more than just being bodily present, it means connecting with others around you and working as a team to further whatever goals are to be achieved.

  4. Wine Guy says:

    I’m lucky enough to work in an environment where those who do not show up – either physically or mentally – are quickly weeded out and dismissed. It is one of the reasons I very much like practicing in Emergency Medicine.

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