Showing up is more important, and harder, than it seems

201602-gratisography-172HHave you ever listened to music, and thought…I could do that? What about movies? Have you see any actors or actresses, and thought you could act just as well?

Or maybe it’s a chef whipping up a particular recipe. Or maybe it’s someone paid to talk on TV about financial markets. Or an author. Or whatever.

Do you think you could do that stuff just as well as the professional? Maybe it would take a little bit of practice, but you wouldn’t have to dedicate the next couple of decades to figuring out.

You know what? You’re right! You’re absolutely right. You can do a lot of that stuff just as well as the fancy professionals.

Maybe there’s the top tenth of one percent of stuff that would be beyond your reach. But you could tackle a lot of it. These aren’t super human feats. A little focus and dedication, combined with your existing talent, would take you where you needed to be.

You can take this realization in two different directions:

  1. Become embittered. Think that famous actors, musicians, or authors are lucky. They caught a break you didn’t catch. Someone took them under their wing and offered all the shortcuts to success.
  2. Become committed. Realize that the hard part of almost anything isn’t the work itself. It’s showing up, time and time again. It’s continuing to do the work, even when you’re not reaping the rewards.

I’m convinced that commitment, that simply showing up over and over again, is what explains at least 90% of the difference between celebrities and non-celebrities, in any given area.

Yes, there are some celebrities that arrive strictly as a result of dumb luck. They’re pretty. Or they’re related to someone famous. Or they happened to meet that one person on the street who changed their lives forever.

These few celebrities, explained entirely by circumstances out of their control, receive way, way, way too much attention. If all celebrity worked this way, the embittered reaction would make more sense to me. But a vanishingly small subset of celebrity actually works this way.

The rest of it comes down to showing up. And showing up again. And not quitting, when almost any other person on the planet would quit.

At many points, the rational decision would be to quit. Why keep making music, and sharing it online, and playing gigs in bars, when no one is paying attention? The novelty wears off quickly. I totally understand why someone would indulge their hobby for a while then move along to something different.

The issue is that notoriety is an outlier. The well-known professional is often someone who stuck with something so long, that the world had no choice but to ultimately yield. Bang on enough doors, for a long enough period of time, and one of them is bound to open. Then success snowballs.

The same thing happens for us normal folks. It happens at your office every day. Tons of people are capable of doing great work. The difference is who actually chooses to do the great work. Today. Tomorrow. Even when they’re not asked specifically to do that work.

That’s one reason interviews are tough for both sides. You can test capabilities in interviews. But you can’t see in an interview whether someone is going to show up, day in and day out, continuing to do the work even when the attaboy’s are long gone.

When you think about pivoting your career, the issue of showing up is even more important. If you’re an engineer, you don’t have a long track record in finance, or marketing, or sales. What you have are capabilities. You need to demonstrate the showing up part. And the way you do that, is by doing it. Over and over again.

One A+ report isn’t going to change your career path. One A+ presentation won’t either. One super insightful comment at the end of a meeting won’t. But having these kinds of successes, repeatedly, when people are paying attention and when they aren’t, is what will bring success.

If you only do your best work when there’s a clear reward on the table, you won’t win. The key is doing your best work, even when you know no one is paying attention. It’s a habit.

Success is a habit. Being successful is the easy part. Earning success is hard, because it happens over long stretches of next to zero feedback.

Showing up is more important, and harder, than it looks. Saying you want something is easy. Doing the work day in, and day out is hard. If you want something badly enough, you’ll show up. And shame on the rest of us if we can’t appreciate that when it happens.

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