I didn’t miss a class in college. Not the early morning british literature class with the English woman who hated students that “shouldn’t be english majors according to their lack of ability to write.” Not the earlier still poetry course with the stroke victim teacher who required tuning into her particular brand of accent to understand anything clearly. The story of Beowulf never sounded so discordant, I can tell you. If 90 percent of success (or life) is just showing up, I was well on my way.
And yet, that wasn’t when showing up really mattered. I could have skipped a few of those courses. I could have not read the material beforehand too. The only consequences were grades and a little bit of self-esteem. I am finding that showing up means so much more now. Not showing up for meetings or not getting included in a conversation can mean that entire ideas get taken off of the table. It can mean that many things that I hold dear will not have a satisfactory outcome. Even as showing up has become more important to me, though, I think the whole notion has rightfully been turned on its head.
I show up without showing up now. I show up via e-mail. I show up via Google Doc. I show up in blog posts and phone calls and web presence. My words are brought forward as if I were there without having to worry about making time. And that is pretty weird. It is an odd sensation to be held responsible for decisions without actually voting up or down. Ideas are held on trial in absentia because of someone’s interpretations of my priorities. While this has always happened, now they have more to go on. Now they have a serious body of evidence to support their claims about where I which side of an issue I would support.
My favorite new way to show up, though, is in a collaborative document. When someone has put out something for review, I get to write in what I believe and then check back to see whether my changes were accepted or not. I get to attend the revision party without actually having to prove myself worthy of taking up space in the room. If I can type my way into a policy or change a single viewpoint from with the written word, I have shown up much more so than if I would have just spoken my mind.
And that is the real change in showing up. It is no longer a simple process of being party to the talks, you must propose a new plan every chance that you get. You must put into writing what it is that you believe is most right. And you must support it, too. Otherwise, your signature on the sign-in sheet isn’t worth anything. Showing up now means getting things done. If you aren’t making the decisions and setting out action items (half of which should have already been accomplished during the meeting), then you aren’t doing it right. While showing up is 90% of life, that 90% is now so much richer than has ever been previously required.
That 90% is a beautiful cascade of responsibilities and agenda points. And yet it is more than that. Because you can choose your own way to show up, you are no longer bound to be what it is that other people are asking of you. Because you can design the space in which you participate, it means that you can be as prepared or lazy as you like. Showing up is an art form now. It is one part initiative and one part persuasion. Equal parts preparation and creativity.
Attending an event in your pajamas is now just as okay as it was to come to an 8 O’ clock class in them. Being in the room matters, but only if you have attacked what is going to transpire in that room. Only if you understand all of the ways that you can be in the room.
I can be on the walls in a twitter stream or well crafted pitch. I can be in the hands of the movers and shakers, the laptops buzzing with the series of links I have sent out which carefully traverse my point. I can even show up in the heads of those attending by way of creating an experience with a piece of technology or a story that somehow grabs hold and will not let go of the long-term memory centers.
Unless you understand all of those ways to show up, you might well not even come.