These are the prepared remarks for the Toastmasters speech I gave today.
According to the Internet, it was Woody Allen who said that eighty percent of success is just showing up. I think that, if anything, that’s an under-estimate. I tend to hesitate starting something until I know I can do it well. Perhaps this is not wanting to let people down; perhaps it is simply fear of failure. Lately, though, I’ve been surprising myself by how much happens once I actually show up.
For example, the people currently running our neighborhood association have been doing so for a while. They were ready for a change, and they encouraged me to step up. I hesitated: could I really spare the time? Work is so busy right now! Could I commit? What if I failed? What if, what if, what if….. I really liked the idea of getting involved, and though I had some grand hopes of changing the world, I also thought that the very basic task of keeping the organization going (which mainly meant running meetings) was something that I could do. After much hemming and hawing, I went for it. So far, I’ve chaired two of our monthly meetings. They went well. It’s volunteer work, so folks appreciate that I am doing it at all, even if it does take me a week to send out meeting minutes. I appreciate the chance to be involved, stay informed, and help others do things. I may not be doing much of the actual leg work in the neighborhood, but what I learned is this: quite often, even a small contribution is appreciated and needed.
Sometimes what holds me back from getting involved is fear and inertia. In my team at work, there’s a group of us working on very related activities. I thought it would be a good idea if we actually set up a focused time to share information about what we were each doing. This would help me individually know what my colleagues are up to, since I have a tendency to be very heads-down. It would also help the group coordinate efforts and not duplicate work. These are lofty goals, so I set up a short weekly meeting. And yet every Tuesday, as the meeting time approaches, I still get a feeling of dread. I fear that I am interrupting people and dragging them out of their productive zone. I worry that they are just coming to the meeting to humor me. I beat myself up for needing the meeting at all to know what’s going on. But meet we do. We go around and talk about what we’ve been doing, and useful conversations ensue. I certainly get a clearer picture, and these meetings help resolve issues and spark more informal discussions and collaborations throughout the week. As a result, over time I’ve become just a bit more relaxed about starting these meetings, and I’ve learned that sometimes the best way to find out what needs doing is to just show up and assess.
Showing up can also be a declaration of belief in yourself. For example, right now it feels like there’s a lot going on. Heck, it always feels like there’s a lot going on. My natural tendency is to deal with all the obligations before the pleasures. I suppose it’s a work ethic that I learned early on. (I never could understand classmates who waited until Sunday night to do their homework.) But what this means is that doing things for myself, simply because I want to do them, takes a back seat. This feels like the right decision at the moment, but is certainly not the right decision in the bigger scheme of things: I get short-changed. It turns out that just making a prior commitment that I don’t have to think about helps. Knowing that every morning I go to the gym means that most mornings I am at the gym, so I exercise. Knowing that every Monday I have a Toastmasters meeting means that every Monday I show up and say something. Just showing up gives you the momentum to keep going because once you’re there, in the right context, you might as well continue.
Finally, there can be great power in showing up, because you may be one of the few people who do. My husband, Knox, went to a neighborhood district council meeting, where they asked for volunteers to sit in a grant review committee. Knox was one of the three people who eventually raised their hands. Just like that, he was sitting on a committee, hearing project proposals for a $750K grant. That is a lot of money for local, grass-roots projects to make a difference in the neighborhood. Knox got to listen to the proposals, ask questions about the purpose and cost, and make recommendations. He made a real, substantial difference, and all because he showed up and raised his hand.
Some time ago, I remember reading an essay where the author extolled the principle of “if in doubt, just go for it” as a way of helping us get over our inertia. My recent experiences have convinced me there’s wisdom in this, particularly when “doing it” is as simple as just showing up. Showing up in itself makes a difference, because initiatives are often starved for help. Showing up helps overcome our fear of incompetence, because it helps make obvious what to do next. Showing up gives us the momentum to carry projects through. And finally, there can be great power in showing up, because most people don’t. You can change the world.