Show Up

The folks that show up may not have signed up. The folks that signed up may not show up. That explains the traffic on the dance floor last night. At the urging of others I reserved a table for dinner for dancers. By the time the band started it was obvious that the reservations were mostly worthless. The seats were all taken, but with a different cast. Exacting reservations weren’t as important as the fact that the folks who showed up had fun.

Showing up is powerful. Retire and become valuable. Every charity will be happy to take your time. They’ll be happy to take your money too, but there’s always work that needs to be physically finished. I save time for volunteering, sometimes digitally (e.g. as Secretary of The New Road Map Foundation), sometimes as grunt labor (e.g. as one of the fence-building, blackberry-whacking, site stewards for Whidbey Camano Land Trust). Cheap labor is worth a lot to an organization with more work than money or people.

Showing up for yourself is self-empowering. I’ve learned, and am learning, to show up for myself. Great philosophies center on self-less behaviour. Ultimately, that probably proves out to be true, but charity also begins at home, and I have plenty of internal personal projects to complete before I devote myself to a monastic life or dive into a world of self-less service. Before I can become sustainably altruistic I have to take care of myself.

It’s Saturday, so one way I am showing up for myself is to sit and sell. It’s the Saturday Art Show at Bailey’s Corner that I described last week. My photos and books are racked, displayed and priced. I’ve already had one interested customer, interested, but not paying, yet. It’s a few hours of tending my photos, practicing my writing (via this blog), and practicing photographing a new environment (indoor candids of patrons, artists and our host, glass artist Paul Petersen). Learning to type with chilled fingers may be a useful skill, but for now it’s just a nuisance.

This is definitely not just a way to kill time. If I wanted to do that I’d find a warmer activity. Being this cold can also be fun, if I’m skiing or hiking. Maybe I’ve met an artist that started creating to fill the time, but such an approach dies quickly. Art takes effort, especially in ways that never show up in the final product. Shopping for framing sales, Helping fellow artists move. (Boxes of rocks should not be packed on top of boxes of feathers.) Taxes, licensing, advertising, web maintenance, and association dues are hassles and expenses but they are worth the cost for someone who has found a passion.

Showing up is not a guarantee of anything. But not showing up has a very high likelihood of not succeeding.

Woody Allen is frequently quoted as saying, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Pardon me as I paraphrase an earlier post: In Freaknomics, the authors Levitt and Dubner point out that many successful people, whatever success may be, frequently achieve it through persistence. Maybe if I persist in repeating that the thought will sink in. A more specific variant is Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour rule (from his book Outliers). My understanding is that, while neither failure nor success is guaranteed, and while luck plays a large role, successful people tend to reach that success after about 10,000 hours of effort. Devote about twenty hours a week for about ten years and you’ve practiced for 10,000 hours.

Spending twenty hours a week on anything is hard, and difficult to wrap around a forty-hour workweek. Family and friends will notice.

For retirees, ten thousand hours can be intimidating because of the apparently late start. Retirees though may have already accrued hours. I retired from engineering just over a decade ago. It wasn’t until years later that I wrote my first book, and even later before I started selling my photos. But looking back I realize that both my writing and my camera work really began in junior high. While I worked in a cubicle I trivialized my teenage efforts because they were what I did as a kid and had nothing to do with aerospace engineering. Now I recognize that my junior high work led to practicing via the high school newspaper, aided my college essays, continued developing through corporate communications including organizing photo shoots, and finally had a chance to be tended and grown after I handed in my Boeing badge.

I won’t label myself as a success because using that label here entwines with your definition. I do know that some have called me a successful writer and artist, and I appreciate their compliments. Inside my head and heart I don’t use the word. My main measures are to be pleased with my work, for it to serve others somehow, and for me to make progress with deeper, clearer and more concise self-expression. Of course, it would be very handy to make more money from my efforts. More money would help me produce more and better work. Financial success as an artist would also ease many conversations with people who want to ask how my art is doing without dredging up starving artist stories. (I may not have “enough” but I’m not starving. Go check DNDN and MVIS, but maybe skip over AMSC.)

Retirement doesn’t mean doing nothing. It does mean I can finally spend the time showing up, getting things done, giving serendipity more chances to walk through the doorway, giving me time to relax as I watch for good opportunities to come by, and by giving me time to make mistakes and fix them. I get to help myself, others, and the world; frequently, in ways I can’t predict or necessarily understand.

It’s been a treat and a surprise to learn that I’ve been showing up for longer than I knew. Thinking back, I started dancing in college. It turns out that showing off as a teen-ager was the start of showing up as an adult.

PS Hey! Scatchet Sunset just sold! Yeah. She bought the autographed copy, a one-of-a-kind.

About Tom Trimbath

real estate broker / consultant / entrepreneur / writer / photographer / speaker / aerospace engineer / semi-semi-retired More info at: and at my amazon author page:
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