Woody Allen is famously quoted as saying that “80% of life is showing up.”
In the world of becoming an artist (or craftsman of any kind) this is undeniably true. So much of the feeback I receive is of people grappling with the reality of what showing up really means. Showing up means an actual committment. Your art cannot be at the whim of external circumstance or unpredictable emotion. It is like an animal in your care that you must be stable and supportive for even when you feel like going to out to play, or perhaps when you feel like crumbling. You are now a provider and a pillar for something bigger than you, yet more delicate. Sure- greive, rest, recover, play, take a break. But then you do have to show up and care for what is entrusted to you.
Showing up does not mean that you never take a break. It also certainly does not entail having no life outside of your work. Putting in long hours is a whole other animal, a new subject for another day, and will look different for everyone. In a simplified way, showing up just means being consistent. Someone who shows up everyday for 20 minutes will far surpass someone who works 12 hours one day a month. To practice consistency, make sure that touching the work is something built into your routine like showering or doing the dishes. On the one hand it is your life's work, but on the other hand it's just something you do to care for your life.
As time goes on, not only does it get easier and easier to show up, and you have more and more to bring each time, and your work gets way better way faster, but the primary benefit to being there, day in day out, doing what you want to do in your heart of hearts, is that you are teaching yourself to trust you.
Think about it. If you are consistently telling yourself that you’re going to start tomorrow, this year, next time, someday, and never delivering on this promise, you are lying to yourself. This is a cruel way to behave to a person. It’s like telling a friend that you’ll grab coffee “one of these days” indefinitely. Now, we’ve all known that person, and we’ve all been that person. This person isn’t someone you’ll keep trying with forever. Eventually trust and perhaps even interest is gone, relationship deteriorates, and you drop off. It hurts! Stop hurting yourself, and quit lying. With only a little bit of consistent effort, however, it is easy to be forgiving and to rebuild trust. Give your being what it desires, care for yourself like a the best friend you’ll ever be capable of having, and provide.
When you trust yourself you can finally relax. It is a miracle drug for productivity- and creavity-related anxiety. The constant thoughts of “I really should be working,” or “I really want to start doing [X] more” evaporate. The relentless disappointment in yourself quiets. When you see someone who’s killing it, you can rest assured that you are doing your best, and truly be happy for that person without envy or getting down on yourself. Do yourself this favor. Give yourself the gift of peace.
Waiting for Inspiration and/or Motivation
I said in my last post that if you wait around for inspiration you’ll rarely work. The same goes for motivation. Showing up breeds these things. Lightning may strike here and there, but while you wait around for the next storm, the person sitting down to paint the blue sky will pass you, and your own heart will slowly break. One day you'll wake up and realize you never heeded the call.
If you think of inspiration in the form of a muse, think of her as holy. With respect. She can’t be expected to show up to your door in service to you, for you are in service to her. You go to her. Show up, and be there on time.
How to Show Up
Start by having a space to create set up and leave it there permanently. It doesn't need to be much. Start with the minimum amount of tools and gear needed. You won't need much. Start by setting aside 20 minutes before breakfast or after dinner. It doesn't take much. Start today, and continue tomorrow and the next. This is the hard part.
Don’t give yourself time to think your way out of pursuing your dream. Don’t give yourself time to make excuses, because you’re really good at them and you will always justify putting it off. It takes way more energy to constantly want to be doing something, to yearn to get better, to continually be disappointed in yourself, and to talk about it endlessly to your friends (who are sick to death of your lack of action, by the way), than it does to sit down and start. When you finish reading this, set up your space in under two minutes if it’s not already there and sit your butt down.