The Importance of Showing Up

The Importance of Showing UpNot long ago, I proctored a high-stakes standardized test used in college admissions. At first, nothing was unusual. Students filed in, showed identification numerous times, left all belongings in the hallway besides soft lead number 2 pencils, testing tickets, and calculators, and shuffled to their seats. Tasked with the duty of checking every ticket against every ID as the students entered the room, I had my spiel about permitted items down pat. Then, I noticed something odd.

One of the last students to enter my room was dressed differently than his other classmates. Instead of the casual bedhead combined with the requisite Under Armour hooded sweatshirt or North Face jacket, this young man was wearing a white polo and pleated pants. His employer’s logo was embroidered above the breast pocket. He was going to sit for a five-hour test before working an eight-hour shift. For fear of deviating from my testing proctor script, I did not engage in any extended conversation with this young man. But if I did, this is what I would have liked to say:

Like you, I worked through high school. Like you, I took that test once in the fall and again in the spring when it was required of all of my classmates. Like you, I looked slightly nervous as I scanned the room, eyes searching for the index card with my name emblazoned on it. Like you, my hands trembled slightly as I tore through the seal on the testing booklet.

But you and I, we’re different, too.

When I reminded you that you could only bring pencils and a calculator into the room, you apologized and mumbled an excuse for not having a calculator, as if it was my future on the line, instead of yours. You told me you normally use the one provided for you in your classroom. Being a teacher myself, I know that pile well, and I know what it means that you select a calculator from it every day at the start of class. You see, I have my own pile in my classroom. I keep it for kids who forget or, more likely, cannot afford their own. My junior year, my parents bought me a calculator — a TI-83 — and I still own it to this day because it cost over $100 even back then. It was the most expensive electronic I had ever owned. Unlike you, my family bought me one.

I overheard you say “scholarship” to one of your friends, classmates, or casual acquaintances during the break. I remember knowing that I needed to find a way to qualify for one, too. A high score was my golden ticket, just like you hope it will be yours. My parents were willing and able to pay for as much of my schooling as they could, but I knew that I needed to keep the cost down. Unlike you, I knew more than my minimum-wage job would be paying my tuition.

I have no idea how you did on the exam. To be honest, I do not recall your name. What’s more, all the faces were a sea of anxiety. Yours did not stand out.

But I got a glimpse as to how you will do in life. You see, you already displayed an incredible work ethic and commitment. You could have called in sick or switched your shift with someone else. You could have ditched this test and waited for the spring test you will be required to take in school.

But instead you chose to show up. You showed up for the test; you showed up for your work. Showing up–even when you are at a disadvantage, even when you do not want to, even when you do not feel like it, even when the odds are stacked against you–matters more than you know right now.

Thank you for that reminder.

So Tell Me…How do you show up every week? What motivates you? How do you muscle through? 

The Importance of Showing Up

18 thoughts on “The Importance of Showing Up

  1. This is a great anecdote. I bet you wanted to find that poor kid a calculator! It takes me back to when I had to take the ACTs four hours earlier than everyone else to be able to attend my Granny’s funeral. Taking that test at 5AM was much harder than the retake was at 9.

    1. If it wouldn’t cost me my side hustle and possibly jeopardize their scores, I’d bring calculators AND snacks! The rumbling tummies break my heart, too. I can’t imagine taking the ACT at 5 am under that kind of stress. Talk about showing up!

  2. Cool story! I remember those days. When I look back at them, wonderful days… Showing up isn’t always easy. I used to not even show up for myself, but have been working very hard to stick to a mentality that gets results. I think the trick I learned how to keep on showing up is to set easy realistic goals, and create success over and over again even on a small scale. Repetitive winning motivates to keep on showing up. It’s still tricky and easy to get demotivated and stop showing up.

    The other day I was working on my blog and I was getting getting pretty demotivated. I decided to show up in another part of life where I knew I would get results and get success, even if it was a small part of my day. I did create success and I got back motivated.

    As will says, helping other people is a concept of showing up. I sometimes think people forget to show up for themselves in life.

    I could talk about this stuff for hours, but unfortunately don’t have the time. Bottom line, I think showing up is wonderful and can sometimes be tricky. Even if we don’t want to do something, we know that showing up is the right thing to do and we’ll feel better afterwards.

    Great article!


  3. If you’ll forgive the links, I talked about my reasons here and how I managed it here. These days, I still have most of those responsibilities but we’ve gone and made our own little tax deduction / dependent too. Even if we hadn’t, though, I’d still feel a responsibility at large to be someone who contributes to society in a meaningful way.

  4. I worked part-time in high school and one FT and one PT job in the summer. Because I knew it was important to have money for school.

    These days, motivation is about getting a paycheck for my family. And I need to make sure my husband and I take care of our health problems. Which means making sure to make and keep doctor’s appointments.

  5. Thank you for sharing that story. So inspiring. There is a huge amount of privilege in the world — especially here in the PF space — and so I always appreciate these reminders that some people have to work a whole lot harder than others to achieve the same thing. Thank you for all that you do to help level the playing field!

    (P.S. I asked for the TI-85 for my birthday one year, and got it. And it was better than any toy or status symbol, because of the promise it held for me.) 🙂

  6. This was a great read! Showing up is so important- and it’s something we all struggle with. There were many days I wish I could have called in sick when I was working and attending college, but I knew I had to study and do well, and I knew I had to earn money and work. Thankfully, it contributes to a good work ethic!

  7. Thanks for being there to encourage him. I’m sure you were kind and cared more about the test-takers than all the other proctors put together.

    For me, not showing up was never an option. There was no safety net or backup plan besides hard work. I moved out at 17 and never looked back.

    Yes, I had support from fantastic teachers and eventually extended family, but it took me 15 years before I finally felt secure enough that I could finally breathe and relax and believe that I was safe and my world wasn’t on the brink of collapse if I made a mistake, and I’m still working on it.

    But, having a good work ethic has served me well. Now I want to make sure that my nieces and cousins know that while they need to work hard, someone always has their back.

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