Photo: Aldo Picaso

A car won’t drive simply because you’re behind the wheel

I’ve said it, gurus have said it: Show up, sit down, and get to work. Follow this mantra and you’ll never be a poor boy.

This rule of thumb, like all rule of thumbs, generalizes a path forward and ignores your unique circumstances.

It’s why practice doesn’t make perfect. It’s why 10,000 hours isn’t a threshold of mastery. It’s why hard work can’t guarantee success.

Showing up is only a fraction of the equation.

It assumes your mind is ready.

It assumes you have unique experiences.

It assumes all your faculties are intact, ready to do what needs doing, eager to change the world.

It doesn’t assume you have bad days.

It doesn’t assume you are distracted by life’s other 41,090 pressing issues.

It doesn’t assume you are human.

Showing up only gets you so far

You can walk yourself to the car. You can sit in the driver’s seat. You can even turn the ignition. But if your car is out of gas, you aren’t going anywhere.

For a car to take you somewhere, a lot of things need to happen. It needs the right amount of fuel. All of its parts need to work in unison. You, the driver, need focus and good directions.

In the real world success — or rather I should be saying progress — is more than showing up and magically manifesting your work. Showing up is just one part of the process.

Progress — like driving a car — takes many things, hidden things to happen. Things like giving yourself time to absorb new information. Or letting ideas percolate in the back of your mind. Or recognizing you need to step away from your work.

Progress isn’t linear. Progress is the summation of tiny actions.

As a writer, my progress is measured by how many words I publish. But writing is more than just words on a screen. Writing is me reading a good book. Writing is me talking to friends. Writing is me watching people walk by and asking, “What are they doing? Why are they doing it that way?”

Whatever it is that you do — entrepreneurship, parenting, art — know that everybody’s process is different. We can’t compare our process to someone else’s end result.

What to do when you don’t feel like showing up

There are only three things you can do when you don’t feel like showing up:

  1. Show up
  2. Don’t show up
  3. Take a beat and ask yourself, “Am I ready?”

The first option is a little pushy. There are days I don’t feel like writing but I still wake up at 6:15, grab a cup of coffee, and plop myself at my desk. Sometimes I churn out 1,000 words. Sometimes I give up. But at least I tried.

The second option is straightforward. Don’t show up and waste your time. Don’t force yourself to do bad work. Don’t beat yourself up for not showing up.

The third option is similar to the previous two, but it’s more important. It’s important because no matter how you answer “Am I ready?” you can either show up or not show up but this time with more self-awareness.

Asking “Am I ready?” is not the same as asking “Do I want to?” Asking “Am I ready?” offers you a moment to run through a mental checklist. Either you tick all of the boxes or you don’t. And if you don’t, what are you going to do about it?

Asking “Am I ready?” still pushes you forward.

When you have to show up

As always there is blanket advice and there is real life. Sometimes showing up isn’t even an option but an obligation.

Here is where advice exits the schoolyard and morals step in to play.

There are days I don’t feel like showing up to be a good parent or a good spouse. But I made a promise to show up, whether I’m ready or not. When showing up isn’t an option, I stick to a rule of thumb: show up.


Showing up is a good place to start if you’re struggling. But it’s not always a recipe for success.

Yes, there are people who show up every day. But don’t pit your process against their output.

Love your craft. Find your own pace. Show up when you’re ready.