Over on LinkedIn, someone asked what advice she should give to the students at her Alma Mater in a commencement address. My response was to lead with Woody Allen’s quote, “Eighty percent of life is showing up.” (He may have said “90 percent,” or perhaps it was “success,” not “life,” but you get the idea.)
Over time, nothing beats reliability. Inspiration will certainly fail you. Your talent may not be up to any given task. You won’t be able to tackle every project with enthusiasm. But showing up is almost always within your control.
I’m not even talking about the perspiration that Edison said was 99 percent of genius. It isn’t about hard work and giving it your all. I’m just talking about returning emails, getting to the meeting on time, giving people the information they need from me to get on with whatever they need to do.
In his glory days, Woody Allen was famous for not attending the Oscars, because the broadcast used to be on Monday night, and he had a standing clarinet gig at some little club in Manhattan. Nobody could figure out how mediocre tootling could take precedence over the biggest night in show business. For Allen, the choice was clear: The group needed him, so he showed up.
When you truly understand the value of showing up, you can do it not just for others, but for yourself as well. That’s how you get through the days that drag and the mornings that are filled with dread.
For a writer—and at heart, that’s what Woody Allen is—showing up is vital because there are so many ways not to. You can sharpen pencils, clean closets, play around on Facebook. You can let one unsatisfactory day—or paragraph—persuade you to abandon the project. In that case, there is a 100 percent chance that the work will not get done.
Showing up is no guarantee that the work will be great, but 80 percent of something beats 100 percent of nothing every time.