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A: The Secret to a Successful Life | Q: What Is Show Up?

In a world that seems to be unraveling at times, here’s my simple advice. Show up.


This month, we lost another legend – Alex Trebek, the long-time host of the game show Jeopardy. Trebek was a fixture in most Americans’ living rooms for over thirty-seven seasons and over 8,200 episodes. For many families, watching Jeopardy and its iconic host was a dinner time ritual. Spanning almost four decades, the game show supplied consistency and familiarity much needed in American life.

I am among the millions of viewers who will miss Trebek’s consistent presence. But it is not just the loss of the comfort that comes from the same person in a familiar role delivering a nightly gift in an unvarying format. It is what Trebek and the other greats that have left us this year represent. They all simply showed up. Trebek did so right up until the end, enduring the pain of late-stage pancreatic cancer and taping his last episode only two weeks before his passing! Kobe Bryant gave everything he had every game for twenty seasons with the same team. And he didn’t stop there. It was in his “retirement” that his greatness seemed to really take off. John Lewis never stopped getting into “good trouble,” serving his Congressional constituents for thirty-four straight years up until his death. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was perhaps the epitome of showing up, so much so that she was posthumously criticized (unfairly in my view) for continuing to do what she loved until her last days.

Woody Allen once quipped, “Eighty percent of success in life is showing up.” I believe the percentage may be higher. We’re a nation of talkers. We plan, we dream, we intend, we commit. But we don’t actually show up nearly enough, and certainly not with the relentlessness and consistency that is needed.

In a world that seems to be unraveling at times, here’s my simple advice. Show up. If you’re a parent, show up each day for your children. Don’t pretend that you can and should shape them into something they’re not. Just show up. If you have parents, show up. Call them every day or once a week or whatever is right for you. Tell them you love them. It doesn’t matter that their politics are different than yours or that they seem to complain about something all the time. Just show up. If you have a life partner, show up. Listen, be curious, be kind. Hold onto your individualism and still show up for the person you’ve committed your life to. Show up for your friends. When one of them gets ill, or is getting a divorce, or loses a job, or simply needs someone to talk to. If you’re an employee, show up and do your job. It’s that simple. End of year performance reviews are happening right now, and guess which employees will get rewarded? The ones that show up consistently and reliably and do their jobs with maturity and without too much “me” in the equation. If you’ve wanted to do something big in your life, like write a book, play the piano, get in great shape, read the classics, travel the world, then show up and get started. And continue to show up every day.

Showing up each day is hard. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t celebrate those exceptional people who do it so consistently. At the same time, it’s so simple. We over-complicate our lives, assuming there is some complex formula for living the good life. In the wake of greatness lies a trail of clues. Trebek left us a precious and simple one – just show up.

Tuesday Tips

  1. In addition to Alex Trebek, we also mourn the passing of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. If you haven’t seen his extraordinary 2017 Ted Talk, I highly recommend it. It is also worth reading this excerpt on the importance of morality from what was supposed to be his upcoming latest book.

  2. If you want to see an example of exquisite writing, check out New York Times columnist Roger Cohen’s farewell column Au Revoir but Not Adieu.

  3. If you’ve ever struggled with procrastination, check out this Adam Grant piece from earlier this year, in which he argues that procrastination isn’t so much about time management as it is about emotion management.

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