“You get good at what you show up for.”
My teacher Mitchel shared this with us in my teacher training, and it has stuck in my craw ever since. It’s not just my craw – I’ve shared it with my students, and my friend Tracey Duncan even wrote a great post about it.
It’s a gem almost so obvious that it hides in plain sight: you get good at what you show up for. So if you want to get good at something, show up for it. Again and again.
Perhaps the more painful realization is what we’re getting good at through repetition. For me, it’s watching Nurse Jackie and hitting snooze on my alarm 5 times every morning. But it’s also showing up to teach, voraciously researching music for practice, and studying the human body.
The hardest part about this is showing up — instead of being partially present, or half-invested, to commit yourself totally to one task. In our society this is almost impossible. Phone notifications, emails, texts binging, constant noise of TV or radio in the background — how could you be fully present with any one thing for even five minutes? It seems almost superhuman!
Showing up asks us for humility. It asks us to come to a task – whether it’s washing the dishes or sitting for meditation – with an open mind. It asks us to participate fully and receive all the information that we’re being given. To show up, we have to see our strengths and weaknesses with equal attention. We have to release our expectation of what might happen, surrender our demands of a particular task. Two days ago, you ran three miles effortlessly? Today, just one will be a slog and a struggle.
Showing up requires we surrender our evaluation, because we’ll never fully understand why balance comes so easily one day and is elusive the next. In fact, trying to “figure it out” is just another distraction — our sneaky brain’s way of short circuiting the power of focus.
Animals are great teachers of showing up. My dog Bodhi and my cats are fully committed to everything they do. Watch a dog focused on a squirrel — this is the guidepost for practice — total commitment, dedication, focus; the rest of the world fades away. In thousands of walks, my dog has never once caught a squirrel. But every time he sees one, he is just as committed, just as dedicated, just as focused. He doesn’t lose hope. He doesn’t lose sight of what he’s after. He’s simply showing up to get that damn squirrel.
I aspire to show up that way, even though it’s incredibly scary. All my notifications and distractions are there because I’m afraid I might miss something: the perfect text from the guy I like, the next big media disaster about a gun rampage, a storm coming. I am reinforcing my constant fear that I might miss something, and somehow be left out, left behind, or left for dead. I’m afraid I’ll be left.
I undermine my practice by questioning, constantly, “Do I really want to get good at this?” or “Does it matter?” I saw a great meme the other day: the greatest question every artist asks himself is not “will they like it” or “will they understand” but instead “Does it matter?”
Does practice matter?
In the end, what we practice is irrelevant [sidenote: pick something you like]. What we’re really practicing is showing up. Committing ourselves to something or someone, dedicating ourselves to something bigger, and staying focused even when the going gets tough or it seems hopeless. To keep at it, keep moving, even when it’s uncomfortable or frustrating, disappointing or even painful. To stay in a relationship even when we’re terrified. To keep writing even when we think the novel is shit. Keep working, keep practicing. Keep showing up.
What we learn is that the JOY is in the practice. The fulfillment is in the commitment. We wake up in our focus. We transform in our attention. We show up.