“80 percent of life is just showing up.” Woody Allen
This was the main point emphasized by the instructor on my first day of college–it was even on the syllabus. Getting registered and taking my entrance exams was both humbling and humiliating. You know that joke about messing up right away so you don’t have to worry about it anymore? That’s how my college career started. I went to San Diego Mesa College and bombed on every single subject that I was tested on. I was getting stumped by first grade logic. For my first two semesters of college I wasn’t even eligible to take college level courses. I’m surprised that I was able to swallow my pride and actually follow through. College may have been the first time that I didn’t quit something I wasn’t good at.
That’s been my problem in life–I give up before I even start. My failures never have to do with my ability, but instead my lack of effort. I used to talk about the things I was going to do, and then I would try, fail and quit. As if I should be an instant expert. I never had a chance to experience my learning process because whenever I would get stumped I’d walk away.
My success in recovery hasn’t been about ability, but instead has been contingent on my attendance. When I got clean I was super awkward, and had trouble talking to people, and I felt like I walked wrong–everything about me felt out of place, but I kept going back and talking in front of groups of people. I just kept waking up and walking to meetings, or walking to the trolly, and eventually I just started walking because I liked to walk. Talking and walking became familiar because I did them both consistently.
In recovery I met people who were loving and tolerant. I met people who had experience with what I was going through. People who understood what it meant to have no identity in the absence of drugs. Recovery nurtured me until I could accept myself, and then I took baby steps towards healing. I started with the most basic of all principles: I kept going back.
I had never been a good employee because when it became inconvenient or difficult I quit. After a few months clean I was offered a job by a friend in recovery because I was putting forth effort and showing up daily. It was not a great job, but it was a job. I started out at $8 an hour twenty hours a week dish washing. I was on time everyday, and I took any extra hours offered. One day–a day off that I was working on–a food prep didn’t show up, and they asked me if I would step in. I did, and within a month I was promoted. The same thing happened on the line one day, and I became a cook. I was never exceptional, just consistent. Eventually I became a chef.
My successes in life have not come from talent. I’m not a talented climber, I’m not a talented writer, I wasn’t a talented electrician. I’m not talented; I just show up. I show up on time every day for whatever I’m doing. I started out with close to nothing, and instead of complaining about how little I was paid I just kept going back and doing my best. I never got promoted because I was flawless, but instead because I’m reliable. I’ve found my confidence the same way; I can rely on myself no matter what. I’m present.
It’s unrealistic to think that anything comes easy, but consistency is a powerful principle that assists us. It’s hard to become familiar with things when you don’t put time in. Life is reliant on time, and we don’t get a chance to hit pause while we figure things out, nor do we get foresight into the future, but if we show up and try we make small strides forward, and day after day those steps add up. Progress is sometimes made in intervals, and between those intervals our efforts can seem fruitless, and it’s often impossible to gauge our next breakthrough–sometimes they happen when we least expect them.
My breakthrough came two years ago when I was in my second year of community college. There were so many times that I felt like I wasn’t capable, and even more times where I didn’t even care and just wanted to give up because I was tired. I didn’t. I showed up to work–full-time, and I showed up to class–full-time, and I showed up for life–full-time. I kept going back each semester and when I felt like it was all for nothing I received an acceptance email from San Diego State University. I broke down in tears; it was the first time in that 25 years of my life that I had actually earned something.
But I can’t forget, no matter what, that it all started with that first desperate step. A hope that I could do just a little bit more, and be just a little bit better. My days of waking up average are over. I don’t want to be average… I want to be extraordinary.