“Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.”
Woody Allen quotes
After opening my computer to write this morning I read emails for 10 minutes, typed a couple replies and emails for 10 minutes, searched for a vacuum cleaner for 30 minutes, searched for parking lots around LaGuardia for another 15 minutes, searched for a new pair of cycling shoes for 10 minutes, made several pitstops on Facebook for a total of about 15 minutes, read a blog post about Raghava KK for 3 minutes, watched his TED talk for 18 minutes, took a crap for 5 minutes. After nearly 2 hours of extraneous mental activity, my mind felt totally sapped of inspiration. I didn’t want to write the words you are reading.
In the summer of 1997 I rode my bicycle from Boulder, Colorado to Seattle, Washington to Portland, Maine. I started the trip physically unprepared, getting exhausted after riding a few hours. This would have been easier to endure if the weather hadn’t been so shitty or if there were any people in Wyoming, the first state I passed through. Instead, in addition to an incessantly throbbing body, I contended with temperatures in the 40’s, grey skies presaging frequent bursts of freezing rain, epic winds and desolate roads leading to few towns, whose populations seemed indifferent to my arrival.
Because of the weather and my poor shape, I had to hitch-bike through Wyoming and Montana, sticking my thumb out while riding. I got a few well-timed lifts in pickups, taking me much of the way to Yellowstone, where there were still 8-foot snowdrifts on the side of the road, then through Butte, a town so enveloped by a raincloud that I didn’t see more than 50 feet off I-90, onto Missoula.
Something shifted by the time I got to Missoula. Though I’d gotten a few rides, I had still logged a few miles, and my legs were getting stronger. My body wouldn’t revolt from 6 hours in the saddle. I had passed the break-in period.
I was riding in Idaho one day when it started raining pretty hard. I passed some tourist cabins and figured I’d call it an early day even though I still had energy to ride. I quickly got blindingly bored. There was no nearby town and no people to talk to. There was just a TV with the USA network. I ended up watching “Kazaam” starring Shaquille O’Neal. And then the weather cleared up. I could have been putting on miles had I not been a fair weather rider.
From that day on, I rode no matter what. I rode in rain with a pruned body and drenched gear. I rode in the cold with a chapped face and numb extremities. I rode into the wind, inching forward at a walking pace. I rode through the endless plains of eastern Montana and North Dakota with a book fastened to my handlebars to ward off boredom. This was the only way I got across the country: by moving forward no matter what.
And so it is with everything. This morning I really didn’t think I’d get to 600 pre-edit words (the current word count), but if I waited for inspiration, if I waited for clear weather, I would have got stuck in a cabin in the middle of Idaho with Shaquille O’Neal.
Based on Allen’s quote and my experiences, here is a breakdown of “life” by percentage as I see it.
- 15% Starting. Beginning things can be fun, but it can also be painful. Beside the difficulty many of us have just starting, there’s often a ramp up period to work through. When I was biking, there were a couple weeks of suffering. My ass stung. My legs could barely turn over. I was sick of long, wet, lonely roads. Similarly, I’ve been writing steadily for the last couple months. I have often not felt like writing. I’ve gone on distraction benders. I’ve churned out some drivel. Many beginnings are like this: ugly, fraught with falls and missteps. This period is a type of childhood: sometimes playful and fun, often dangerous and unskilled, but totally necessary for development.
- 70% Showing up. This makes up the bulk of our lives’ waking hours. It’s when we are at basic or above proficiency. We have transitioned from the unskilled enthusiasm of a child to the skillful drudgery of adulthood. This is where most people check out. They get disheartened or bored. They start thinking that a cubicle is not so bad a place to spend the day. They settle, go on autopilot and stop showing up for life. Navigating this period can be hard. It can be tough to keep moving, sticking with things, making the stale seem fresh. But if my biking experience is proof of anything, it’s that if we want to complete anything, if we want to live our lives, not just survive them, we must keep moving and continue to show up, clear skies or not, inspired or not.
- 15% Finishing. I’m actually a strong starter and okay at showing up, but I’ve often had difficulty finishing. This has even been true of small things like finishing a piece of toast or a magazine article. I’d get to the very end and have a nub of toast or a couple final unread paragraphs. For this post, I’ve done a million things other than finished it—I’ve done event organization, tried to talk a friend off a ledge and done an inordinate amount of vacuum cleaner research. I would have given up writing the post if I didn’t know how tough it is to move onto the “what’s next” when there are a bunch of “what was then’s” still in my field of vision. I’m finishing because I want to create something new, not rehash something old.
So I’m going to finish this post. It’s occasionally been a pain in the butt. I’m hungry and distracted. But despite my resistance, I’ve moved forward. Sure, it’s more fun without resistance. It’s more fun being inspired. It’s more fun feeling connected to my commitment to help people through writing. And many times I do feel those ways. Writing is often easy and joyful. I often feel connected to my commitment. But sometimes I don’t. And to beleaguer my cycling metaphor, I think it’s far preferable to downshift and move forward with resistance rather than pull over and get a motel room where you might watch a movie starring an NBA star playing a genie.