On Showing Up

Woody_Allen_(2006)Woody Allen is credited with saying, “90% of success is simply showing up.” A little research will show that he actually said, “80% of life is showing up.” I like the first one better so that’s the one I often quote.

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell advances the notion that world-class success, in any field of endeavor whether it be sports, music, computer programming or… anything, requires practicing the skills involved for 10,000 hours. The pro basketball player of today was the kid that always carried a ball with him everywhere he went, worked hard enough on the court to receive extra coaching and, hence, even more court time. He showed up. By the time he was playing at the college level, he’d put in his 10,000 hours and was ready for international acclaim. Bill Gates was 13 when he started showing up. His school rented time on a computer for him to use instead of going to math class. Needless to say, he kept up his interest and by the time he was in Harvard, well, he just didn’t need college anymore and started Microsoft.

Stories of overnight success are rare and often mis-reported. Elvis started showing up, performing in public for the first time, when he was 10; thank you, thank you very much. The Beatles honed their music eight- to ten-hours a day for two years in strip clubs in Hamburg. While that may sound like a lot of fun, and I’m sure it was, it was also a huge amount of hard work and perseverance: showing up day after day, night after night.

The "Wall Street" section of Zion Narrows, Zion National Park photo by Jon Sullivan 2006
The “Wall Street” section of Zion Narrows, Zion National Park. Carved by the Virgin River over millions of years. A lesson in perseverance? Photo by Jon Sullivan 2006

Why am I writing all this in a blog about sharpening for woodworkers? It’s just my way of encouraging the ongoing effort. It’s easy for anyone to get discouraged at any point along any learning curve. Learning to do quality work takes perseverance and some measure of love of the learning process. Every woodworker I’ve met (and I have met quite a few) has been eager to learn more about the craft. That’s every one, from absolute beginner to seasoned professional. The most successful of them (I don’t mean financially but in terms of quality of work) is always practicing, like a musician, to keep their skills fresh and facile.

A friend’s toddler was playing at the water’s edge recently. He ventures further and deeper into the shallows, finally getting all wet, even dunking his whole head briefly under the water. Then he stands up and triumphantly exclaims, “I can swim!” Atta boy — hour one!

Whatever hour you’re on, stay sharp and persevere. Keep showing up. Remember, if it was easy, everyone would do it.

Shavings curl from the plane in my hands, swish-and-slide, as I rock to the motion of the work… Nothing is wrong. Here am I, here is my work — and someone is waiting for the fruits of these fleeting hours. Hands will caress this shimmery surface, a thumb will discover the edge which I am rounding.  James Krenov