Monday, April 30, 2018

the art of showing up

I'm sitting here in my office at the end of the semester.  There a student's graduation cap on my desk.  Classes have ended and exam week is upon us.  My students are feeling the pressure of a thousand projects all due during the same week.  I, along with most of my peers, am anticipating those projects, assessing the semester and thinking about what I need to do differently next year.  This is a really great characteristic of an academic job.  Each semester provides a new start.  

As I reflect a little this morning I was reminded of a silly thing that happened last week.  Tuesday afternoon was a slogging day.  After a full day of studio classes and running around non-stop, we had a meeting and then three of us headed out for a 3 mile slog.  The two students who joined me, Bolt and Gazelle, were the most dedicated sloggers for this entire year so we actually didn't slog at all, we ran.  We made our way over to the athletic facility and ran around the bouncy track a few times before hitting our mileage and running back to the main campus.  As we made our way down the big hill we could hear the thumping of music.  It seemed an impromptu circus had made it's temporary home on our campus.  None of us were sure what was going on, but as we got closer we saw the inflatable bouncy house type things scattered across the front lawn.  

These two slogger students are the kind of people who are up for whatever, whenever.  When I have one of my hairbrained ideas, they're right behind me.  As we slowed our roll to survey the situation, we saw snow cones, popcorn, a rock climbing thing and a mechanical bull.  We decided we were going to have to participate.  Bolt and Gazelle started messaging other art people to come out.  My phone died at the end of our run so I couldn't round up the troops or take photos of the fun.  It took a while for a group to assemble but we got everyone to ride the bull and climb the weird palm tree rock climbing things.  It was a lot of fun.  As soon as everyone was finished a lady came over to us and asked us to be the judges for the costume contest.  Apparently this was an advertised event and students were asked to dress up in beachwear.  So there we were, the art kids, standing in a line judging the group of people in grass skirts and flower shirts while they pranced in front of us doing all sorts of funny things.  We laughed our butts off.  We chose the obvious winner and then headed out having enjoyed ourselves.

I didn't get the email about this thing.  My students didn't know about it.  We were planning to go play tennis after the slog.  But we saw an opportunity and we showed up.  We got free snow cones, had lots of fun and judged the contest for the school.  All because we showed up.

People have been talking about showing up in the weeks since the Boston Marathon.  The lady who won gave a quote about showing up and doing the work.  You may not be considered the best in the game but if you keep showing up and doing the work your day will eventually come.  And logically, if you don't show up, you have no chance.  You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.  

This seems like such a no-brainer but many of my students are afraid to try.  I've noticed this tendency in my own kids as they are offered the chance to try new things.  If they don't think they'll be great at it or if someone else at school is really good at it, they don't want to try.  They're afraid they wont be good at it so they would rather pass.  Sometimes I'm able to get them to try anyway.  Sometimes they're great at it.  Sometimes they're not but we still have a lot of fun trying it.  

My mentor professor in grad school gave me some advice when I graduated.  He told me that if I wanted to show my work I was going to have to apply to everything, enter everything and show up at galleries to ask for shows.  He told me that the opportunities would not come looking for me.  If I wanted to be successful, I was going to have to show up.  I took his advice and I've been lucky and blessed so far in my career.  

As I look at this graduation cap on my desk, I offer the same advice to my people who are leaving the nest next week.  Try.  Show up.  Put in the work.  Apply for the dream job.  Go to the gallery.  Enter the contest.  Ride the mechanical bull.  Don't miss a single opportunity because of that little voice inside your head.  Tell that voice to shut up and hold on.

By the way, I held on for 12 seconds.

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