Just Show Up

Room 240 is an uncertain place, yet I go there each week.

Last week, School Library Journal published an article about my efforts with the students at PS 123 in Harlem. The article wasn’t a hug-fest about volunteering; instead, it focused on the very real challenges that we are trying to overcome to help the school newspaper and expand the skills & career options for students.

Sometimes, amidst your best effort, there is a feeling that you aren’t succeeding as you had hoped. That a strategy didn’t pay off, that you should have addressed a resource issue earlier, or that linking intentions to success is not an easy thing to do.

As I walked into the school this past Wednesday, I was considering these things. On the subway, through the Harlem streets, through the empty halls of the school as I made my way to room 240 to meet with the students. And I was reminded of something:

The value of simply showing up.

Because in the hour that followed, there were unexpected moments of learning, of connection, of opportunity. Things I couldn’t have planned for, couldn’t have predicted to happen. Things that happened simply because I committed to being there, because I showed up.

And there are alternatives:

  • Not choosing to execute until you have worked out the ‘perfect solution.’ Perhaps it’s called a business plan or requirements document, or something similar. The issue with things like this is that one can never fully prepare for unexpected scenarios, and often, they are merely a complicated set of stated intentions. The danger is if there are no pivot points built in, if they must be followed blindly from beginning to end. It feels incredible to have a plan, but the danger is in thinking it is the only way. As Lennon said: "Life is what happens to you as you’re busy making other plans." If you look around at our culture right now, at things like the recession, I think you will find that no one intended for this, that we were all busy making other plans.
  • Or, I could lock myself in a room and research what others have done: what has worked and what has failed. By studying these real-world efforts, I can feel like an expert, someone who has proper perspective, someone who has found the flaws in each misguided effort, and discovered the secret ingredient for the things that did work out.

    But studying football is different than playing it. Learning musical notation is different than mastering the piano. And reading in the library is different than engaging with the world.

  • The other option is to justify that I am doing other things that are more important at the moment, and that I will be ready to tackle this new project next month, next semester or next year. That without proper resources, it’s senseless to begin. That there will be a right time when everyone is ready.

    But that time never comes. There are too many small obligations that can fill up those tiny spaces in our lives, nudging out even your best intentions to start new things.

So instead, I’m showing up every Wednesday in room 240. We are making it up as we go, learning as we go, a mix of amazing moments & shortsighted missteps, creating something together. In the end, perhaps the students will remember the process more than the artifact of the newspaper itself. That we tried. That we all showed up.

Are You There WITH Your Audience?

Do you write articles for a business media publication? Are you publishing a book? Maybe you are in marketing and PR, creating materials to engage your market.

Are you providing "content," information, a media product, or are you showing up each day to be a part of your market, your community? Are you there with them, in the trenches, or are you simply delivering a product?

There is a difference between being on the stage, talking TO people, and being at a table, talking WITH them.

And the question I am getting at today is: Are you present on social media? Are you showing up in places like Twitter and LinkedIn and blog and forums?

I suppose I can’t blame you if you aren’t:

  • I know you’re busy.
  • I know that you strive for excellence when creating your work – something that is incredibly difficult, even though many gloss over that fact by calling it ‘content.’ (sorry about that)
  • I know that you are now doing the work of two or three people.
  • I know you now have print, online, event, marketing and management responsibilities, even though you may just want to write.
  • I know that in all likelihood, your business and industry are in transition, and it seems more appropriate to focus on core value, things that are known and expected.
  • I know that there is a lot of pressure to focus on tasks that directly drive revenue. Like, right now. Today.

But I want to make the case for being present on social media, for showing up on places like Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, forums, YouTube, and Flickr.

How Come You Show Up Some Places, But Not Others?

Likely, your industry has events. If you’re in construction, maybe you attend World of Concrete. (And for those of you who don’t, I imagine you are now considering it.)

Why do you go to events? Clearly, there are a few obvious reasons:

  • Business gets done there. Literally, deals get inked.
  • You are expected to be there. People with things like "VP" in their title from your advertisers and partners and audience will be there, and they expect you to be too. And let’s face it, you don’t want them to be disappointed.
  • Your brand might even run the event or be a partner, so being present directly drives revenue for you business.
  • Maybe you’re on a panel, so you yourself ARE the event.
  • You need to cover it. News happens there, and even if it doesn’t, you need to make it seem like it did. 🙂
  • You are curious about the people and products, it’s a phenomenal chance to learn and socialize.

So, you know, that’s a TON of value.

How about business meetings. You show up there, right? Editorial meetings, strategy meetings, sales meetings; things that involve conference rooms. Do you show up there merely out of obligation? Perhaps sometimes, but likely you show up because you know it drives your industry forward, it drives your business forward, and it drives your career forward. It’s a chance for opportunity; a chance to connect the dots.

When you don’t show up, that creates an opportunity for others to fill the void. How often has a competitor created something new, and you thought to yourself: "I had that idea, I could have done that." Do you want to be saying that with the entirety of social media, of the social web as a whole? So the big question is:

Does Twitter or LinkedIn or blogs give you that kind of value? The value provided by events and meetings?

Are You Measuring Value in the Short Term or Long Term

When the recession hit, many blamed corporations for their short term thinking, pursuing immediate profit at the expense of long term growth and stability.

Are you doing the same thing? Saying that you will focus on long term goals once things stabilize? That when the recession wanes, when your business moves into the black, THEN you will step into uncharted waters, into new projects. That you will do so when it’s "safe?"

My concern with that sort of thing is that when you batten down the hatches, you prevent the bad stuff from getting in, but you also prevent the unexpected good stuff from getting in as well. That, by the time things are deemed "safe," it may be too late to leverage the opportunity.

And this extends beyond your business to your career as well. Again and again, I see traditional media folks who never blogged or Tweeted before, lose their job and start blogging or open a Twitter account the very next day. Suddenly, they need to get involved. Suddenly, they need to be present.

This is not action, it is reaction. And it’s hard to build anything substantial by merely reacting. You are already starting out in a defensive posture, you are playing catch up at the worst possible moment: the moment that you desperately need something.

Media is changing. Your industry is changing. Business and careers are being shifted in unexpected ways. And these changes require two things:

  • New skills
  • New connections

Be present on social media. Build those skills. Create those connections. You might be surprised at how useful it is, how much fun it is, and how meaningful it becomes for your business and your career.

To get started, you don’t have to create some crazy huge strategy. Just connect to people on LinkedIn, or write a recommendation for a colleague. Update Twitter once a day. Find a forum on a topic you are passionate about and check in once a week. Consider blogging or commenting on a blog that you love. Interact with people on Facebook.

Just show up.

If you don’t, you are removing any chance for new conversations to occur, for new relationships to be established, for new connections to be made. You are saying no to serendipity.

Dylan Thomas implored of us to "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." In a similar vein, today’s media world requires you to:

  • Fight from becoming a commodity.
  • Fight from being invisible, a cog in the machine.
  • Fight from becoming irrelevant.

Every week – STILL – we hear about more magazines being closed and staff cuts. It is a tough job market and a historic transformation for media. How are you remaining relevant amidst these changes? How are you supporting your business in new ways and uncovering new opportunities?

There is no doubt, that without social media, your day is full of obligations already. But it is important to take a critical look at these obligations and decide which support your business today and tomorrow. It’s easy to show up for yesterday’s obligations. Consider tomorrow’s opportunities, and show up for them today.

No one can promise you that there will be incredible value if you become more active on Twitter, just as no one can promise me that trekking up to room 240 each week will really have an effect on the students’ lives.

But simply by showing up, we create the opportunity for remarkable things to happen.

Further Reading: The Pro’s & Con’s of Twitter.

Clearly, I don’t have the answers, and quite frankly, no one does. But it’s always helpful to bounce ideas off of someone else. If there is any way you think I can help, contact me at dan@danblank.com. You can also follow me on Twitter: @DanBlank

1 comment

  1. This is one of the biggest lessons I have learned over the past few years. I used to be afraid to “show up” and of failure.

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