What Woody Allen’s ‘Showing Up’ Quote Really Means
“80% of success is showing up” — Woody Allen
I often think about that quote. Most quotes lack context and people add their own meaning to it.
I tweeted yesterday that there are two main ways to go about understanding this quote.
Some assume that “80% of success is showing up” means that they need to show up for 14 hours per day. As in ‘showing up’ is a synonym for ‘work hard’ or ‘put in the effort’ — and so by pushing hard, they are increasing their chances of success.
Maybe true. History shows us millions of examples of extremely successful people who were not as talented, but more disciplined, focused, and hard-working. But not everything is solved by unthinking, hard labor.
Something tells me that this is not what Woody Allen meant.
When he said, “showing up is 80% of success,” he meant that all you need to do is show up.
If you’re a writer, show up at the keyboard. Go through the discomfort of sitting down at the blank page.
If you’re a runner, put on those sneakers. Go through the struggle of getting outside in the morning cold, feeling sleepy.
If you’re a student, sit down each morning and just open a book.
Showing up means just starting. Not working yourself to the bone.
There is no secret or hack to success. And this Woody Allen’s quote shows none either.
It simply says that people who don’t show up don’t achieve success. Period.
There are people who wish they’ve started a business, but then they never show up in the morning to actually do something about it. There are people who want to become successful as bloggers, but they never show up to write an article.
When you show up, you show intent. You do the hardest part: you start.
Because starting anything new, going from 0 to 1, and breaking through gravity can be incredibly difficult.
The hardest time of writing a novel is the beginning when you have a million different directions you can go. It’s also the time when you need to discipline yourself the most to simply show up and try to do the best you can.
To do or build anything substantial, you need time — lots of it. You can’t write a novel in a day, and you can’t launch a startup in a week, no matter what those catchy Amazon book titles promise.
You need to show up consistently, every day, for weeks, months, even years. You need a way to keep going — not pushing hard during the day. If you kill yourself with work today, you won’t be able to show up tomorrow.
You don’t control the outcome of every session. Yes, today’s blog post can be a bad one. Yes, the next week or month can turn, not the way you’ve planned. Sometimes these things just happen.
But you do control one thing: you can still show up tomorrow. And you can trust that the compounding effect of your daily “showing up” will provide the results you want.
You can still get out of bed and tie those shoelaces. After you put on those sneakers, going for a run will be the easiest bit. Putting on sneakers is 80% of a successful run.
Whenever you’re having a bad day, just tell yourself, “I did the most important part. I showed up.”
Most people don’t.