The Importance of Showing Up

I grew up with a true mover-and-shaker in my house: my mother. She was the one who got the kids out of bed and to school on time and though she was lax about many things, when she wanted something to happen on deadline, it happened.

College was the first real test of my self-reliance to get myself to class, and after the initial culture shock wore off (I went from Los Angeles to Lancaster, Pennsylvania), I failed miserably. That is, I wasn’t usually late to class, but I didn’t often go to class at all. I hated feeling put on the spot when I was late, and I tended to ascribe to the maxim: “Better never late” which—if I was in danger of actually being late—would be shortened to “Better never” rather than face a class (or party or meeting) that had already begun.

My senior year in college, I took a women’s studies class called “American Masculinities.” The professor was a good guy and one who wanted his students to succeed. I missed a significant portion of the course right after it began, but after six semesters of doing the same thing over and over and getting the same depressing results, I was determined to do something to keep from failing—though I had no idea what.

Desperate, I went to his office hours to (try to) explain and ask for a second chance. I don’t remember what I said except that I promised not to miss another class and to make up my missed work. He was understandably skeptical but allowed it because I seemed so earnest. Surely, though, he was expecting from me more of the same.

The very next class, my promise was tested. I got up late and didn’t have time for my usual routine. I changed clothes and washed my face slowly, knowing I would be late and dreading it. I didn’t want to go at all, but I wanted to prove to my teacher that I was serious even more.

I dragged myself to the door and, with my hand on the handle, said, “I’m only going down the stairs. I don’t have to go to class if I don’t want to. Only down the stairs.” I opened the door into the winter air and took each step down the three flights of steps very deliberately.

When I got to the ground, I said, “I’m going to the library. No worries. The library; the library.” And I slowly walked to the library, which was on the way to my classroom. My feet dragged in the snow, but I forced myself to believe I was only going to the library. I repeated the process until I was standing outside my classroom—ten minutes late—with my hand on the doorknob.

I took a deep breath and said to myself, “You’re already here, Viannah. Might as well go in… since you’re already here.” My brain screamed at me to run away, but I squeezed my eyes shut and pushed open the door. I stepped inside, almost expecting to burst into flames. None of the other students even looked up. The professor looked pleasantly surprised to see me and motioned toward a desk near the front, saying sincerely, “So great for you to join us. Please have a seat.”

I nodded, ducking my head to hide a blush, and took the seat without incident. In fact, the entire class period passed unremarkably. Nothing caught on fire; no one behind me snickered about my tardiness. I didn’t even have to answer a question for which I was unprepared. Sitting there as people packed up to leave after class that day, something hit me.

Being in class on time was important, but not nearly as important as…

… being in class at all.

It seems obvious now, but at the time it was a revelation. Showing up is the most important thing in life. Even if you’re late or depressed or not quite awake (or all of the above), show up. And make sure you’re held accountable. If I hadn’t talked to my professor and understood that he had a personal stake in my attending class, I probably wouldn’t have felt so compelled to attend. I wanted to pass the class, of course, but knowing the instructor cared about my attendance made it more important for me to get up and go.

I needed help during that time, and I asked for it, though it took most of my college career. But you know what? I eventually succeeded. And you can too.

Viannah E. Duncan

Viannah E. Duncan is a writer and activist hailing originally from Los Angeles. She lives outside of Baltimore, Maryland, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She has a cat, Cleo.

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