I Used to Hate Doing Stand-up. Then I Discovered the Power of Showing Up.

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Mar 1, 2016

Chelsea Handler

With summer jobs on the horizon, professionals recall the first jobs that launched their careers. Read more, then write your own #CareerLaunch post.

When I was 23, I embarked on a new waitressing job; there had been many before, but this was the one I would stay at the longest — the one where I would make my first real group of friends in LA, and meet customers who treated me so nicely that when I ran into them 20 years later, we became friends again. I was never the best waitress, but I was always the person people called when they needed a shift covered… because I would always say yes.

Whether that was a result of wanting to be liked from years of rejection in high school, or whether it was wanting to be dependable and reliable after years of being the opposite, I just wanted people to feel that they could count on me.

I didn’t want to work the extra shifts. There were times I would tell the person asking “I don’t want to work on a Saturday night, but if you really want it off, I will do it.” That gave me a sense of worth and reliability. It gave me something more inspirational to do than just going to work every day and trying to remember the monotony of the menu and the goddamned daily specials.

Later in life, my habit for reliability bled into my stand-up vocation. I kept showing up. When there were only two people in the audience at the Comedy Store at the 9 p.m. show, I showed up and did 10 minutes of material every time I got the 9 p.m. slot. (It turns out that if you can make two people laugh, then you can make two thousand people laugh).

I used to walk into coffee houses that held “open mic” nights and absolutely dreaded making a fool out of myself in front of people who were only there to write screenplays and drink coffee. I hated doing stand-up in the beginning. I couldn’t wait for a set to be canceled because no one showed, but after getting cold feet many times, I made an agreement with myself that I would show up, get up, and do my set, no matter what the circumstance.

Once I showed up enough times, it became my reality; it was no longer an option to not show up. I now practice “showing up” with everything I do. It has permeated every facet of my life. Whether it’s wanting to cancel a workout, a friend’s party, a public appearance, my family in New Jersey. Whatever it is, when I commit, I show up.

And if on the rare occasion I’m too exhausted or just really can’t make it, I don’t lie. I tell the truth. I tell them I’m tired. Or, I just say I don’t think I can make it. I don’t over-explain with an excuse that I’m sick or that my children are sick… because I’m not sick and I don’t have children, and all of those excuses are transparent, and you become unreliable.

When I RSVP, I want the person inviting me to know that I’ll be there, and I also don’t complain about it. My mother once told me, “you’re the reason you got yourself here, so don’t complain about it.”

I spent the first 10 years of my career saying yes to absolutely everything and then harboring resentment for having said yes in the first place. Then I slowed it down and stop scheduling events just to get my photo taken or just to be seen at the right event with the right people. I started to focus on showing up for the people in my life who deserve my loyalty.

Show up for your friends, family and mentors who deserve your loyalty. Show up for them… and show up for them when they don’t even ask you to. Don’t overextend to the people you don’t love, but absolutely overextend to the people you do love and are really grateful for. Show up when your friend is crying on the phone who’s telling you not to come over. Get over there. Get involved with your friend’s problems if you know you can help — even when you have your own stuff going on and even when you’re tired. Let people know they’re not alone. “In order to have a friend, you must be a friend,” said the writer and philosopher Elbert Hubbard.

Let’s all shake the mentality that we are the busiest people in the world and that no one understands what it’s like to be us. We are all busy. Everyone is dealing with life. Even Britney Spears has to show up every Saturday to lip sync to her own music at her show in Vegas, and we all know she is utterly spent.

Of course there are times when it’s not possible to show up to everything you commit to. I’ve cancelled on things at the last minute when I felt there was no other choice. I once cancelled an appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno because I woke up with one side of my face swollen from a spider bite. I was lucky enough to have my friend fill in for me, and the Tonight Show understood, only because I had been on that show fifteen times previously, and I sent them an actual picture of my spider-bitten face. I had proven my reliability in the past and I had an honest excuse. Finally, most of the time when we feel like cancelling the most, and we do show up, we usually end up being very glad we did so.

Showing up shows great character… and I want to be remembered if for nothing else than to have had great character. And once you master the art of physically showing up, the art of mentally showing up usually takes care of itself.

 

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