Showing Up

OK. Everyone knows that quote by Woody Allen or whoever about showing up. You know, “70% of winning is showing up”. Well, Woody Allen, that daughter-dating scoundrel, lied to you. The truth is that “70% of winning is showing up” is a bunch of bull…

…because, in fact, 100% OF WINNING IS SHOWING UP.

I mean it. That’s all you have to do. Show up. Be there. And it will take care of itself. Have you ever noticed that people at the top of their respective fields are often the most prolific? Do you think this is an accident? Chief, this is not a coincidence.

Sure, there are exceptions. But take TEDZUKA Osamu/手塚治虫, one of the most prolific manga creators in history. Ask yourself, was he prolific because he was good or good because he was prolific? I say the latter. Shakespeare wrote quite a bit of noss, too. Michael Jordan and Larry Bird practiced like absolute fiends — we shouldn’t insult them by attributing their skill to race, height (MJ was below NBA average, by the way) or even talent until we’ve spent at least as much productive court time as them. Let me put it this way — assuming you are able-bodied, if you worked as hard as an NBA player for as long as an NBA player on basketball, you would be an NBA player, but only if you worked as hard. That Pavlina chap has like a kajillion articles on his blog: he didn’t make it off one post.

More on topic, the best group of Japanese speakers on the planet, a group many call “the Japanese”, just happen to spend more time hearing and reading Japanese than any other group. They’ve “shown up” to Japanese as if it were their…job or national pastime or something. But there’s nothing special about this group of people; when a Japanese person speaks Japanese to you, what she is demonstrating is nothing more than the result of dedication, albeit often unwitting dedication. Whether you are Japanese by default (born and raised in Japan) or by choice, it doesn’t matter, your path and your task are essentially the same: show up.

I’m from Kenya. Sure, we have a snow-capped mountain, but we don’t have real snow or ice or anything. Yet I learned to ice-skate last year. Do I have some talent for ice-skating? No. But I read up on Wayne Gretzky and how he had ice-skated every day (4-5 hours a day), how his dad had made him a home rink and everything. Apparently, he even had his skates on while eating dinner (he’d wolf down that Canadian food ;) they fed him, and then he’d go back outside; he skated for hours every day, and went pro at about 17).

I’m not an ice-hockey expert, but it seems quite clear to me that Gretzky made himself a great hockey player purely through ice time; that man showed up on ice for more hours than any of his peers. So I tried to model the man in my own small way, and ice-skated almost every day (4 days/week minimum, 2 hours per day — sometimes 3 hours, sometimes 90 minutes) for two straight months (November and December). Now I can ice-skate. It wasn’t magic. The combination of being on the ice all the time and the people who saw me on the ice all the time and decided to give me some pointers, and this burning desire to not be out-skated by 6-year-olds (freaking toddlers giving me lip and having the skill to get away with it…over my dead body, man, over-my-dead-body), all that combined to make me a competent skater.

No one who sees me knows it’s been less than a year since I actually learned to skate. I can barely even remember what it was like when I used to walk around that rink holding onto the wall for dear life. (For the record, the first time I touched the ice was in August 2002 at a mall in Houston, Texas. The second time was in December 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah. In both cases, I didn’t actually know how to skate, and nothing carried over to my ice-skating project that started in November 2006). Anyway, the point is, after being on the rink all that time on a daily basis, Greztky or no Gretzky, it would be hard not to learn how to skate. When you show up, it’s hard not to succeed. With all the time I spent hardcoring on Japanese, it would be a struggle not to be fluent.

Today, all over Japan, Greater China and the world, kids are being born. OK, admittedly not that many kids (haha…gotta love that population shrinkage humor! *wink* *nudge*), but they are being born. Those kids are going to know Japanese/Mandarin/Cantonese. But not because of parenting or genetics as such, but because they’re going to show up. They’re going to be surrounded by Japanese/Chinese 24/7/365.24219878. Are you going to let them beat you? Babies? Freaking BABIES? Beat YOU? Are you going to take that? You, a human being with a marvellous working brain capable of learning whatever is given it? And you’re going to let babbling, drooling half-wits (sorry, babies…don’t take it personally) beat you? If not, then get up off your rear and start doing all [language] all the time!

I’m going to take a leap here and tell you what I really think: I don’t believe in prodigies. I do not believe that any person holds a significant advantage over you; I do not deny the possibility that some people may have an advantage over you, but I absolutely reject the idea that that advantage is significant. I explained this in “You can have do or be ANYthing, but you can’t have do or be EVERYthing”.

I think people invented the idea of prodigies in order to excuse themselves and their own children while seeming to congratulate the receiver of the title “prodigy”. It’s much easier on everyone’s egos to say “I or my child cannot do thing T like person P because person P has some semi-magical genetic superpower M” than to say “I or my child cannot yet do T like P because I have not yet worked as hard W as P”. It’s easier to attribute the difference to M than to W.

This is why Buddhism, which started off as a personal development movement, metamorphosed into a religion. Why be like Mike or Siddharta, when you can just sit back and worship them? Why work on your jumps, when you can watch the fruits of Michael’s work on his? Why free your own mind, when you can look up to someone who’s already freed his?

It’s a very aristocratic idea that has no place in a true meritocracy, but the very people who get screwed over by it (regular folk like us) the most are at the same time very much in love with it. Because if there are prodigies, no one will call us out for not trying because they’re not trying either, and because we have created a condition that can only be fulfilled by accident of birth, our excuse is airtight: we can go about being mediocre for the rest of our lives, blameless.

Gretzky, Jordan, these people worked harder at their sports than you and I. So they started working earlier than you, this doesn’t make them prodigies, child or otherwise, this just makes them people who started earlier (and not even that early, Jordan famously got cut from his HS basketball team). To admit that they were not prodigies, to admit that they busted their little behinds to get where they were (no matter their age), does not make them less. To me, it only makes them more; it makes them greater. These were not superhumans. These were normal humans who made themselves super; they were not given a legacy like a Betty Crocker cookie mix that just needed eggs and milk, they made one from scratch. And that, to me, is something (someone) infinitely greater.

Bruce Lee is reported to have said:

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

A lot of times, we judge people (including ourselves), we call them (ourselves) “normal”, “prodigy” or “challenged” based on their first try. On their FREAKING first try. Don’t EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER judge yourself on your first try. At least wait until your 10,000th.

Don’t buy into all this kafuffin about how you have to start golf or violin or a language in the womb if you ever hope to be good. The only real reasons that there aren’t many late bloomers are money and flexibility. Money to buy equipment and time to practice, and flexibility of the mind — a willingness to learn and grow, to accept change and, yes, even to accept sucking for a while.

Adults have this competence fetish; they cling desperately to their dignity like a little boy to his security blanket; they want to be good at everything they do, and (they think) everyone expects them to be good at anything they do if they are to do it at all — adults are meant to be dignified and able; adults aren’t allowed to show ignorance or confusion. Well, forget that crap. Let go of your pride: you will suck at anything you are new at and little kids will be better than you. It’s okay, that’s how it’s supposed to be — those kids used to suck, too. Sucking is always the first step on the path to greatness; it’s not a question of how many times the earth has made a full rotation around the sun since you were born; it’s a question of what you’ve done during those rotations. As my gamer friends might say — all who pwn must first be pwned. And the time to be pwned is at the beginning. You are a noob, accept it; it’s not a death sentence, it’s just a rank — you can win yourself a promotion.

The fact is, you are a human. Compared to other animals, you can’t run very fast, you can’t jump very high, you aren’t very big or strong. But you have this thing called a brain. And it’s purpose is to learn to do things — new things, things that it didn’t know before. This brain is, of course, connected to the rest of your body so your whole body can join in the fun of learning new things; your body itself is constantly growing and changing. You’re not like a statue, motionless and set in stone, unless you choose to be.

You’re not “too old”, it’s not “too late” — who even gave you the right to decide what time was right? I never got that memo! Who died and made you the god of When It Is No Longer The Right Time To Do Something?! Are you going to let your life be ruled by stupid old wives’ tales and stale folk wisdom? Are you going to fit yourself to bad research results? Are you going to be guided by how things are usually done? Are you going to be a little worker ant and live inside that cruddy little box of mediocrity that the world would draw for you if you would let it? Are you going to just read history or are you going to make it? Are you going to spend your whole life Monday-morning-quarterbacking yourself, talking about what you would do if you were younger? Are you going to live out your own little Greek tragedy, fulfilling everyone else’s lowest expectations of you?

I think you know the answers to those questions. So, stop whining, and start doing. Whatever it is. Do it. And keep doing it. As long as you keep moving, you’re always getting closer to your destination.

Napoleon Hill said it best:

Do not wait; the time will never be “just right.” Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.

  46 comments for “Showing Up

  1. Saru Sponge
    August 17, 2007 at 16:11

    Man, I wish you’d stop being so damn inspirational. You’re making me feel bad. :D

    But you’re right. The difficult thing is a change of lifestyle, I suppose.

  2. Empathic
    August 17, 2007 at 18:05

    Khatzumoto, you’re like a goldmine of wisdom!

  3. Saru Sponge
    August 18, 2007 at 07:35

    A delicious goldmine of scrumptious wisdom?

  4. John
    August 19, 2007 at 02:21

    Great, great, great post! You are so right. Maaan, you’re great inspiration!!

  5. tatoeba
    August 19, 2007 at 19:44

    Great post! As good as Pavlina if not better ;) (because of your humor)

  6. August 20, 2007 at 09:23

    Are you going to spend your whole life Monday-morning-quarterbacking yourself, talking about what you would do if you were younger? Are you going to live out your own little Greek tragedy, fulfilling everyone else’s lowest expectations of you? I think you know the answers to those questions. So, stop whining, and start doing. Whatever it is. Do it. And keep doing it. As long as you keep moving, you’re always getting closer to your destination.

    This pretty much nails it. The only way to fail is to spend more time talking yourself out of your potential than actually getting to work fulfilling it. Great post, Khatzumoto.

  7. Tony
    August 22, 2007 at 18:39

    How do you say 100% of winning showing up, in Japanese?

  8. khatzumoto
    August 22, 2007 at 18:47

    Well, you could translate it literally, but I’m a big NON-FAN of literal translations. There is far more to a sentence than the surface, lexical/literal meaning and arrangement of its words. I would say: “遣れば出来る”, but not many people use that much kanji, so “やればできる” or “ヤれば出来る” or “やれば出来る” would also work fine…Somewhat literally translated back into English it is “if you [just] do, you['ll find that you] can”.

  9. Nivaldo
    November 3, 2007 at 20:22

    It’s difficult to say but I think that at once I should stop reading this blog. Wait, not wanting to offend, you make me hate myself. You’re truly right and therefore I’m leaving for sure. Very good post; I’ll carry it forever even after I get to Tokyo. でわさよならなあ。

  10. Lin
    August 8, 2008 at 23:45

    Awesome post! I’ve been preaching the same thing to my friends for years. You’ve summed it up so eloquently in this post.

  11. Dan
    October 1, 2008 at 22:03

    Man, your site is like freaking Wikipedia, I have like my 10th tab open reading sublink after other link, but I’m loving every bit of it.

    I still have 9 other tabs to go back on and finish but I must take the time here to say thanks for taking the time to have this site.

    I think I’ve been reading around on here for the last 3 days, entering the 漢字 from Heisig into Mnemosyne and listening to ポッキャストの日本語. hopefully that is right, but I’ve spent the last 8 years blaming my lack of Japanese retention on the books I’ve used or the audio tapes/cds/mp3s I’ve listened to when it has always been my method – or lack there of.

    Now my iPhone and Mac OS are in Japanese which I don’t know why I didn’t do sooner.

    Thanks for killing all of my excuses, I needed your inspiration years ago.

  12. March 6, 2009 at 08:38

    Awesome man. Well spoken. The last paragraph is beautiful.

  13. Gui MN
    May 16, 2009 at 12:54

    I really like the part about the babies. hehehe

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Khatzumoto. They are very motivational.

  14. June 14, 2009 at 13:21

    I’m glad I found your site Khatz. AJATT has smacked me in the face with its simple yet obvious truth. There is no magic bullet for anything worth doing; why should acquiring another language be any different. Patience, persistence, and commitment to a goal while you try to enjoy all the steps along the way. Great insights.

    FYI, I just changed my Facebook settings to español. Now there’s one less way to distract myself from my goal.

  15. Rebecca
    June 20, 2009 at 01:27

    Maybe you don’t remember me now.But all thanks that you had sent the email to me last year .And now i has left my job to study japanese all the time in one small personal school.There are 10 japanese (日本人)teachers to teach us.Of course after half year to learn japanese all the day and night, and now i can easily understand the japanese dramas and animes all thanks to the listening japanese all the time that earphone in my ear.Maybe the best way to learn a foreign lauguege is that listen ,listen and listen .I totally agree with you.Becaust i have the fully interest in japanese i will learn is further.Tks.

  16. Rebecca
    June 20, 2009 at 01:31

    ps:if you like, you can go to my blog and know something about me but the languege is chinese and a little english and japanese.I can speak and read Cantonese as well.

  17. ahndoruuu
    May 14, 2011 at 14:19


    shouldn’t that be the other way around? >.>

  18. GJ
    July 7, 2011 at 00:56

    Believe in the you that believes in yourself.

  19. Esme
    October 19, 2011 at 00:04

    Wohooo.!!! I feel pumped let’s go learn some KANJI, YEA! lol, you’re the first person khatzumoto who has ever come outright with the “genes or environment” debate and gone “well DUH it’s environment” haha. Oh, btw, can anyone point me in the direction of some good sentence books to start with? Or ways of finding out what people are saying in dramas and anime so I can translate them?? Thank you!

    • They Call Meh Chuck Norris
      January 3, 2012 at 09:11

      You basically just have to wing it. Take actual books in your L2, and then translate them. Over time you will have so many sentences that the words themselves are just going to fill in the blanks. Then you can just look for phrases or specific words.

  20. January 18, 2012 at 22:33

    It matters less what you’re doing than that you keep doing it.
    Like I was in Shinjuku last weekend, talking to this dude from Pakistan.  His Japanese was really good, so I asked him, like I always do when I meet someone who’s good at Japanese, How’d you do it?  His answer?  Working in an izakaya six days a week.  Showing up and having to speak Japanese.  He basically put himself into an environment where he had no choice but to use Japanese.

  21. Koalabear
    July 25, 2012 at 12:32

    Hey, does the information in this post here look familiar? I hope you read this, because this person severely ripped you off.

  22. Livonor
    March 18, 2013 at 09:39

    like the great philosophe Heavy Weapons Guy once said:

    “you’re all babies, it’s funny to me!”

    Nothing more need to be said….

  23. Romuś
    January 25, 2015 at 15:41

    When I don’t have red I use blue. – Pablo Picasso

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