Thursday, March 11, 2021

46. Just Show Up

"80% of success is showing up" - President Barack Obama

I get asked how the PrEP thing happened.  How did I get my story onto the front page of The New York Times, on MSNBC,  NPR, and into conferences around the world?  How did I score an invitation to attend Barack Obama’s LGBT Pride Celebration in 2016 and shake his hand?  I wish I could say I had a master game plan that I strategically manifested.  But truthfully, for the most part, I just showed up for things.  And as for the other parts, I was prepared, patient, perseverant, polite, and (usually) punctual.  

The simple importance of showing up in our lives cannot be overstated. There is no substitute for being physically present at a social event, a meeting, a networking opportunity, an appointment. It is usually the person who shows up consistently who is rewarded with promotions, invitations, contracts, and opportunities. I can't think of one person who has achieved a modicum of success in their lives who has not attested to value of showing up.  [Madonna's story of showing up at the hospital bed of the President of Sire Records to get her first record contract signed lives on in infamy]

Immediately after I “came out” on Huffington Post Live about using PrEP in November 2012, I started getting asked to show up at agencies and organizations to discuss PrEP with their staff.  For most part this was all unpaid volunteer work.  It would be years before I’d even think to ask for money for teaching about PrEP-- it was something I did because it felt like it was an important thing to do, and it was really a lot of fun.  As long as it didn’t significantly disrupt my therapy income, I was willing to show up anywhere.  The more I showed up, the more people gave my name to the press. The more press asked me to show up, the more my name was included in conference panels.  The more I showed up at conferences the more I was asked to show up at agencies and organizations.  The more I showed at agencies and organizations, the more I could start asking for money.  And so on.

In January 2016 I was invited to show up for three day meeting about “the future of PrEP” at Emory University at Atlanta.  I had no idea what this was about, or who was going to be there.  I just knew I was going to show up with a positive attitude.  The summit turned out to be an exchange of ideas among three dozen PrEP leaders in the United States, including researchers, doctors, community advocates, policy makers, and me.  I’m not sure what the group accomplished, but I was so in awe of the brilliant energy in the room and all the leaders around the country working hard to provide knowledge and access to their communities.  

During one of the breaks I had the good fortune of speaking with Greg Millett who at that time was still serving on President Obama's National HIV/AIDS Strategy.  Much to my surprise, Mr. Millett was aware of how I had been using Facebook and media to communicate and educate about PrEP around the world.  “Have you ever been to the White House?” he asked.  I laughed and said, “Of course not, why would I have ever been invited to the White House?” Mr. Millett explained that I was doing valuable work, and he would try to get me invited to one of President Obama’s events before his term was over later that year.  

I was frankly shocked -- in the best way possible.  It never occurred to me in my wildest dreams that anything I had said or done would be considered of any interest or value to President Obama or anyone in his cabinets.  If it had ended there, then showing up would have been 100% worth it.  But ultimately, through persistence and perseverance (and help from Noel Gordon and Raffi Freedman-Gurspan), I received an invitation to President Obama’s final LGBT celebration on June 9, 2016.  And yes, I shook his hand and got teary when I said to his face, “THANK YOU.”

None of this would have happened if I had not shown up.  None of this would have happened if I hid behind a computer screen or sat on a couch my entire life.  None of this would have happened if I gave into internal insecurities or external anxieties.   

COVID19 has pressed the pause button on showing up in real life.  But make no mistake about it, once there are real life things to show up for I will be showing up again.  In the meantime, Zoom and meeting platforms are giving people the opportunity to show up in different ways.  Now you can show up for a conference, a meeting, an entertainment event, a social gathering, and not leave your home. Depending on the format, you can often message other guests, or say something during a meeting to let the other participants know you are present and have relevant energy to contribute.
There is nothing valuable in my life at this moment that wouldn't be here if I hadn't shown up somewhere. I wouldn't have a therapy practice, a career, two books, some great relationships, and lots of fun, if I had stayed home. Knowing this fundamental and basic lesson helps me to feel more prepared and excited about the opportunities that lie ahead as I get ready to embrace my 50s in a post-COVID world. 

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist helping individuals and couples enjoy life with peace, purpose, and pleasure. His books "Absolutely Should-less" and "Rational Relating" help people experience connection with joy, serenity, and meaning. His work has been featured on CNN Health, The New York Times, MSNBC, USA Today and more. He can be reached at or 347-227-7707.

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