Showing Up and Showing Off

Updated: Mar 23, 2021

December 2020 Soul Notes

you are not everything but everything could not be everything without you

These lines from poet and playwright, Joseph Pintauro embody an idea that has been bouncing around for me for a while - How do we take our place in the world without believing in our omnipotence as we do so?

According to the dictionary, to show off is “to try to impress other people by showing how good he or she is at doing something”. It is often said disapprovingly and people who show off are seen as attention seekers. We’re used to seeing people show off their lives in the reams of social media feeds that we digest. Here I am looking amazing. Here I am against my exquisitely painted country cottage. Here I am baking the most delicious sourdough loaf. Here I am bending my body into impossible shapes. Here I am …fill in the blank…..

As a little one, I learned that “showing off” was a cardinal sin. Showing off included being proud of your achievements; smiling after you felt you’d done a good job; telling people you knew how to do stuff – in short, anything that might single you out as a confident, sassy, capable individual. Showing off was something that only girls did, as far as I could see. Boys were rarely accused of this heinous crime. They were just “being boys”. A phrase which has come to encapsulate all manner of behaviours over the years. Truth is, I was a bit of a show off. I got excited by life and wanted to share my ideas, my work, my new shoes, with anyone and everyone, but I soon learned to taper these urges. To show off was to single yourself out for the wrong sort of attention so best to stay quiet, below the radar, a bit invisible.

I realise that this complex has followed me into my 50s. Chatting with Grace recently, we were discussing some short videos that I’m planning to make for my new Instagram account. Grace is a wonderful advocate for my ideas – a critical friend and the one who helps me get things into the world (like this newsletter). However, even though I felt her willing me to action, I also felt a deep resistance in me, to committing anything to camera. I was confused by the strength of my feeling, until I realised on reflection that what was plaguing me was the fear that I would be seen to be showing off. The voice in my head was asking questions like “Who am I to think I have anything to say on this issue or have an opinion?” “What if I look or sound stupid/vapid/trite?” Followed swiftly with the sucker punch blow of “Who do you think you are?” and a few uppercuts as I imagined what various named and unnamed people might think of my screen efforts.

In moments, I had gone from playing with some new ideas to support the work that I do, to feeling like I should just stick with what I know and play safe.

That was a few weeks ago now, and I’ve been turning this worry bead over and over since. It’s really important to me to share my thinking and experience and stories, not because I want attention (although of course, they is a sprinkling of that in there), but because I hope it will be helpful. I have learned so much from people generously sharing of themselves, whether that’s through books, or films, or blogs, or art or poetry and I want to offer something of myself back, and forward. Not as a statement of I know better, but just as an expression of this life that is mine. Former Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks said, in an interview with Krista Tippett in the OnBeing podcast (see below), that:

“By being what only I can be. I give humanity what only I can give. It is my uniqueness that allows me to contribute something unique to the universal heritage of humankind.”

And this is what I understand when we talk of “showing up”. Showing up is when we wrestle with our demons and the nasty inner voices “who do you think you are?” and we offer what only we can give. A piece of ourselves. Back to Lord Sacks:

it’s the authentic, the unique, the different that makes us feel enriched when we encounter it. And it’s this bland, plastic, synthetic, universal can’t-tell-one-brand-of-coffee-from-another-brand-of-coffee that makes life flat, uninteresting, and essentially uncreative.”

When we show up, we enrich ourselves and others. We move the world forward to a new creation rather than a replica of what already is and has been repeated a thousand times. Showing up is quiet, oddly unshowy. It’s a statement rather than a declaration. Vulnerable, not striving for perfection. It’s consistent. Week in, week out. Day in, day out. Moment by moment. There’s little fanfare. There’s a flow that might remain unfinished, recognising the untidiness of life and humanness of us. It’s self-deprecating in an authentic way. It comes from a slack belly and open heart. Without ulterior motive. It is an invitation. An opening. Gentle. It can hold a pause. It doesn’t mind the awkwardness. It takes a sip of water to calm the nerves. Fumbles. Smiles shyly. Says “I don’t know”. Is unpolished. Showing up feels like presence. Here I am….all of me…not just the edited bits. When we show up for each other in this way, we both feel good. I can be me and you can be you. Not in competition but in company.

For this, we need to show up for ourselves first. Jungian analyst, Marion Woodman wrote:

It takes hard work to differentiate our inner voices and in crises, there is no time to waste. So spend an hour a day writing. Separate real from unreal, what stays from what goes. then leap beyond anything you ever imagined.”

This can often be the hardest part. Finding what it is that we want to express, how we want to show up. Without time spent here, then our belonging needs will always win out over our need to be ourselves. We will adapt and bend and fit the mould assigned to us by those we care for and respect, and feel the loss of the unlived life. If we can allow ourselves to sink into our true response to the world, the one beneath the immediately obvious, the one that has flair and originality and the taste of me as an individual, then we can engage as ourselves. Not the inflated show off version. Or the deflated, not good enough version. Just as we are. Imperfect. Human. Looking for other imperfect humans to be with.

As the poem reminds us….

you are not everything but everything could not be everything without you

Tell me the ways in which you are you, and I will tell you the ways in which I am me. Now wouldn’t that be a conversation to have over the holidays.

I’m off to make a video…..

With love for December and the holidays,


If you would like to learn more about who I am and what I offer, please visit my website or instagram,

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