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Being There – The Importance of Showing Up

Today I want to talk about the value of creating an experience. One where you show up, where you engage with others in real-time, where it becomes about more than “consuming content.”

I’ll frame this with three examples from my life this week:

In a moment of excitement, I purchased 7 tickets to J.K. Rowling’s only US appearance, a Q&A and book signing in New York City. When the tickets arrived, I was flumoxed as to what to do with them. They were hard tickets to get, and were now selling for hundreds of dollars each on the aftermarket. I could easily have made hundreds if not thousands of dollars by selling them.

But instead, I wanted to create an experience. I wanted to share these tickets with people who inspire me, who would make the evening even more incredible.

So I did two things:

  • I held a giveaway where I offered two of the tickets to writers. My goal was to help a writer meet their hero.
  • For the remaining four tickets, I reached out to a few people who I thought would make the entire evening a celebration of children’s & young adult literature. In the end, I gave the tickets to: Betsy Bird, Gabriela Pereira, Alison Morris and Lori Ess. All people who champion writers!

Here is our little group:

The evening was filled with discussions on books and writers, and tons of laughter. It’s the only time I’ve ever heard a potential review for a kid’s book as “It’s F-ing awesome!”

This was truly the experience I was hoping for – spending time with folks who write and support writers. Oh, and we got to meet J.K. Rowling:

For the past 8 years, I have volunteered at PS 123, a public school in Harlem. Showing up to the school, talking with the students and the faculty, I learn more about the successes and challenges of an inner city school than I could ever learn by reading an article or a book.

This week I had the first meeting with their 2012/2013 newspaper staff:

More and more, it is easier to “like” a cause on Facebook, to make a $25 donation on Kickstarter, and feel involved in helping others. But nothing beats showing up, spending time, and most of all: listening.

This is exactly why I am so passionate about education, why I teach courses and workshops. It goes beyond “delivering information.” It is about conversations, explorations, experiences, and relationships. So many “courses” out there that just send you PDFs each week. Yes, they are filled with GOOD information, but that is very different than engagement – being part of an experience.

As I think about what I will create in the coming months and years, more and more I am considering the unique experience that can be shared. How we move away from commoditizing information, knowledge and relationships. How we can come together in ways that are unique, and truly build not just a career for writers, but an interesting life and legacy.


  • Desiree

    It is refreshing to be reminded of what it means to be human- connections with others. Not just online, or listening to a lecture, or watching a podcast, but an intimate and personal experience that reaches out and provides eye contact with another person, provides a venue to hear a live human voice, and the possibility that we mioght touch someone’s heart and create a lasting impact in their lives.

    • Wow – I LOVE the way you put that! Thank you so much Desiree!

  • When I was a student teacher, I spent 7 weeks at a small school. While there, I tutored a young man who was at risk of getting kicked off of the football team because of his English grade. We met every morning, and he pulled from a D to a B. When I left, he thanked me calling me “the best teacher he’d ever had.” That’s what education should do – touch a person and remind them that they can be great. And yes, you have to have a personal connection to really do that.

    • Mary,
      What a powerful story! I think too often, we feel like we need to focus on scale – that unless we are reaching THOUSANDS of people, that our efforts don’t matter. But a single person scales, and helping a single person really really matters! Thanks!

  • EvelynKrieger

    Dan, your contest taught me a lesson. More than just ‘showing up’, sometimes you have to leap before you look. Here’s my blog post. http://wp.me/p1g33i-5R

    • Great post! Thank you so much for sharing this.

  • Love that you help with the newspaper team. At my school where I am a school counselor, I incorporate writing into every lesson I can. I also sponsor a writing club. Kids love it and it is the highlight of my week!

  • hudson41