Understanding What It Truly Means To Show Up With Marcy Axelrod

Penny ZenkerTake Back Time Podcast

TBT 203 | Show Up


According to statistics, 80% of people just show up 80% of the time. What does it mean to people’s productivity, performance and goals? In this episode, Marcy Axelrod discusses the concept of what it truly means to show up. She has been researching this concept of showing up for 23 years already, and she provides the three parts to it. She shares the three main categories that get in our way to really show up. So come join us in this episode to learn more and reflect on yourself if you are part of that 80% and show up!

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Understanding What It Truly Means To Show Up With Marcy Axelrod

I’m dedicated to help you to find ways to break the pattern of working harder and find the experience, the expertise, and the research that helps us to work smarter. I have Marcy Axelrod. She’s a good friend and an expert in this space. We’re going to talk about her book that’s coming out, which is How We Choose To Show Up. That’s what the topic was for her last two TEDxes that she did that you can definitely check out.

She brings a world of experience from her Wall Street days, and the successful leaders that she has worked with in those client areas as a management consultant, but also she has written a book called On Your Game, and that was based on twenty years of research that she’s done. She’s really into the science and the research. I know that you’re going to love this. In that book, she helps us to understand how to get on our game in a world that knocks us off our game. We have so much in common, the way we think about things, but we can present them in totally different ways. You’re going to love Marcy. Without further ado, here’s Marcy.

I am super excited to have Marcy Axelrod with me because we are two kindred souls. We talk about a lot of the same things. We use a lot of different languages and she’s much smarter than I am. Marcy is a keynote speaker, a two-time TEDx speaker, an award-winning author and a management consultant. After her Wall Street experience, Marcy switched coasts from the Silicon Valley and invested for years as a leader in KPMG Consulting, a high-tech strategy practice. She has moved into her new space, speaking, consulting, training and research which she does some incredible research. She’s been interviewed in Forbes multiple times, speaks in groups such as the New York 100 Club and so many more. Marcy, welcome to the show.

Thank you so much, Penny. It’s great to be here.

I’m super excited to talk about your new book. Tell us the title and why you wrote this book.

The title is How We Choose To Show Up. Why did I write it? Back in 1999, I did a project for one of the top five high-tech companies, a name you all know well. They were interested in how to beat their biggest competition around the world and every industry group and continent. As part of that, we did massive surveys, tens of thousands of responses from their team members around the world. Ultimately, what we were uncovering is how people perform, how they achieve and what gets in the way. That was the beginning of many years of achievement research.

I have an evergreen series of surveys that I do every six months. That’s how the books came about. The trends are irrefutable. The research in the last few years is very specifically about, “How are people choosing to show up?” I’m sure you and your readers know that the vast majority of us, which is 80% just show up. That’s the statistic. It’s probably closer to 90%-10%. Effectively, that wouldn’t be a problem if we were all happy, healthy, wealthy, wise and deeply satisfied with our lives. Just showing up is insufficient.

You’re saying that 80% of the people are just showing up. They’re not fully engaged. That’s why we have this whole Gallup issue with 70% of our workforce not being engaged. They’re just showing up and maybe that means presenteeism.

In the showup lexicon, I call it barely there.

Nature truly shows up. It is the most anti-fragile system that exists. When stressors are there, it gets stronger. And there's an endless, aggressive process of self-destruction and reinvention. Click To Tweet

I feel that way sometimes myself. I talk about focus and I’m all about how you show up. As you said, it’s what’s in the way. We need to be much more conscious of what’s in the way so that we can control and direct how we’re showing up and not just be swaying with the wind.

We need to anchor on a few things at the outset of our discussion, which is, “What does it mean to truly show up?” If we’re just showing up, what are we going for and how do we know that it’s even valid for us and our lives? There are three levels of quality when it comes to how we live our lives. What we’re talking about here is what’s meaningful.

Performing is leading a meaningful life. Whatever it is we want to achieve, that’s going to give us satisfaction. Performing has inherent levels of quality. Nature just does. Human beings do. Our behavior does. If we break it into three parts, low level, medium and high are what I call those. Level one is barely there. Level two, which is the vast middle ground that we all inhabit 80% of the time, just showing up, is a default space. It’s life as improv. It’s like, “I’m good to go. I checked the weather and the timing. I put on a good outfit and head out the door.” The third level is profound and this is truly showing up. I can explain what that means.

Let’s understand better what that means. I want to also talk about what are some things that we need to be aware of that are keeping us from truly showing up. I talk about the energy of our thought. There’s a lot of connection there when I talk about controlling and directing, that energy of our thought. When we do that, I believe that’s what you might mean by truly showing up. Let’s unpack that and see if that’s so.

Controlling the energy of our thought is critical. I think about it in terms of choice because I feel that the actual root structure of what we’re focusing on is derived by either the implicit default choice which is a non-choice, in the barely-there and just showing up levels or intentful choice. It’s in the space of intent choice in your structure where achievement and meaning occur.

Isn’t that where achievement and meaning intersect and connect? We can achieve when we’re barely there or at the level of showing up but oftentimes isn’t that when people get to that big achievement and then they feel like, “This was meaningless. What was the purpose?” It’s very unfulfilling and hollow.

When we think about performance and this isn’t an A on a test, this is some meaningful life type of performance, many of the systems and approaches that are out there are very helpful but wholly incomplete. When you think about habits, communication, emotional intelligence or whatever it is that people might be focused on like having a values-driven life, all of these things are very helpful but they don’t give us some version of a comprehensive system. What does the puzzle box of performance across a lifetime look like?

TBT 203 | Show Up

Show Up: Performing has inherent levels of quality.


What my many years of research have shown is that there are three parts. When companies apply this to culture, they get engagement and revenue. When people apply it to their lives, relationships deepened. People achieve what they’re looking for when you use the three parts of what it means to truly show up. All I’ve done is excavate our natural performance systems. That’s what this is. This is human nature and how we get things done.

Let’s know what they are. Tell us what those things are.

The three parts in terms of words are being grounded, ready and all-telligent. Grounded is knowing who we are and why so that we can bring more of our authentic selves and know what’s true for us. When we don’t know who we are and why, we fall prey to past patterns. That’s when we get volatility, regret and things of that sort.

Things that come up for me are when we’re not grounded in truly ourselves and understand the why behind what’s driving us, we could end up anywhere or in someone else’s objective. This is what our parents want for us. This is how our boss sees us and so forth. Usually, there’s not much satisfaction with that. That would be in that hollow place. I like the terminology that you used, which is grounded. A lot of people use the why. I love that language, grounded, because it’s so much more than just the why.

I link truly showing up to nature. Nature truly shows up. It is the most anti-fragile system that exists. When stressors are there, it gets stronger. There’s an endless and aggressive process of self-destruction. The trees lose their leaves every year.

Aggressive process, self-destruction and reinvention. People, that’s deep stuff right there. That’s what creates growth in nature. A tree will grow and grow bigger. I love that because that’s such a great metaphor for when we can aggressively, hopefully not in an angry way but eagerly look at our self-destruction and reinvention. Destruction means total awareness. How would you define that? It’s not destruction as we want to self-sabotage.

It’s tossing out what doesn’t work. Whatever’s not working, stop, toss it out, get rid of it and recreate. This is what growth is. You’ve got to stop doing whatever that’s causing the issue or step back and pause.

Being grounded really helps you to perform not just for the things that are planned, but also for what gets thrown at you. Click To Tweet

That’s my big thing too. I always say that the more often that we step back or the frequency and how well we learn to do it in practice regularly will influence the quality of our life. Otherwise, we don’t see these things. We’re not conscious of the choices that we’re making and the intentions that we want to fulfill.

The first part is an individual relationship with yourself. Grounded, know who you are and why. The second part of showing up, in general, is situational preparedness. I call it readiness. Knowing who you are and why isn’t sufficient in and of itself. You also need to perform at the moment within that context. This is getting ready for a meeting, studying for the test or running those successively greater miles before the marathon. It’s thinking, “How am I ready for the race, whatever my race maybe?”

If I’m going to run a marathon, I’m not going to run out and get a new pair of shoes for the marathon and show up for the marathon unpracticed. Is that right?

Yes. First, we started with a relationship with ourselves, then we’re talking about the relationship with the situation, including others involved if there are. The third piece extends this to our relationship with the whole natural world. What I’m talking about here is, “What’s a worldview? Do we walk in and think they’re against me or don’t trust me? I don’t trust them. I am so biased. Are we implicitly biased?” We need to have an awareness of what our worldview is and one that’s all-telligent is primed for success.

This is trust, care and being on the same side of the table with everybody. Maybe it’s looking past behavior and looking at, “What is their aspiration? Who did they want to be?” This is the third part of truly showing up and it’s how we relate to the world and bring it with us in every moment. Groundedness, readiness and all-telligence are the three parts of truly showing up. The all-telligence piece is what so many of the performance systems out there miss. If we don’t look at the beliefs, values and perspectives that we’re showing up with, we are missing what we need to truly be able to perform.

That’s where my energy of thought element comes in. All-telligent is being aware of what we choose to focus on and how we step back and evaluate. Do we show up assuming positive intent or do we show up that we’re the victim and that everybody’s out to get us? There is that worldview that shapes everything that we do. It shapes our readiness and also how we define ourselves. It’s the chicken or egg. Which one is the most important?

No, nature doesn’t work that way.

TBT 203 | Show Up

Show Up: Knowing who you are and why isn’t sufficient in and of itself, you also need to perform in the moment within that context.


If you had to choose one, where would you start?

Nature doesn’t necessarily choose. Groundedness is the beginning. You think about how much of life is impromptu. Let’s face it. We don’t want to live a default life or an improv life. However, to a certain extent, we’re forced to, even if we look at our schedule, plan, prepare for everything and think about our worldview, trust and care, we’re still going to be in the moment. The more grounded you are, that’s the one that helps you to not just perform for the things that are planned with the structured agendas and all of that but for what gets thrown at you.

All of them are important. All-telligence also plays a role in adapting to what’s thrown at you. It’s important to work. I love the words that you use and the way that you framed this. It’s something that people can take these deep thoughts of truly showing up and all that goes underneath it and understand. All of our intentions are to show up. It’s not like anybody says, “I want to be barely there.” I don’t think that anybody has that intention to not be there. What’s getting in the way? How do we bridge that gap?

There are three main categories of things that get in the way. Some of it is the day-to-day that doesn’t let us stop. It’s the schedules, daily stressors, relentlessness of our work, parenting and health issues. Broadening that to a more systems perspective, our culture reinforces just showing up.

How so? It’s interesting. I can understand how we get distracted. There’s media and all those outside influences. However, we also need to take some ownership and responsibility for allowing that to take our attention, shift our energy and things like that.

Some of the main points that I make about showing up is that it’s our responsibility and it is not okay to just show up 80% of the time, even though a vast of us do it. There was supposed to be a chapter in the book called My Month of Truly Showing Up. I had my journal by the bed and was going to write it all down. This was a known habit that I do all the time because I’ve always journaled by the bed and was all set up for success. The first day came and I put the journal back down with nothing written on days 2, 3, 4 and 5. Finally, on day 6, I said to myself, “What’s going on?”

I had this real reckoning and I said to myself, “You did what you committed to doing, which is you reflected at the end of the day how you showed up but you couldn’t bring yourself to write a thing because you didn’t like what happened.” I realized that every day, there was a predominance of showing up, even for somebody who’s writing about it, with many years of research and thinks about it all the time. I call myself to the mat. Before my kid walks in, I think, “How am I choosing to show up? I am on it,” but it doesn’t mean that we don’t default. That chapter is now called My Month of Not Quite Truly Showing Up. Every entry is, “Here’s what happened,” and it’s not pretty.

It is not okay to just show up 80% of the time, even though the best of us do it. Click To Tweet

Do we need to do that? If you’re going to go on a diet, they make you do a diet journal and write down everything that you eat. If you’re going to save money for something, you create a budget and write down all that you spend your money on. Do we need to document or do a journal that documents how we’re showing up and be able to put that in the forefront so that we can see what is it we’re doing with our time and how are we showing up for that time?

A journal is one of the recommendations in the back of my book. I have 27 neuroscience-based very strong reasons why journaling is great. However, I’m not going to recommend that to your readers. If you journal, great. If you don’t, you’re probably not going to start. Let’s be practical here. There are five things that I’ve learned people do and I recommend would people do. You don’t have to do the five. This is what people do they found to be effective and it’s important that your readers understand them.

One is tactile and quick. One is emotional. One is cognitive. One is social and one is strategic. The tactical one is what I mentioned at the end of my TED Talk, which is a trigger. It typically happens right before you’re about to enter something, be it a meeting, dinner or a chat with your daughter or son. You take your 2 bold fingers like a big marker and your other hand and trace 3. This is a reminder of level three, which is truly showing up. “I’ve got a choice. I’m going to walk in with my best,” whatever your best maybe. That’s the tactile one.

The emotional trigger that people tell me about or prompt is they suddenly notice that they’re feeling something like, “I’m angry. I’m tired. This is taking too long,” whatever it may be. There’s some emotional prompt and they think, “How am I showing up now?” That’s a different usage of it but it calls you to the mat and says, “Is this how I want to show up?” That’s the emotional prompt.

The cognitive prompt is what I’ve trained myself to do, which is a proactive choice. “At 3:00, I’m going to be on with Penny. What’s my choice? How am I choosing to show up?” That’s more of an intellectual readiness exercise. It’s assessing yourself. You ask the main question, “How am I choosing to show up?” The social one is, let’s say in an environment of a meeting people think about how everyone’s showing up. “How am I showing up for this meeting what’s everyone doing?” It’s a social perspective on the group. The strategic one is when you proactively do that.

I wrote this up based on a bunch of feedback I was getting about how people were using it. I want to make sure I’m being as clear as I can. For social, in a customer or team moments that matter, you think in advance about how others are likely to show up. That’s what they were saying. “My partner always shows up on Wednesday pissed because there’s some meeting at the end. He’s gotten through traffic because he’s coming from a different place, “or whatever it may be. That’s social.

If we’re all-telligent, we’re thinking about how somebody might show up but we’re not going to show up like that. We’re going to show up how we can be in service to that person who had a hard day and how we influence them to let go of whatever energy they brought in so that they can be fully present.

TBT 203 | Show Up

Show Up: The whole definition of culture is how you want people to show up, to define those behaviors, not just the words.


It’s given how others are going to show up, “What are my choices here?” It can be to give the person space, show care or hand them a glass of water and say nothing. This isn’t saying what your choices should be. These are five ways that people find that they use show-up thinking that helps them be effective. The final one is strategic like what I was originally explaining, “How do I scale showing up right across my team or my company? How do I scale it?” You’ve got tactile, emotional, cognitive social and strategic.

In a way, strategic isn’t how you build a culture in an organization. The whole definition of culture is to define how you want people to show up and define those behaviors. Not just the word integrity but what are the behaviors that demonstrate integrity in our organization and give some examples of how they are. Would that be a good example of strategic?

Yes. You can also apply it across your family or school if you’re in the role to do that. Culture is so important and we have these epidemics of employee engagement and disengagement. Companies missed the boat with what they’re doing because they take an outside-in approach. The surprising truth about how people show up is that it’s from the inside out.

If you want people to show up a certain way, help them be grounded in who they are and why. “What does the job mean to them within the context of their world?” Next, help them be ready. “What does it mean within their specific roles, responsibilities and the cadence of what that means throughout a given day or week? What does readiness look like?” Be extremely clear with them. Not so much telling them but asking them. When it comes to the view that they walk in with, “What does all-telligence look like for that person in that role within a company or a set of customers and suppliers within a market space?” That is what can drive engagement. You’ve got to get people to truly show up.

Thank you so much for sharing all that excitement and enthusiasm. It is something you can tell that you’re passionate about. I’m sure that your book is going to be a huge hit. Thank you so much for being here.

Penny, it has been such an honor. If I could send everybody off with trace your three and ask yourself, “How am I choosing to show up?”

Marcy, where can people find more information about you?

There are two TED Talks out there on TED.com, look for my name, Marcy Axelrod and then my website ChooseToShowUp.com.

Thank you all for showing up. Hopefully, you weren’t just barely here but you were reading and took something away that’s going to change your all-telligence so that you were thinking with those five different methods and how you’re showing up. You’re more conscious about how you show up in every area of your life, because at the end of the day, how well and frequently you step back, use this process to reset, identify how you want to show up and let go of the things that are holding you back from showing up is going to make all the difference for creating more meaningful outcomes, relationships and give you an all-round, happier healthy life. There you have it. We’ll see you in the next episode.


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About Marcy Axelrod

Marcy Axelrod is a keynote and two-time TEDx speaker, award-winning author and management consultant. Her compelling, authoritative, well-researched talks instantly shift how we work, relate, and live by establishing in 3-D what it means to “Truly Show Up!”. The three parts of Grounding, Readiness and the (often missing) final link of Alltelligence, a performance-based worldview, say it all. Clear and comprehensive, they click into place like the cover of the “How To Succeed” puzzle box we’ve spent our lives grasping for.

After Wall Street, Marcy switched coasts to Silicon Valley, investing 20+ years as a leader in KPMG Consulting’s high-tech strategy practice and working with some of the world’s most successful tech leaders. Example clients: HP, Cisco, Motorola, SAP, Symantec, StorageTek, and start-ups, Modcloth, Build.com, many others.

She has been interviewed in Forbes multiple times, spoken for groups such as The NY 100 Club, International Association of Innovation Professionals, Harvard and Cornell Alumni organizations, as well as corporate clients around the world. Ex. Emirates Steel (UAE), Bao Steel (China).