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Sign Up to Show Up: How to Torture Yourself into Change (And Have Fun in the Process)

By Danna Walker August 04, 2023 Mindset

My mantra when I was a manager at an internet company was: Embrace constant positive change. I used to relay that to my staff all the time. It came from a tech guru I admired, and considering the fast pace of the work we were doing, it helped in learning to deal with the firehose of demands, deadlines and deliverables required of us.

Now, my lifestyle is more suitable to taking time with things, but I find myself thinking back to that advice. The pace of my life may have become more manageable but that’s the issue, how do I navigate the blank space on my calendar while fostering positive change?

Those who have not yet reached retirement age may not equate open time with anything unwanted. Too much free time? Give me a break.

It’s Hard Work to Relax

But research shows that humans have difficulty with this.

In Deep Work, Cal Newport notes, for example, that an important study on the flow state reveals that people are happier at work and less happy relaxing than they expected, indicating we are most gratified when immersed in challenging activities. I would add that includes those that help us grow and change.

Overall, I’m happy with my schedule these days, but it’s taken awhile to find that balance. When I do feel adrift, I harken back to a lifelong habit of signing up to show up.

I thought I had discovered this notion on my own, but, of course, I hadn’t. Lots of motivational and productivity books and articles espouse this simple concept of accomplishing a task or goal through the act of committing to it in writing, which is close to a sacred oath for many of us.

It’s the idea of taking action and being accountable for one’s promises, in this case, to oneself. It’s that formal pledge that takes the intention beyond a generalized idea that might be carried out sometime in the undefined future.

It’s a concept that works especially well for rule-followers like me, who were raised by mothers who pounded responsibility into them along with the guilt of the ages if they failed to deliver. Even though I sometimes feel I’m torturing myself and regret signing up, if I’ve got it in my calendar, it’s gospel.

My closest friend always says, “You’re braver than me,” but I don’t see it that way (and she’s plenty brave, just like most women I know who have made it this far). It’s more about setting an intention, as my yoga teacher says, and following through. Sometimes it works out and change happens, but not always.  

Ch-ch-ch Changes, Turn and Face the Strange

On the plus side, here is what I have found myself doing due to my habit of signing up to show up, and what changes were wrought:

  • Trekking the pitch-black, one-person-at-a-time Hezekiah’s tunnel in Jerusalem, which helped me become more of a fearless traveler and earned me credit toward a master’s degree.
  • Enrolled in a Ph.D. program while four months pregnant with a 1 ½-year-old at home, which helped me launch a new career as an academic at 50 when said children were older.
  • Role-playing a singing-and-dancing Tina Turner in front of an improv comedy class, which helped me find my voice as a first-time college teacher who was failing to keep her students’ attention.
  • Leading a team of journalists at an internet startup, which launched a third career at the cutting edge of technology in my 60s.

At all these points, I knew I needed a change, so I signed up and showed up for the trip, the program, the class, the interview.

Some things I’ve done more recently include signing up for a makeup course and using my new skill as a volunteer in a fashion show promoting girls’ leadership; joining the non-profit Transition Network, a national group with local chapters for women in life transitions; taking writing classes and workshops, and donating to an academic group to further the cause of women in communication.

The latter got me an invitation to give a talk and revisit my academic life, and I may eventually turn my dissertation into a book as a result. My latest volunteer effort is to be in training to record data in the courtroom in domestic abuse cases to help in local court reform, which may be a new area of writing.

Value Your Values

To my mind, any such commitment is part of a yearning to create the shifts or transitions you want in your life based on your values.

Doing it at this age can also be about battling emotional rigidity, taking creative risks and perhaps going inward in a healthy way. Small steps count and rethinking and backtracking are all just part of the process, which is ongoing, agree cohorts I interviewed on this topic.

There’s always room for “new potential,” as one in my women’s group put it during a recent meeting on “change.”

For her, a core value was being a valued member of a group. For others it might be volunteering with children, seniors or animals, furthering other causes or travel.

What I don’t want to do is engage in reinvention overload. This is more like an internal review. The idea is to take a leap, sign up and then show up and see what happens, keeping expectations generally in check. We’re old enough now to know we can catch ourselves, and we’re young enough to keep trying.

“We have more time, but less time,” is the way my friend in the meeting so eloquently stated it, as heads nodded all round.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Have you “signed up to show up” and discovered something new about yourself? Are you looking for change? What values drive you in trying to make transitions in life?

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I love the thought of reinventing yourself. I am semi-retired and live away from family and friends. This article resonates with where I am in my own journey. Love the stories on women taking the leap to see where it leads. My challenge this year is transformation of myself and my life. Just one step at a time in the most positive way. I am excited to learn of the transitions group and hope to find one close by. Love this site!! Thanks for the encouragement!!

Leslie S

I love the focus on values-driven choices in finding what to sign up and show up for. I know my core values are learning, service and justice. When I retired last year, I tried experiences that seemed to center those values for me. So I have been studying beginning Biblical Hebrew, making presentations about nuclear weapons, working with my Quaker meeting on becoming an anti-racist community, and so forth. The trick is the last point you made — how to embrace growth without drowning in “reinvention overload”!


So wonderful to hear about your values-based activities, Leslie. Very inspirational!


I’m working on it and I know I’ll get there! New classes and getting back to the gym a priority. Just having a bit of a lazy phase which is unlike me, but the good old English weather (heavy rain today again) doesn’t help me to be motivated!


I hear you! I sometimes just force myself, for good or bad.


Yes, Danna, change happens when you expose yourself to new experiences, new people and new ideas. Only staying in your safe space will not lead to growth. I moved to Maryland from Bergen County, NJ to set up an intergenerational homestead with my daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters (2 and 4). Now I live in one of Maryland’s agricultural reserves on 5 acres in contrast to being walking distance to the George Washington Bridge! As a result of this leap, I found one of the best jobs of my career. Who knew? Thank you for mentioning The Transition Network (, an organization for women 50 and forward that provides opportunities to meet interesting peers, try new activities, volunteer and of course, have fun. I was a member in NJ and relied on TTN DC Chapter to get connected after my move.


Wow, Susan, that is really taking a leap! I agree that TTN is an invaluable resource. I’m a member of the DC chapter and love it!

The Author

Danna Walker is a writer, educator and student of media. She is passionate about getting better at life no matter what age. Danna got her Ph.D. at 50, got serious about exercise at 65 and has rekindled an early passion – style.

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