Feb 232015 0 Responses

You Never Have to Show Your Work

When I was in first grade, math was pretty simple. The teacher gave the problem and the students supplied the answer. It was straight up. You were either right or wrong.

Times have changed. As I help my son with his homework the problems are basically identical. They are stated in more story form, but the basic premise of five minus two is still the problem.

However, instead of writing three, my son draws five circles, puts an x over two of the circles, draws a bigger circle around the three remaining circles, and then writes the number three in the blank.

He’s expected to get the answer right, but he is also expected to show his work. (See: A Forgotten Sign of Adulthood)

One of the reasons I love being 37 instead of six is that I no longer have to show my work.

It’s good when you are a kid to show your work. Getting one math problem right or wrong isn’t life changing, but understanding the process is far more important. That isn’t just true for kids. Process is always more important than outcomes.

Yet many of us feel a constant pressure to show our work to everyone we know.

We wonder:

  • “What will they think?”
  • “What if they don’t like me?”
  • “What if they think I’m wrong?”

We show our work, not to get help or to learn, but to explain our lives to others who, quite frankly, don’t deserve to see or know everything about us.

I’m all for showing your work on occasion. There are certain people who can help us, and to those people we should pull back the curtain on our lives and let them see the processes we use to get the outcomes we experience.

Doctors, pastors, counselors, close friends, and spouses should all have access into our lives. To them, we should show our work.

They can assist us, point out blind spots, give sound advice, and nudge us in a good direction.

But with everyone else, we should feel no pressure to show our work. To the friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and bystanders in our lives, we are not obligated to explain the “why” behind every “what” that we decide. We don’t have to show our work. (See: Never Try to Prove Yourself)

As an adult, you have choices which are solely your own and you have no obligation to share your decisions with others. Make a choice and move on.

Do not spend time or energy concerned about what others might think, say, or do. Not only is it not necessary to explain yourself, it often is not useful.

Why explain yourself to someone who cannot help the situation?

Why concern yourself with someone who doesn’t know the whole story, may not truly care about you, and might doubt you no matter what you say?

Why waste time explaining a decision instead of spending that time tackling the next issue in life?

Of course, if showing your work can help the person if they are confronting a similar decision, then show your work. Never hesitate to help others, especially when telling your story is helpful. If you can assist another person, saving them from struggle, pointing them toward truth, and potentially saving them from negative consequences, always help. (See: We Are Happy with our Decision, Thank You)

Yet if you are tempted to show your work simply out of fear of what others might think or in hopes of averting gossip, don’t bother. Those that are going to gossip will do so whether they hear your story or not.


People who would treat you fairly will do so whether they know everything or not.


People who would treat you unfairly will do so no matter what they know or don’t know.

Too often we spend an inordinate amount of energy worried about what others might think or do rather than focusing on the things we actually control. (See: Don’t Please People, Love Them)

My son is six. When he does his homework, he has to show his work.

I’m not six. Whenever I make a personal decision, I don’t owe an explanation to anyone. And neither do you.


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