The Ethics column in the New York Times detailed the plight of a recently-graduated student and his experience of the working life as opposed to the going-to-school-where-your-parents-are-paying-for-everything life. He graduated from an Ivy League school debt-free, and felt an  obligation to his parents because of their investment in him.

What happened was that he got what he called a “soul-crushing job” in a publishing house. After a bit, he quit, and cobbled together several minimum-wage, part-time jobs that didn’t crush his soul so much. He’s happier, but also feels guilty, as though he’s somehow letting his parents down because his jobs don’t point toward an obvious future.

The ever-trenchant ethicist, Chuck Klosterman, replies, “I strongly suspect your soul-crushing publishing job might have seemed significantly less soul-crushing if you were also receiving the soul-crushing bills that accompany soul-crushing student loans.”

This young graduate learned a tough lesson almost immediately:

You not only have to go to work; you have to show up for work.

He went to work no doubt. That’s how he figured out that the nature of the work was soul-crushing. What he discovered that he couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t want to do was show up for work.

What does it mean to show up?

In the simplest terms, it means to care, and it’s actually not an action (even though it looks like one). It’s a state of being.

To show up means to care.

About what?

Oh, a lot of things. Yourself, the work, your integrity in the work, the team with which you work, the quality of the work, commitments about the work.

Showing up means you’re present, accounted for, glad to be there, committed, and generally all-round caring for every aspect of your job from the way you dress to the way your desk looks at the end of the day to how you talk to your co-workers to how you deal with customers both internal and external.

And, interestingly, you can’t be paid to care, nor can you be paid to show up.

Sometimes I think unpaid interns care and show up more than employees. They’re aware of the opportunity in front of them, and they care about that a whole lot. Because they think it has something to do with their futures.

In the best of all possible worlds, Candide, we would all have no issues with showing up for work because we would each be doing work we care about, and for a lot of working folk, this is true. We do show up. We do care.

But what about the folks who go to work, but don’t really show up? And, ergo, don’t really care? Are there peeps like this who work for/with you? If there are, gently, but firmly create an exit strategy for each one, and replace them with people who do want to show up and who do care about the work you do together.

You’ll know who they are because when they talk about what you do, they’ll light up. Caring (and showing up) remember, aren’t actions, they’re states of Being.

Think of it this way: if I, a leadership coach, were working at Mickey D’s in a fries station, do you think I’d be in the right position? Probably not. What that means is that, on a cosmic level, I’d have taken someone else’s job! Because I know what I know about leadership, I’d probably do my best to show up and really care, but … it wouldn’t be my best placement.

The team you work with or who work for you needs to show up every day in every way. That means they need to care. If they don’t, assume they’re innocently in the wrong placements. Move them around, or release them to the places where they not only can, but want to, show up and care.

You’ll all be glad you did, and no more soul-crushing.