‘Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.’Howard Thurman
In my mind’s eye, I see a world where everyone is valued for the gifts they bring to the world. From their earliest age, adults are paying attention to the unique gifts of every new generation and schools are not a place where children are trained to work in a 9-5 situation but rather, are encouraged to listen to their inner guidance to sense what makes them ‘come alive’. And once they are tapped into that sense, the communities around them will celebrate with them because they know that what the world needs is people who have come alive.
Well before I ever came across the above Howard Thurman quote, I was determined to discover what made me come alive. Even though I wouldn’t have used that term, I had observed that there was a path to thriving that was accessible to me and everyone if we could only get still and be honest enough with ourselves and those people in our lives who felt attached to what we do in the world. What I am about to say next may seem harsh, but it is a part of my story that I think may serve others in the telling.
When I was 11, my dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I gave him my honest answer, which was, “I don’t know.” An immigrant workaholic with something to prove, my father said to me, “You’re 11. You should know what you’re going to be by now. If you don’t know what you’re going to be by 11, you’re going to be a loser.” My dad was very big on negative motivation. He thought he could discourage people into positive action. Maybe that’s because that’s how he worked. I never knew my grandfather. But apparently, he didn’t believe in my dad. So, my dad was determined to prove him wrong by working insane amounts of hours and buying pretty much whatever material thing he wanted. But the truth was, my dad was not doing anything that made him come alive. Now, I don’t fault him for making that decision. In fact, he took the path that most of us take. And I’m sure that in his own way, when he told me I was going to be a loser, he was probably thinking something along the lines of, “If it worked for me, it will work for you. I’ll get you to do the right thing by proving me wrong.”
Ironically, I ended up taking two career paths that my dad always wanted for himself, joining the military and becoming a pastor. I did each for as long as doing so made me come alive. And then, I shifted gears. As someone who values body, mind, and soul congruence, I start to get really uncomfortable when I start feeling like I cannot bring my aliveness into a situation. When I sense that, I take it to mean that my aliveness is needed elsewhere. And so, I ask myself what makes me come alive and I go do it.
Right now what makes me come alive is helping other people come alive and helping organizations become spaces for cultivating aliveness among the members of their work community so that they can create products and services the world needs. Because when we bring our aliveness to all we do, it creates opportunities for flourishing for everyone we come in contact with.
A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to speak with a diverse group of students and faculty at UC Berkeley for their Spring Career Summit. When talking with them, I was able to encourage them to bring their aliveness to whatever they do. For many of the students on the call, like I have had to do, they must consider what it means to bring parts of themselves to their work environments that are not always readily welcomed–cultural differences, disabilities, immigrant status, etc. The fact is that no matter who you are, when you dare to bring your aliveness to all you do, you will be sure to encounter folks who, because they have surrendered too much of themselves in order to fit in, will be threatened by your aliveness. Bring your aliveness anyway. Who knows, maybe witnessing your aliveness will be just what we all need.