The art of coming alive



I snapped one of my favorite images of my daughter while we were walking along King Street one afternoon about a year ago. She stopped at an open door, enamored by the staircase leading up to the second floor. The words painted on the stairs made me catch my breath: a quote by theologian Howard Thurman that resonates so deeply I can feel it in my body each time I read it:

“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.” 

I came across the Thurman quote again recently while re-reading Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection. It’s one of my favorites. It’s like my personal handbook to living what Brown calls “a wholehearted life.” Brown wrote about “coming alive” in the chapter on cultivating meaningful work. Through her research of interviewing men and women and collecting thousands of stories, Brown discovered several things:

  • We all have gifts and talents, and squandering those gifts and talents is harmful to our emotional and physical well-being.
  • Using our gifts and talents to create meaningful work takes a tremendous amount of commitment, because in many cases meaningful work is not what pays the bills. (Sometimes it does, but not always. Such a shift in perspective for me!)
  • No one else can decide what’s meaningful for us.

I can think of lots of things that make me feel alive that generate zero dollars. I also have skills that result in getting paid actual dollars. When we’re unclear on how to blend the two, it’s easy to think we have to choose between them. Feel alive or put food on the table. Brown suggests another way:

Start by making a list of what inspires you. Don’t think about whether what inspires you results in a paycheck. Brown reminds us that we don’t have to quit our day jobs to create meaningful work. AND, perhaps our day jobs are meaningful work and we’ve simply never thought of it that way.

The key for me, as I practice living a more meaningful and wholehearted life, is paying attention. I try to pay attention to the positives rather than obsess over the negatives. (Try is the operative word here). I notice when I feel lighter, more energetic, more joyful, and then I’m deliberate about moving in that direction. Here’s a list, in no particular order, of some of those things that make me feel alive:

  • Writing and sharing stories that inspire and create connection (e.g., writing for my personal blog and this one here at Skirt!)
  • Listening to music
  • Dancing (usually reserved for wedding receptions and inside my kitchen)
  • Exercise
  • Pretty much any chore (cleaning, painting, decorating, rearranging, decluttering) that makes my home feel more like home.
  • Spending quality time with friends
  • Being present with my kids
  • Having conversations with my husband that make us laugh

What I love so much about the Thurman quote is the insistence that coming alive isn’t selfish or a waste of time. Coming alive is critical to our well-being and to the well-being of our people. The world needs it.

What about you? What’s on your come alive list?

Angie Mizzell is a writer, TV spokesperson, and mom of three. She is also the co-founder of Charleston Storytellers and blogs about creating a life...

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