What Makes You Come Alive?

This week, I’m offering you a choice between reading my post or watching a video. The words are not identical between the two, but the message is the same. If you choose to watch the video, please leave me a comment below for whether you’d like to see more videos in the future. Thank you very much for watching and for your feedback! :-)

Text version:

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

I love this Thurman quote. Sometimes, when we think about serving, it seems to imply effort, sacrifice or denying ourselves somehow. The truth is the world doesn’t need us to suffer, nor do we serve anyone by suffering. After all, we come into this life to experience joy and expansion, and to experience fulfillment from living a meaningful, passionate life. Rather, the world needs us to connect to our heart and soul, to awaken our passion such that we can come alive fully. That’s how we inspire each other. That’s how we serve each other. Just think about how you feel when you’re around someone who’s passionate and fully engaged with life.

Tony RobbinsA Powerhouse of Being Fully Alive

Last Friday, I was in the presence of someone who embodies the essence of the Thurman quote. That person was Tony Robbins. If you haven’t heard of him, he’s a powerhouse in the personal development field. He’s someone who has figured out since he was 17 what made him come alive. For the past 35 years, he has devoted his life to helping others do the same. By his count, he has touched over 4 million lives in 150 countries. Last Friday, he was the keynote speaker at a convention, and was supposed to talk for 3 hours. However, he had so much enthusiasm, energy and content that he ended up taking an extra hour—not that anyone complained! I can totally see why he’s the master teacher and master motivator that he is. He oozes high energy, passion and conviction for what he does, which is extremely infectious. He makes you feel that there’s nothing you can’t do, if only you know what makes your heart sing and what awakens the passion within you. In my opinion, he inspires by how he shows up in the world—by being fully alive and connected to his passion—more than what he does or how he does it.

Who Do You Influence? What Are Your Gifts And Talents?

Of all the things Robbins said to the 10,000 people in the audience, one point he made almost in passing has really stayed with me. He asked, “What makes a leader?” To him, a leader is someone who has influence. He didn’t say how much influence, but just influence. That could easily apply to all of us, even if our sphere of influence includes just a few people in our lives who look (up) to us and trust us. Robbins’ definition of leadership resonates with me because it aligns with something I’ve believed all my life. That is, each and every one of us was born with gifts, talents and an aptitude—nothing is too small or insignificant—with which to serve in this life. These gifts, talents and aptitude are essentially on loan to us to do something with them, rather than “hoarding” and hiding them. It’s our responsibility to use them to carry out our life’s mission, and that’s what aligns with being a leader in life, regardless of the objective size of our sphere of influence.

This reminds me of a book that was recommended to me almost 10 years ago. In Smart Girls, author Dr. Barbara Kerr argues that gifted people have an obligation to serve society. (She had also written Smart Boys, but I didn’t read that book.) Dr. Kerr was in the first class of gifted students in the United States in 1957, shortly after Sputnik was launched. The U.S. government realized they needed to identify and nurture gifted children who would grow up to become leaders. Smart Girls included an account of what Dr. Kerr’s female cohorts had done with their lives nearly 40 years after they graduated. She claimed that her female gifted classmates who went on to become school teachers and homemakers didn’t do enough with their gifts to contribute to society. They were supposed to be making a larger impact, such as through writing books, furthering knowledge and doing work of larger influence. Needless to say, she got a lot of backlash from readers who didn’t appreciate her value judgments. Whether or not we agree with these judgments, we can’t help but respect her passionate belief—which she has lived herself as a counseling psychologist—that the gifts with which we were born are essentially on loan to us to serve in this life. We have a social responsibility to put the gifts loaned to us to good use in serving each other.

Offering and Receiving HelpWho Needs Your Help?

This chain of thought also made me think of a piece of advice I got in 1997. In the final stage of earning my doctorate, I was conducting research to complete a book (dissertation), which included a phone survey. After answering my survey, one of the respondents said, “Alice, do you mind if I asked you what you’re going to do after you graduate?” I couldn’t hide my pride when I answered that a professorial appointment at Cornell University was awaiting me. To that, without changing his tone of voice, he said, “Alice, if I may offer a piece of advice, use your education to help those who really need your help.” His words sent prickles down my spine, and have stayed with me all these years. I never met this man before, nor have I spoken with him again. Nevertheless, in the 15 years since that conversation, whenever I was at a juncture of trying to reinvent myself to fulfill what I was born to do, his words would ring in my heart. They would remind me to ask, “Am I serving the people I was born to serve? Am I helping those who need my help?”

For Your Contemplation

With all of the above said, I’d invite you to ponder this: Whether or not you see yourself as a leader, whether or not you consider yourself gifted, whether or not you have substantial formal education under your belt, you are here in this life to serve at some level. To that end, I’d like to offer the following questions for you to consider:

  1. Who do you influence? No matter how small your sphere of influence may be, who look to you for advice, guidance and to model the way?
  2. What are your gifts and talents? This isn’t the time to be self-deprecating, nor is this an ego trip. Rather, we’re talking about identifying our cosmic responsibility. Why are you here? In what ways are you meant to serve? What gifts and talents have been on loan to you to do that?
  3. What makes you come alive? And, are you alive? If your answer isn’t a resounding “Yes,” what would it take for you to come alive? Again, to quote Thurman, the world needs people who have come alive. The people you lead/influence don’t need you to be Gandhi or Mother Teresa necessarily, but they need you to come alive. That’s how you inspire and serve them.

I invite you to meditate on the above, contemplate the above, journal on the above. Use whatever modality resonates with you.

Before you leave here today, please share in the comment box below what makes you come alive. We’re here to be with each other and to serve each other. Let’s start with sharing what makes each of us come alive!


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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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You really are good at communicating in your writing

Dan Teck
Dan Teck

What a wonderful, inspiring video! You are such an eloquent speaker! I'll continue to ponder your questions over the coming days, weeks, months (and beyond), but the first things that come to mind that make me come alive are: 1. being with my beautiful wife, sharing our love & our lives; 2. music (listening & playing); 3. reading/writing; and 4. personal growth--whether it comes through books, experiences, connections, or videos such as yours! I have two responses to your question about videos: 1. Yes, I'd love to see more videos! You do a great job with them (as you do with your writing), so a mix would be nice. 2. BUT....more importantly, I feel that it's way more important for you to ask yourself what makes YOU come alive. If you're feeling more of a pull to write one week, I would follow that rather than worrying about what we readers want--we WANT you to come alive and feel alive and express that in the way that feels most alive to you! My guess is that some topics will lend themselves more to videos, others to writing--or sometimes you'll just be more in the mood for one or the other. So I'd encourage you to listen to and follow that inner urge/calling and know that we readers/viewers will find your enthusiasm for the topic contagious as long as you're expressing it in the way that feels right for you in that moment. Thanks again for the inspiring, thought-provoking post!

Kumar Gauraw
Kumar Gauraw

Wow! The video is awesome, Dr. Alice. I think I like the video over text especially on topics such as the one you just covered. I enjoyed your talk and thank you for a wonderful message with an awesome video presentation. I look forward to more videos from you now :-) Regards, Kumar

Scott Mabry
Scott Mabry

Fantastic message Alice. Can't tell you how important it is to be reminded of this in a world that wants to tell us how to fit in or what we can or can't be. When we come alive our influence expands and our lives take on an amazing flow. Love to hear Tony Robbins. Most remember him for his infomercials but his message in person is really powerful. Thank you for sharing what you experienced. I can tell you this post (and the wonderful video) really brightened my day!

Skip Prichard
Skip Prichard

Alice, I personally enjoyed listening as I was reading. Most importantly, I love the message because it is what makes all the difference. You can achieve good results when you work hard, but extraordinary results when you work within your passion. Keep bringing the inspirational messages.


Congrats on the video! Great job!

Jodi Chapman
Jodi Chapman

What a beautiful video! It's so nice to see you - I definitely would love to see more! To answer your question - love, connection, and living fully make me come alive! ♥


HI Alice! I really enjoyed the video, and yes I would like to see more of them. Again so amazing that you wrote about exactly what I am experiencing right now. I started a class 3 weeks ago called Mama Gena's Virtual Pleasure Boot Camp. As the name suggests, it is about identifying your own points of pleasure in every aspect of your life and standing up for yourself to grab and run with them. To own them. Believe it or not, the two parts are equally difficult. I have always been aware of many of the things that make me come alive, but I sort of kept them a secret. Either that, or I would speak openly only about the surface of my desires and not fully divulge or explore the full blast of them. I am seeing now that fear has played a much larger role in my life than I first suspected. Your "on loan" versus "hoarding and hiding" concept really speaks to me. I have played a good game of hide and seek, only offering the parts that are the path of least resistance. I have become so good at it that most people, if asked, would say I am very outgoing and have lots of talents in a multitude of areas. I know for sure now that this is my time to put all of me out there - to accept the responsibility of my gifts and to share them. This post was like the fire I needed. THANK YOU!


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