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!
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.
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.
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:
- 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?
- 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?
- 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!
Photo of hands in sky: www.freedigitalphotos.net.
If you’re new here, welcome! I invite you to subscribe to my blog via email or RSS feed. Simply look for the “Subscribe & Connect” box below.