The Best Life Advice I Ever Got

20140710_155926Don’t ask what the world needs.

Ask what makes you come alive

 -and then go do it.

Because what the world needs

is people who have come alive.

    -Howard Thurman

If I heard this quote before July 9th, 2014 I don’t remember. But since that day I will never forget it. There’s a long serendipitous story behind this involving a desperate message to a friend and a total stranger convincing me to do something I had been resistant of my whole life – but that can wait.

I like this quote for 3 reasons: It’s freeing, efficient, and TRUE.

First: freeing

You know what feeling stinks? Guilt. You know what often comes along with doing the things we love these days? Guilt. This spring I spent 4 months road tripping and throughout the entire journey I would occasionally get hit with this wave of guilt. “Waking up and doing what I want everyday is so self-indulgent.” “I should be being ‘productive’.” “Other people need this time off more than I do.”

But those thoughts are so twisted and terrible. Roadtrip Life will forever be one of the best things I do in life. I felt alive every single day. We brought joy with us everywhere we went. We met so many people, spread so much love, and hopefully soaked up enough joy of our own to power us through at least a school year of mentoring students.

This quote takes what we might consider selfish hobbies and says so clearly that this is actually the best thing you can do, not just for yourself but for the world.*

*I think there is some assumption that ‘what makes you come alive’ is not destructive to other humans, animals, or nature.

Second: It’s efficient. 

You don’t need money, or big houses, or lots of disposable/replaceable/destructible things. You simply need to identify the things that make you feel most alive and devote the bulk of your time and energy to those things.

The reality commercialism doesn’t want you to realize:

The purpose of having enough money to live comfortable is so that you can have the time and resources to do the things that make you come alive.

But when we get caught up in the complications of too many things, too many bills, to much mental exhaustion. Streamline this process: simply do the things you love doing for work. This way of working might not be worth as much monetarily, but you won’t need nearly as much money when you are naturally happy.

Lastly, it’s TRUE.

The world is about experiences. In the end, that is all we get from life: an experience. The worst way to spend this limited-time experience is to not be “alive” for it. I’m sure you can think of people who are not alive, people who have been going through the daily grind so long they are numb. They might be “successful” “happily married” or most likely, “well-off”. But if they are not alive then they are missing life itself.  That $7000 vacation they just took? Those picturesque photos they constantly post? Not worth any of it unless you are alive for it.

Being so happy you could cry. Smiling so big or laughing so hard it hurts. Feeling your heart beat in your chest: from exhaustion, from nerves, from terror, from complete silence, from a desire so strong your heart aches. Staring in awe at the world.

Moments when you feel this much do not fade from your memory. And they do not need to be few and far between.

I hope you are familiar with this feeling. Because if not, I think it is time to go find it.


Ok, if you really want the backstory: July 9th was one of those days I was lost in my head, looking for someone who could relate to the guilt of being privileged. I sent my friend a rambling message to which he responded something along the lines of “Get over it” and this quote. A few hours later, I am walking down the streets of Boston and decided not to resist the flyer being pushed into my hand. I wound up talking to Nika, this amazing woman with an amazing story who had overcome much worse than being ignored or glared at while street marketing. She mentioned this quote she had just heard which I am not making this up was the exact same quote. Let’s just say 45 minutes later I was convinced Plan International was a cause worth supporting. So now Fatima in South Sudan is the girl I will never meet but who reminds me to come alive.


One thought on “The Best Life Advice I Ever Got

  1. Pingback: The Art of Expanding Possibilities | SPREAD

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