What makes you come alive?

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Harold Whitman wrote:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

So, I am preparing for my big Career Renegade Bootcamp this weekend (not a sales pitch, it’s already sold out) and I keep circling back to this one concept.

In business and in life, we tend to get so wrapped up in the quest to ferret out gaps to exploit, voids to fill and markets to target that I wonder if we sometimes lose sight of what really matters most.

Our greatest satisfaction comes not so much from cashing in on opportunities that hold great economic potential, but little genuine interest. It’s just not about that.

Sure money matters, but meaning matters more…

There’s now a cornucopia of research to support this. Beyond earning enough to live comfortably in the world and cover your basic needs, every new dollar of income does not add significantly to your enjoyment of life. Because, we habituate to money, stuff and power in the blink of an eye.

What DOES matter, though, is doing what you love…

And, then figuring out how to earn what you need. Of course, the first step in this puzzle is to ask the question Harold Whitman assumes you’ve already answered.

What makes you come alive?

When I asked this question of myself, here’s what I came up with…

  • Activities/Processes – Playing with people I love, teaching and mentoring, speaking and writing, creating anything, designing, painting, playing/making music, being active.
  • Topics/Content – Entrepreneurship, marketing, conscious living, health and fitness, parenting, nature, the psychology of change.

For some people, it’s one all-consuming thing. Medicine, math, sculpting. That’s not me. Never has been. Nor, do I believe, it needs to be.

Not surprisingly, nearly all of my professional endeavors over the past 5 years have been wrapped around these things. And, amazingly enough, the more I do what I love, the easier it becomes to figure out how to make money grow out of meaning.

Or, like Paul Newman revealed in The Color Of Money…

“If you’ve got an area of excellence – you’re good at something; you’re the best at something; Anything; Then, rich can be arranged. I mean rich can come fairly easy.”

So, my question for you, today is…

What makes YOU come alive?

What are the topics, content, processes and activities that light your fire. The things that make you pant with anticipation and lose time when your doing them?

C’mon, what are they? Think about it, but not to hard, this has gotta come from the gut.

Now, share your answers in the comments below…

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23 responses

23 responses to “What makes you come alive?”

  1. sharon says:

    i have to really think about this one.

  2. Having an idea… and then seizing it. Plunging into it, getting excited and fired up. The world has no limits.

    Riding in the Zone. When there’s nothing but you and the horse, and time stands still for accurate perfection. Every nudge of a leg, every slight body shift… it all fits into that essential moment of having nothing else matter.

    Sunshine. Turning my face to its warmth and breathing deep, glad to be alive. At that moment, just appreciating life itself, I feel so grateful.

    When the words flow to the page so well that I don’t stop writing and I don’t have to edit. When my writing lives and breathes.

    Playing. Laughing. Reading quietly. Chocolate chai tea on a cold winter night. Sleeping in. Warm blankets. Kids with smiles on their faces and light in their eyes. Love.

  3. kara says:

    Working with Photoshop.
    Working alone.

  4. I’d forgotten that “rich can be arranged” line. I wasn’t a huge fan of the movie, but I remember loving Paul Newman in the role–he’s such a great elder statesman.

    Agreed on happiness (where “happiness” = “fulfillment by working towards one’s chosen destiny”) before money. I think a huge part of the problem is how and what we teach our children. No emphasis on critical thinking. Not much emphasis on arts training. The arts are where minds get to wander and stretch and play, and get comfortable with change and uncertainty.

    But even that is just the beginnings of a thesis. This is a great, open-ended question you’ve posed. As @sharon said, I’ll have to think on this one.

    (Congrats on your upcoming bootcamp. Not surprised to hear you’re sold out; you’re so compelling over the internet, you must be a lick of fire in person!)

  5. Todd says:

    Great piece….I’ve been mulling over this all important question for some time. Empowering others has always been a constant driving force in my life. I’d eventually like to see myself get back into social work/counseling in a capacity that I enjoy. And perhaps in the short run volunteer with organizations that I believe in and where can make a small impact.

  6. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Sharon – yeah, I spend the better part of my day thinking about stuff like this, hey, wait a minute, now you can do that too! 😉

    @ James – I’m with you, writing can take me to that same place, like I blink and morning turns to night. And, thanks for the reminder about drinking in a bit of sun…time for a walk, it’s gorgeous out in NYC today!

    @ Kara – I hear you on the Photoshop thing, though, I definitely go and back and forth on whether I like to be around other people or huddled in solitude.

    @ Communicatrix (I forgot how much I love that name 🙂 ) – It’s all about meaning for me, I did the all-about-money thing and I did well at it, but it emptied me out inside. Interesting choice of words, too, when you mentioned “destiny.” I have pretty mixed feeling about finding your destiny that I’ll definitely go into in an upcoming column

  7. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Todd – I hear you! I think the nice thing about having a Jones to empower others, too, is that there are so many outlets and so many ways to earn a living, especially if you’re really willing to think different!

  8. Great post. I have tried to follow the idea of every job I have should have two pay checks. One is monetary, to cover living, the other is satisfaction, doing what I love. When this is kept as part of the equation, happiness comes pretty easily.

  9. Asking how something works helps me come alive. I like relationships. “Why” and “how” questions are everywhere. I could be looking at the way a leaf of lettuce is structured, how sadness tastes, or why I’d want to make whatever WordPress template tag sort whosits and whatsits. Everything is a relationship.

    Sometimes working that way is disorienting. Today while standing in the middle of a busy produce department holding a smallish Yukon Gold potato I had a eureka moment about taking learning in personal portion-sized chunks. For a moment or two I was not all there… because I was everywhere. When I can take the fugue of feeling connected to all and translate it into something usable, actionable, understandable or celebrate-able by others, then I’ve had a moment of coming alive.

  10. = “The combination of passion for the cause bundled with creativity.”

    Taking a solitary walk on the beach. Writing in the zone (like James put it so eloquently and spot on). Painting with my favorite music. Dancing to sexy house beats in a nightclub to the effect of losing myself in the beat of the music.

    Being with friends. Enjoying a great meal. A glass of red when the outside is raging with rain or snow. A plat of cheese and warm crusty bread. Love. Playing with my birds.

    Teaching others. Public speaking (I’m a bit of an extrovert). Helping to educate. Learning. Sunshine on my face. Birdsong. Camping. Hiking in nature. Being centered.

  11. Sandra says:

    it’s so funny you write about this today being that it was my last day of my Martha Beck telecourse entitled What Do You Want to Be When you Grow Up?

    You can I have chatted before about not being able to focus on one thing that I love enough to sit down and do something about it.

    What I walked away with from this telecourse is that I can do all of the things that interest me and my happiness doing them will help me see how to make money from them.

    Martha gave us many examples of why people gravitate towards confident, happy people.

    So here is my list of things that make me feel alive:
    creativity, writing, speaking, teaching, business, marketing, blogging, fashion, fashion history, vintage clothing, art, creative people, family

  12. shane says:

    I am most alive when I am chasing something that I am passionate about and struggling and growing.

    I am most alive when my wife is rubbing my head.

    I am most alive when I surf overhead waves.

    I am most alive when I can help someone.

    oh and Sandra – that sounds cool – I’ll admit that I have heard two of Martha’s talks and really enjoyed both of them.

  13. Weird. That is the second time today that I have seen that quote. Don’t forget to have fun at your bootcamp!!

  14. Patrick Badstibner says:

    I am most alive when actively pursuing, it is not always the attaintment that is best as the pursuit. Having lost my phyiscal health, while still pursuing a second business. I now have to find more fulfillment in the mental aspect of life. Having lost my hearing, I must find greater fulfillment in watching the laughter of others, whether I hav4e heard the why or not. Yet the constant pursuit of mental edge is fullfilling and being in that tube mentally is exhuberating.

  15. Sandra says:

    I’m so glad someone else knows the power of Martha. She cracks me up. Oh, and I just signed up for Sproutwire ; ) Gotta get my reading fix.

  16. sharon says:

    slow cooking. not with a slow cooker. just plain cooking slowly! you know, like a pot of beef stew. the extra time taken to dice the vegetables and meat into nice little cubes…simmer for 4-6 hours….in all my years of cooking, it’s always a rush. a quick chop of this and that…a high fire…pan smoking…smoke alarm going off…type cooking…now that i have discovered slow cooking….honey, dinner will be at 11:30pm.

    baking and decorating. the decorating is the best part.

    photography – food, dogs, kids playing, kids sulking…

    working with illustrator and photoshop.

    watching judge judy verbally slap a person on the back of the head for stupidity.

  17. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Corey – interesting idea with thinking of it as two paychecks, I’m gonna ponder that!

    @ Elizabeth – nice, sounds we both share a passion for discovery!

    @ Monika – we definitely share a bunch of these in common, though it sounds like you’re much more of an extrovert than me. i tend to turn it on when needed, but then I like a lot of solitude, too.

    @ Sandra – that’s funny, timing’s everything, eh? It’s interesting, too, how much fun I’ve been having blogging, too. It really seems to wrap up so many different passions for me

    @ Shane – ok, so I have to go along with the wife thing, though, for me, it playing with my hair, of course, we’re talking about my wife now, not yours! See ya at SXSW, buddy!

    @ persistenillusion – thanks for the well-wishes for the career renegade bootcamp!

    @ Pat – always interesting to see your perspective, having gone through some pretty major changes!

    @ Sharon – yeah, getting into that meditative place with even the simplest of day to day activities is an amazing thing! Jives perfectly with watching judge judy smackdown a litigant! hehehe! 😉

  18. […] What makes you come alive? | Awake At The Wheel | Personal Growth | careers | entrepreneurship | hea…  If you want fire-in-the-belly, go-big-or-go-home, you-only-live-once type of advice, this is the place to go. […]

  19. Yes to a lot of that…as well as…

    Seeing someone else’s eyes light up! When deep into a conversation, suddenly we understand something important in unison; or when a kid takes the first lick of a favourite food; or when my partner touches my hair ever so gently and the moment is captured in our glance.

    The easy moments, calm and natural times, walking through a meadow, listening to the wind…

    When time disappears, and passion appears.

    I’ve come to realize, that all there is is “now”. My grandmother always said, “you can’t have a good life without a lot of good days”. I’m living up to her expectations!

  20. […] What Makes You Come Alive? – Awake At The Wheel […]

  21. cri says:

    what makes me come alive
    -drawing, illustrating…coming up with cute funny characters
    -helping kids learn and seeing them smile
    -helping people go after what they want, empowering them, helping them find solutions to do what they really want
    -experiencing new cultures
    -coming up with something different
    -sharing my experiences
    -being inspired by passionate and positive people

  22. Wtblogger says:

    The laughts of the innocent kids playing in the park,playing the piano, listening to my favourite trance songs and not only, and sometimes, watching a good movie;that’s what makes me come alive

  23. My pager in the middle of the night:)

    Anyway, I come alive when someone ask me a question regarding healthcare from a clinical standpoint. I try to take complex problems and break them down into smaller parts then deliver simple explanations. This allows my patients and others to make better decisions and feel more at ease. My passion is to blog and write articles in a similar style. I am also very motivated by the oppurtunity to teach topics related to my profession.