“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 remember the first time I saw someone come alive—right before my eyes.
It was one of the most magical things I’ve ever seen.
And it happened in one of the most unexpected places.
My very first job out of college was a highly coveted position on the trading floor of a large investment bank. I had fought tooth and nail for that job. I interviewed and ass-kissed and did all other kinds of nonsense to get a seat on that floor.
And the minute I got there, I began to wonder why I had tried so hard.
That’s because everyone around me…
No matter where I looked and no matter who I talked to, I couldn’t find anyone who liked what they did—let alone loved what they did or felt alive doing it.
All I could find…
Unhappy zombies, at that.
I experienced quite a mix of emotions. At first, I was in denial. I was sure I would find someone who was even the slightest bit happy.
Alas, no dice.
Then, I was angry. Why on earth had I bothered trying to get this job? Why did everybody want it so damn bad? Was this all I had to look forward to in the Real World?
In the case of finance, the answer was a sad, sad “yes.”
Finally, I was indignant. This place was going to change, and I… yes, I… was going to be the one to make the change happen!
Ah, to be young and naïve…
But even that was to no avail.
Despite my best effort, just like anything else in life, the zombies started to wear on me.
It’s like walking into a Starbucks. At first, you’re blown away by the smell. The coffee bean aroma is just so strong, that you wonder how anyone is managing to sit inside, let alone wait for their caramel macchiato to brew. But once you place your order, the smell just doesn’t seem quite so strong. And by the time you’re ready to leave, you actually can’t smell anything at all.
You just get used to it, and it goes unnoticed.
That was me. I just got used to the smell of zombies.
And I started to think that Zombieland was the way that things would always be.
That was until I saw someone come back to life.
Part of the “fun” of the trading floor was the constant flow of sales and trades that happened throughout the day. You never knew who might call, what they might want, and how they might get it.
Or if they would get it at all.
But in order to get those phone calls, you had to be at your desk.
All, damn day, you had to be at your desk.
The best that I could hope for during a 12-hour day was a couple trips to the bathroom, a chance to run upstairs to grab lunch, and if I was lucky, a chance to take a five minute break in the afternoon.
But only if I was lucky.
After a couple of years, even my breaks got in a routine.
On the rare day that I had that special five minute break, I would take the escalator upstairs, take one lap around the terrace outside, and take the escalator back downstairs, all the while hoping that I hadn’t missed any calls in the interim.
God forbid you took two laps and missed a phone call!
You might not want to come back down…
Every once in a while, my friend Jon would join me on these short breaks.
Jon was a year younger, and also an analyst. He spent his days building spreadsheet models and listening to EDM. At the beginning of his career, I led him around and showed him the ropes, but after a while, we became professional peers and trusted advisors for each other. We talked about life and friends and sometimes work… but we tried to avoid that last subject as often as possible, because we knew where it would lead.
After all, like over 70% of Americans, we both hated our jobs.
On this particular afternoon, Jon and I were halfway through our trip around the terrace, when we noticed something a little different about our surroundings.
Our building was positioned between a highway and a small creek. There was a road on either side of the creek and a short bridge that connected the two roads. There was nothing really special about any of this, so we never really took note.
But that day, there was some commotion going on around the bridge.
Trucks were everywhere, construction workers were milling around, and lots of noise was coming from underneath the bridge.
Our conversation lulled as we walked past the scene, and in a harmless attempt at filling the silence, I asked Jon,
“What do you think’s going on over there?”
Those were the last words I spoke during our walk that afternoon.
Jon came to life and took over.
He turned to me, his eyes lit up, and he just started talking. And talking. And talking.
He went on about cement and weather conditions and seasonal changes and construction and engineering and project plans and oh-my-goodnessI-I-don’t-even-remember-because-he-just-wouldn’t-stop-talking.
The boy came to life in front of my eyes.
There was a vibrancy, a life-force, a passion in his face and his speech that I had never seen before.
We had been working together for over a year, and little did I know, he had been sleep-walking the entire time.
I was friends with a zombie, and I was completely unaware of the smell.
But that day, it hit me like a freshly brewed cup of coffee.
I realized I was in Starbucks all over again. I realized that there was more out there than the half-life of a hated job. I realized that it was possible to wake up.
I realized that it was possible to come back to life.
The world doesn’t need another financial analyst who’s living his life half-asleep, because he’s afraid to leave the comfort of a six-figure salary and a Bloomberg terminal.
The world needs people to be honest about what they love, aware that their dreams are possible, and courageous enough to take the leap to try them.
The world needs you doing work that makes you come alive.
“Don’t ask yourself 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.”
This is your life.
Live it… alive.
Now, I want to hear from you!
- What makes you come alive?
- Where in your life can you “wake up” and “come back to life”?
Share your story or your reaction in the comments below.