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How to Come Alive

Photo by Rosie Hardy
Editor’s Note

This is such a simple, elegant and inspiring article. Make sure to give this a read. You'll be glad you did. :)

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

No quote has ever had more of an impact on me than this one.

When I first read it, I was working in the accounting department of a government contractor in Virginia. I was commuting back and forth to the 3-bedroom house on ½ acre that I’d just bought and I was doing it in a sporty little Mazda 626.

I was making a respectable salary. I had parlayed my college degree into a “successful” career, and I was understandably proud of myself.

But I was not alive.

I was just one of hundreds of thousands of bean counters who sat in traffic a couple of hours a day to get to a cubicle in a maze of other cubicles to sit for another 8 to 10 hours a day trying to make numbers add up.

Weekends were all about errands and yard work and house maintenance and laundry and shopping and … well, I’m sure you know the drill. My weekend “second job” was Support Staff for the lady of the house (me) so that she could continue to make a living.

I was “making a living”–an idiom meaning that I earned enough money to support myself. I was maintaining … I was solvent … I was independent … I was staying afloat.

But I was not alive.

One night as I was walking my dog along a dirt road through the woods near my house, a little verse suddenly popped into my head:

Once upon a time–not so very long ago–lived an ordinary woman out to change the status quo.”

I don’t know where the words came from and I didn’t know where they were going to lead. But that verse led to another, and then another.

Each little verse was like a gem in the rough that required faceting and polishing–or a worry stone that I kept in my pocket, stroking and smoothing it until it felt “right.” I had to massage the words, the syllables, and the accentuation to make each one perfect.

Those little nuggets kept me company every hour of every day for four years after that. In the end, I had 164 verses and my first book about simplicity was born. More importantly, I was born.

What I had learned from writing that book was that you can buy the physical necessities to keep your body going, but there’s nothing out there on the store shelves that will feed your soul and nurture your spirit.

Survival requires having. Being alive requires doing.

So I left the government contract job to do something I felt was more worthwhile, more valuable, more rewarding.

I coordinated a financial counseling program for a while, but I got bored with it. I worked as an assistant manager in a thrift store for a while, but I got bored with it. I even opened a successful thrift store on my own for the local SPCA – but I got bored with it.

I felt as if the things I had begun to do were more socially redeeming than counting beans, but after a short time — when most of the upfront challenges had been overcome — I would be back to just making a living.

I wanted to be alive! I wanted to pop out of bed in the morning like toast from a toaster! I wanted to look forward to every day as another exciting opportunity to bring something unique and wonderful into the world!

Ah. Something unique and wonderful.

Every human being–like every snowflake–is unique and wonderful. Every human being has a unique and wonderful combination of gifts to bring into the world. I knew I had those gifts, too.

So I persevered. I kept looking for answers, following the clues. What was my “right livelihood”?

I knew it had to do with being unique. If I didn’t count the beans, someone else could and would. If I didn’t coordinate the counselors, someone else could and would. If I didn’t manage the thrift store, someone else could and would.

I wanted to do something that no one in the world could do but me.

When all the tumblers finally fell into place, the door swung open, and there I was with the key in my hand. I had to write about simplicity in my own words from my own perspective based on my own personal experience. I suspect I’d known it deep inside for years.

So this is my success story.

Has my writing brought me fame or fortune … or even a modest income? No. But I do pop out of bed like toast! And not just in the morning, but usually several times a night when an idea will grab hold of me, or a phrase will sink its teeth into my consciousness.

I write because I have to. I write because I love to. I write because no one can write the things I write but me.

And NOW I am alive.

* What makes you come alive? Share your thoughts and wisdom with us in the comment section below.

** Do you feel stuck or uncertain of what makes you come alive? Check out Discover You Now — We guarantee it’ll help you find the answers (or your money back).

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About the author

From Kate Carpenter: I became a simple living groupie in college when I read Living Poor with Style by Ernest Callenbach in 1972. I started writing about it in 1998. I left the rat race to do it full time in 2010. I love stripping life down to its fundamentals without any distractions or complications blurring the focus. My goal every day is to make something simpler, smaller, or more clearly understood. Life shouldn't have to be so hard!

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23 thoughts on How to Come Alive

  1. Wonderful article. I can feel your excitement in it.

    I enjoy helping people discover the joy of being alive and being their true selves. I enjoy exploring the great outdoors and sharing it with others through words and pictures. I know what you mean when you say it makes you pop out of bed. Life is exciting when you do what you love, whether you get paid to do it or not. Just start doing things that excite you.

    Dan @

  2. Awesome post, that is such an inspiration! My mantra is to “live life wide”, so I love hearing stories from people who are able to do so :)

  3. Amazing article. It served me as a reminder to keep doing what I love, even though I don’t see the results yet. Being alive is what’s most important. That’s what we are here for!

  4. Yasemin

    Kate, I absolutely love this article. Thankyou for your unique story and words.
    What described perfectly to me how I’m feeling right now but haven’t found a way to articulate yet:
    “If I didn’t count the beans, someone else could and would. If I didn’t coordinate the counselors, someone else could and would. If I didn’t manage the thrift store, someone else could and would.”

    Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou! YES! I want to do something no one else can do aswell!
    Thankyou :) can’t wait to put this into action

    Love your stuff, keep it up girl. Much love to you xx

  5. Beautifully written too!

    I watched a school teacher today when I was at a high school examining presentation skills. s
    She was frantic. Rushing. Out of breathe. Running from one class to the next. Exhausted.

    I remember I used to be there (I used to teach at this school). Now I am not.

    I work from home. My clients come to me. I love my life. I am so blessed.

    Sometimes you have got to give up the security of a salary and take a risk to do something you love. I believe its worth it. I believe it can be done too. I believe it makes life worth living.

    Well done on a beautiful and inspiring article and for reminding me that I am living a life I love.

  6. shashi

    I was reading this post and few things came to my mind .
    What can I do to the world when I am alive , safe and having access to whole lot of comforts which I did not make but I bought them with a fraction of money of the total amount of money and effort which the whole world has produced , People residing in whole world have made it possible . I am nothing when comparing myself with genius peop
    le of this wonderful world who have spent hours of their life to make it possible. I eat food every day but how much I work to cook it , just a fraction of time ,but I have to think of people who grew it ,doing all efforts to make it not only grow well but also save it to reach to the market to get a reward of money to buy what he needs . He does the beginning work and So many other people make it possible to save it from damage from nature but ultimate force is God who makes it possible to feed us .
    How many people did not sleep last night so that I can sleep with comfort to give updates of the storm , that our area is safe for today but nothing can be said about tomorrow .
    I can pray for myself but I have to pray for other people too if they are safe I would be safe . I should not sit quietly because I am safe, I can do much more if I can write something productive and send it to millions of people who can read what I think. Some people can skip my comment but some would pay some time to read it .

  7. What a great article. Simple is the key, but it can be hard to do. I too left corporate America last year and been embracing my freer time, and my sweet passion as a jewelry designer.

    Each day I try to work on striping away some of the accumulation (not just material) of my life time. It is a challenging I am fully embracing. It’s Full Moon today so a great day to simplify and let go a little more.

    My goal is a simple, happy, balanced life. Thanks for writing, I’ll have to look up your book!

    Happy Day
    Karen @

  8. shashi

    I read the article again second time in one day not because I had time to read it again but because I wanted to read and write about such a great writer . Really great article . Loved each sentence and phrase . Loved each incident how to stay simple and inspirational article . God bless you for sharing !

  9. shashi

    Please reply if somebody liked what I wrote . Thanks

  10. Great post Kate….and congratulations on finding your passion! You explained it perfectly when you realized that just because you had a comfortable life–you weren’t REALLY living! And yes, even though there are hundreds–of us writing about simplicity and living our passion and dreams, we are doing it in our own unique and special way. I went to your website and signed up for your posts…I’m looking forward to hearing your path unfold….Kathy

  11. such a wonderfully written post! i loved reading every word in every sentence and can certainly relate to following the clues and popping out of bed like toast (Lol that analogy still puts a smile on my face). off to check out your website. you truly are a great writer

  12. Lena Ameri

    I love this article!! There were two lines that especially stood out to me: “I wanted to pop out of bed like toast out of a toaster” and “I write because no else can write what I write besides me”. I will think of the toaster line every morning as I POP out of bed! I will also remember that no one can write what I do or what anyone does, because we are all unique individuals with a unique voice and something to contribute.

  13. I love when people are looking to find their passion in life. To me this is a brave decision.
    This means you will go on by yourself and most of the times people will not support you on this path.
    Taking the risk of having a secure job and looking for what inspires, makes you someone who is fighting for ideas, thoughts and beliefs.

    You are an example to follow:)

  14. It is so important to listen to the inner voice when making important decisions in life. Too often we listen to what others tell us we should do and don’t have the courage to do what feels right. But usually what feels right is what IS right. Well done for writing this enlightening article on a very important topic Kate!

  15. Hi everyone – thanks so much for the wonderful comments! We lost power in Superstorm Sandy and just got it back an hour or so ago. I was afraid I would be disconnected from the world for days! Horrors! Yes, I still have a pad, a pencil, and a flashlight, so I could still write – but it’s just not the same! :-)

    My best wishes to you all as you come alive! The more of us who give back using our unique gifts, the more we can contribute to the critical mass needed to swing the pendulum and save, not just ourselves, but the planet and the people of the world. Our chance for that seems to be coming – maybe 12-21-2012??

  16. This is an awesome and very inspiring article. I have recently decided to also do what brings me to life and thats writing. I felt like I was doing what I wanted to do all this time which is a strength and conditioning coach. But I felt something was missing. I didn’t see writing as something new but more of a reunion with an old friend.

    It’s awesome to hear about people having the courage to control their life and do what they love.

    Mahalo. Aloha. A hui hou!

  17. Ailora

    Hi Kate Carpenter, I’ll remember your name. This is the most interesting and motivating article I’ve read on TSN in a long while.

    Thanks :)

  18. Katie

    Shashi – I loved what you wrote. Thank you for that perspective. This entire blog is inspiring and has changed my perspective.

  19. Wow! This article is so inspiring, it made me want to cry a little. I love that you found what makes you want to come alive. I enjoy blogging as well for the same reasons; no one can write about my experiences like I can.:-)

    Everyone should wake up in the morning and feel the excitement that you feel. It just helps to continue to search for your sweet spot.

    thanks for your article!

  20. It stuck in my mind these two ideas:
    “Every human being has a unique and wonderful combination of gifts to bring into the world”
    “I wanted to pop out of bed in the morning like toast from a toaster!”
    Two years ago me and my husband took a personal development course. We loved each other but we didn’t know how to communicate with each other; it was really hard to appreciate the uniqueness of each other.
    I only share this because we couldn’t make it if we hadn’t attended that course. The course is named Process Communication Model.
    What actually enlightened us was the fact that you can easily tell and see the differences and the complexity of every person. The different needs, the different kinds of distress and why people change over time…
    If you ever have the possibility to take this course don’t hesitate.
    Enjoy your uniqueness! Now I love mine! ?

  21. Joy

    Love it!
    I’m learning about becoming clear on what I want from life and more importantly not being scared to say it out loud. I too want to pop out of bed in the morning and It may not be tomorrow but i’ll get there.

    Thanks Kate

  22. Thanks for writing this article Kate and kudos for following your intuition. I believe the desire to become alive is something we can all relate to at some point in our lives. I’m in the process of becoming alive myself and cannot wait until I can pop out of bed like toast too : )


  23. Areef

    It’s really an inspiring story. And finally you are doing what you really wanted to do. I’m very much happy for you.

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