Coming Fully Alive: Letting Go of the Familiar

Those who know me know that one of my favorite quotes is this:

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

The author of this quote is Howard Thurman, mentor to Martin Luther King Jr. and under-appreciated pioneer of the nonviolence movement here in the U.S. He encouraged people to become fully alive as a spiritual practice.

What hinders people from becoming fully alive? Why aren’t there more people living their passions, actively engaged in bringing forth the change they say they want to bring about? Why aren’t people more engaged in meaningful endeavors? Why do people avoid being adults in all they do and continue to indulge in adolescent behavior and activities that do little to bring about meaningful change?

Some of us who recognize the need for a new worldview, a new way of thinking about the world and how we interact within it, standing in the old and familiar, while envisioning the new and lesser known. The metaphor I used for this ambivalence or hesitancy was the experience of boarding a boat (link to article).


The dock is solid, grounded and time-tested. Its planks are firm underfoot and they hold you up. The boat hasn’t been completely outfitted as yet but it floats. It is tied to the dock, forward and aft, and bobs up with the wave action. You might step foot onto the boat for short intervals, perhaps to work on it or add something to bring it closer to being completely seaworthy – at least as you perceive it. Of course it floats or it would not have left the boatyard. But will it be seaworthy?

Naturally, the boat will never feel as solid under you as a dock. That is the nature of boats! They float and move with the tides and the wind. Add a motor and that’s another influence on their direction.

They were not made to be tied to docks, otherwise they’d sitting on pilings rather than floating. Boats were made to navigate the seas, to be piloted in oceans, lakes and rivers – to go places!

Knowing that there’s a better way of being and even putting some of it into practice is akin to having the boat sitting there at the dock. You can board it, add hardware, paint it, install gauges and other apparatus, even take a nap in the berths below. You can show it to your friends and even brag about it. But it is still tied to the dock, in the protected waters of a marina. While you dream of being on the open sea and long for the days when you can be “out there” completely free, you are more comfortable in the security of keeping your boat tied to the dock.

Anyone who has stepped from a dock or larger boat into a dingy for the first time remembers what it was like, knowing intuitively that one needs to step with certainty since tentativeness can lead to disaster. There is a tendency to keep one foot in that boat and the other on the dock. If you’ve done this, remember the hesitancy to shift all of your weight to the boat?

Some of us have already untied our boats, as it were, but still haven’t boarded them, hoisted the sails or started the engine, and left the dock. The danger of having the boat untied is that if you continue shifting your weight back and forth between the dock and the boat you will eventually find yourself straddling both as the gap widens. If you continue in this manner you will surely find yourself in the water.

Standing in the new paradigm – the one that is emerging but not fully-formed – is like stepping into the boat, the unfamiliar, with both feet, and letting go of the dock, the familiar, what you are used to.

What is the payoff for going through all this discomfort? Why put yourself through this? Because as you disengage from the dock and the protection of the marina you may develop a new maturity of purpose, and a worldview that is more aligned with the world you want to create. As you venture into open waters you may well begin to encounter others who have had similar experiences and visions. You will not be alone. You will become part of a vibrant community of stand-takers and midwives who are collectively bringing forth a new paradigm. They are becoming “fully alive.” As you join them, watch this new paradigm unfold and gain acceptance as more and more people leave “the safety of their docks” and join in this new worldview – a worldview no longer relevant to yesteryear but much more pertinent to the challenges of today and the future.


John Renesch

John is a seasoned businessman-turned-futurist who has published 14 books and hundreds of articles on social and organizational transformation.

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