are you a "waker"?

[“I Choose This Life”, which I sent out in the newsletter recently. You can buy the print here etc.]

Are you a “Waker”?

If the answer is no, I’m sorry to hear that. Wakers are my favorite people.

A waker is someone who is very good at waking other people up from their metaphorical slumber.

Some people just have the gift. Being around them or their work just makes you feel more alive, more inspired, more motivated, more awake. The best wakers will make you do crazy-ass things, like quit your boring job and start your own business, write that song, move to Thailand, forgive that someone who once hurt you, or finally tell that girl that you love her.

A waker reminds you on a constant basis,  just how alive you really are. Just how much human potential you really have inside of you. And there’s something about their influence that makes you utterly unable to go back to “sleep” ever again, in spite of your best efforts.

Wakers can be great artists- Jeff Buckely, Picasso, Harper Lee, Beethoven, Charlie Parker, Leo Tolstoy, Tilda Swinton, Louis Armstrong, Ralph Steadman, Saul Steinberg etc- but they don’t have to be.

Wakers can be great spiritual leaders- Jesus, Gandhi, Mohammed, Buddha, The Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King, Joseph Campbell etc- but they don’t have to be.

Wakers can be great public figures- Steve Jobs, Winston Churchill, Simone de Beauvoir, Diana Vreeland, Carl Sagan, John Peel, Susan Sontag, Alistair Cooke, Margaret Thatcher,  etc- but they don’t have to be.

I know great wakers who are bartenders, bus drivers, teachers, receptionists, plumbers. Theirs is a gift, not a job title.

If you are a waker, I’m happy for you. There is no better way to spend one’s life than being a waker, I truly believe that.

The human race needs you, like flowers need sunshine. The human race would die out within three generations without you. Thanks for being here. Seriously.

If you’re not a waker, don’t you think you should be? Serious question.

[The “Remember Who You Are” archive is here.]

[Download the high-res “Remember Who You Are” poster here.]


  1. You ask a question that I can not answer, only others who know me or my work can accurately answer whether I am a waker for them.

    However, let me contribute to individuals to the Waker class

    Stowe Boyd and Liz Strauss

    and yes, you are a Waker.

  2. Totally agree with you re this:
    “There is no better way to spend one’s life than being a waker. I truly believe that.”

    Question — Do you think it is possible to become or turn into a waker? Sounds like you do. I’m trying to decide if I have enough faith in people to believe that that is possible for anyone. Maybe part of being a Waker is actually having that faith.

    Thanks for the wisdom. Precious little of that around too!


  3. There is no doubt in my mind that you are a MASSIVE waker. Namechecking Steve Jobs, John Peel AND Margaret Thatcher in the same sentence confirms this for me.

  4. Hey Hugh – good post though a bit on the new-agey side compared to most of your stuff. Hope you are not losing your edge!

    Just kidding you a little….. I do like this one a lot and think it is a good message for people to consider.

  5. MAN most of the comments are full of praise. Does that motivate you?

    The best wakers don’t coddle people, though. They piss them off and are probably hated for it.

    Like too many great artists, I bet most wakers are never understood until they’re gone.

  6. I think I’m more of a jolter – I have been described as a catalyst a few times. A couple of years ago someone described me as someone who would bring great benefits to a group by challenging their preconceptions and shaking things up, but at the cost of personal relationships – they’d resent me for wanting to change things before appreciating what I had to say. I’ve certainly seen this in school; people couldn’t believe that I would willingly go for the Humanities (seen as “for idiot losers”) instead of Science, but it wasn’t until I left school that the teachers were falling over themselves about calling me a trendsetter.

    Being a waker may be a greatly important job, but it can also be really lonely if those around you would rather be sleeping.

  7. About 3 years ago, I had a good, stable job. One morning, while going to work, I thought…Is this how I am supposed to spend my life? Going to work every morning, punching buttons on a keyboard, staring at a screen all day, come back home, eat dinner, go to sleep…???

    Maybe I awoke at that point.

    I do not have a proper job today. Marriage seems very, very hard. Yet there is a sense of immense satisfaction. How? Because I have many more answers than I had when I had a ‘stable’ job.

    Waking up is extremely hard. Perhaps it pays off in the long run…I don’t know.

    Waking up others is harder. It takes a stellar DNA to do that.


  8. I don’t think I’m a waker. Most people aren’t. That’s OK, though. If everyone were a waker we wouldn’t need wakers! Besides, other jobs are also important.

    Off the top of my head …

    Listener. If you do it right, you’ll give people the space they need to be their own wakers.

    Helper. Not to be confused with the codependent sort of enabling.

    Illuminator. The person who explains the things you likely already knew on some level, but never thought about. The best writers, songwriters, and especially stand-up comics excel at this, but your best friend is probably pretty good at it too.

    That’s just off the top of my head. There are all kinds of gifts, and all kinds of ways to use them. :)

  9. First, I don’t buy your premise that people are asleep, metaphorically or otherwise. Isn’t this just saying if you don’t see life as I do, then you’re beneath me? Given the six billion plus people on the planet, I am fairly sure that there could be just as many views on how to live one’s life. I live my life the way I have come to determine is best for me. I imagine a lot of people would disagree with that, but really, I am not concerned about others views of my lifestyle. If I were to say that everyone who lived differently than I do is asleep, what would that mean?

    • mcr,

      Your argument fails to explain thousands of years of art and religion…

      Then of course, there are the “Sleepers”.

      Folk who have a talent for sucking the life out of everything they touch.

      Don’t be one of them! 😉

      • I am not really trying to explain thousands of years of art.
        Just because I think, personally, that Art is the single greatest endeavor of mankind, doesn’t mean that everyone else should. I am sure that doctors who work for Medecin sans Frontieres probably think differently.
        Similarly, do you think a man who goes every day to his job at an accounting firm, adds up beans all day long, watches popular movies when they come out, goes to his childrens’ games on the weekend and has the occasional beer while cooking burgers on the grill in the backyard while not contemplating the mysteries of the universe or the necessarily self-referencing tautologies used to explain the existence of consciousness is enjoying life any less than you? Would not one of the highest goals of life to be merely content with life?

        There are some people who have attained many different levels of disappointment with their lives. They have only themselves to blame. Others live as they see fit and are content with their lot.

        If everyone was a philosopher or artist, then the human race would have died off long ago. Perhaps you should expand your own horizons, your boundary set as it were, to include other lifestyles than your own.

        • Actually, I don’t think the 2 are mutually exclusive. I can immediately think of a “waker” suburban mom with whom I just emailed this morning. She is constantly and curiously expanding her own horizons and balancing this with caring and having fun with her family. She wakes her family as much as herself and those of us around her. She attends her daughter’s lacrosse matches, goes hiking with friends, has back-yard bbq’s……. I can also bring to mind another mom who is not, with whom I sat across the Easter table and even at that distance she sucked the life out of me. We exchanged maybe 3 words (okay, she exchanged about 2 kazzillion). I think it comes down to how you or I feel in the presence of others. If they charge us, they’re probably wakers. If they deplete us, they probably aren’t (at least for us uniquely).

        • “I am not really trying to explain thousands of years of art.”

          Yes, which explains why your argument fails on so many levels. Good luck to you…

          • If you would like to start a conversation about the existence, “uses” and evolution of art, I would certainly be happy to oblige you.

            The mystic can reach the sublime no matter what his daily routine is. Perhaps we need a clarification of what sleepers are. Could you expand your thesis? As Maria stated about he sleeper experience at the kitchen table. Is this totally subjective on the framework of the viewer? Perhaps there are other acquaintances who believe that the woman Maria classified as a sleep as someone who does for them what her backpacking friend does for Maria.

          • I do agree with you, that people don’t spend 24/7/365 “Asleep”…

            There are all kinds of sleepers, of course. From the kind that are utterly zombiefied by the mundanity of life, to just ordinary people having a ho-hum day, and could use a small dose of “ZIIIING” to perk them up.

            But I cross paths with “Wakers” pretty much every day. I couldn’t live without them…

  10. This post reminded me of some Jello Biafra lyrics from the song The Power of Lard: “When people are asleep, we must all become alarm clocks.”

    It is strange how that popped in my brain from 20 years ago.

    I like the idea of wakers. I avoid the “sleepers” and “energy suckers” they motivate little in anyone.

    Thanks Hugh,

  11. Great list of Wakers! I’d love to see some more WOMEN Wakers on your lists (M. Thatcher is the only one). Marianne Williamson, Gloria Steinem, Louise Hay, Frida Kahlo, the woman who sold her stuff and went to live with rape victims in the Congo, Sappho, Anais Nin, Mother Teresa, Susan B. Anthony, Oprah, Sojourner Truth…

    Keep up the good work.

  12. […] your thing is, and you’re not being vulnerable and revealing something tender and trying to wake people up and make them feel like they’re not the only ones who feel the way they do, then really, what’s […]

  13. The feeling I get when I come across these types, is that my way of thinking has been changed, and I place you among them. Thanks again for being awesome.

  14. I’d like to think I am a waker …

    A couple of examples … I convinced to perfect strangers to join the army with me (for an education, college savings, and world travel) and I once taught someone how to juggle even though I could never do it myself. I just talked him through it until he believed it was possible.

    Some of the best ones though are the people who said they never read books for pleasure only content before meeting me. That one still makes me smile.

  15. hey hugh- really like the stuff you write and the points that you dig out and (not so dead, hopefully)horses that u flog! :) thank you – ever so much for the shake-up!

  16. […] are three kinds of people, but only 1% are worth remembering.  These are the wakers, the rebels, and the heroes.  These are the people that are true to […]

  17. read this a while ago. stays with me. every day. one of those things i knew but didn’t have a word for. thank you for naming it and validating it. thank you for reminding me of the importance of living it.

  18. One day William Shatner and I are going to laugh about this. Or he’s going to poison me. One of those things. — says:

    […] Are you a “waker”? […]

  19. I talked two younger, miserable friends into dropping out of college so they could live their own lives instead of making their parents happy. I couldn’t stand to see them so depressed living out dreams that they didn’t want.

    Ten and eleven years later they are both happy with their own lives. Does that count?

  20. This was an inspirational, thought provoking blog post. It puzzles me that so many would choose to argue and doubt instead of embrace and consider. Skepticism, doubt, fear are not the stuff of truth and growth. Remember who you are ~ who you were meant to be.

  21. I’m absolutely a waker. 100%.

    The beautiful thing is, that only those who are ready and willing to hear respond to the message. I don’t think people feel the jolt if they’re not ready for it.

    I don’t push it on folks, but when they’re open to listening to the whispers (or screams) of their unhappiness or yearnings, I give them the nudge that reminds them they can do it.

    Grateful for “wakers” who’ve encouraged me in my life.

  22. I adore being a Waker.

    My sister complained she doesn’t turn to me because she felt I wasn’t a safe place for her to fall. My reply: Of course not! I’m the hard slap of reality, chased with a warm hug.

    I change everyone I meet. And I meet everyone I can, because I never now who FATE wants me to influence next. The best Waker’s spread their insight with humor. I’ve pushed friends at the gym into “living” more of their lives & strive harder at their workouts. I’ve pushed hesitant people into making the daring choices by setting an example and doing them. I once had a philosophical discussion with a man on a plane about being monogomous vs. being polyamorous. He landed much more thoughtful about the concepts.

    The best Waker’s shine the light of insight into another’s soul and let that person discover that NEW part of themselves they never realized was there. Then you get to smile and enjoy their own self-discovery as it fills them with wonder.

    Waker’s ROCK!

  23. […] Hugh MacLeod has another word for life’s teachers: wakers. He explains, in his latest book, Evil Plans: A waker is someone who is very good at waking other […]