“Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart.” ~Roy T. Bennett
When I was a college senior, God, or the voice of God (aka Morgan Freeman) came to my campus to give a talk. At the end of the talk, I beelined toward the mic set up in the aisle of the auditorium, excited to ask my question and for him to share his wisdom with me.
“Hi, thanks so much for being with us today! As a college senior trying to figure out what to do next, I was wondering if you have words of advice for me and other people in my shoes?”
“Follow your heart.”
I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t disappointed by his answer. “Follow your heart” sounded trite, and I felt like my next-door neighbor could’ve told me that. There was definitely a feeling of, “Tell me something I don’t know.” I was expecting a lot more, especially from a man who has played God!
That was almost a decade ago. Now, with hindsight, I can see that those three words were packed with complexities, and though a seemingly simple ask, people have trouble following through. Why is that?
Based on my experiences and what I’ve witnessed in others around me, the main reason is as follows: Despite knowing what it is that we truly want, we let our fears get in the way. Whenever fear crops up, our mind, which is evolutionarily designed to protect us from any form of perceived danger, kicks into high gear, drowns out the inner voice that stems from our heart and rationalizes going down a different path instead.
For most of us, we abandon our dreams and end up following a path of “certainty”—one that usually comes with some sort of financial stability.
Case in point: When I was a college senior, what I really wanted to do was apply to law school so that I could become a public interest lawyer.
I had taken (and enjoyed) several law classes and interned at the Legal Aid Society, helping clients fight eviction cases against their landlords. I found the work to be incredibly meaningful and wanted to continue doing it. However, as a first-generation low-income college student, I didn’t know how to reconcile the cost of law school with a public interest lawyer salary, in addition to the expectation that I was going to come out and make “good” money because I went to a “good” school.
This is when my brain kicked in and convinced me to go into consulting instead. I rationalized this decision by telling myself that consulting would expose me to different industries and enable me to learn, and that after two years, if I wanted to, I could still apply to law school. (In case you were wondering, I ended up hating consulting and never applied to law school, though for several years, I wondered what life would’ve been like had I went down that path.)
Having gone through this experience and reflecting on Morgan Freeman’s response to my question, I’d like to share some steps that you can take to make it easier for you to follow your heart:
1. Determine your values and live your life accordingly.
When you know what your values are, any time you make a decision, you’ll know it’s the right one if it aligns with your values. Take a moment to reflect on the following questions:
What are three to five values that are important to you? You can find a list of core values here.
How can you incorporate your values into your day-to-day life?
For example: One of my core values is personal growth. There have been times when I’ve been scared to take on new opportunities (e.g.: pursue a consulting gig in Zimbabwe). In those situations, in deciding what to do, my guiding question was, “Which decision will allow me to grow?”
I said yes to Zimbabwe, despite the fears of traveling solo and staying for an extended period of time in a developing country with which I had zero familiarity. However, in choosing to take on the opportunity, I discovered how I had hyped up the fears in my mind and my experience in Zimbabwe instilled in me the courage to buy a one-way ticket to India a few years later.
2. Do the things that make you happy.
This seems like a no-brainer; however, it’s actually very easy for us to skip out on the things that bring us joy because other things in life get in the way (working too much, taking care of other people around us, etc.)
When you actively carve out the time to do the things that make you happy, you are then able to access a different state of mind where new ideas and ways of thinking (that are authentic to you) will pop up because in your happy state, you’re not bogged down by your day-to-day anxieties and worries that stem from the mind.
Some of the things that make me happy include taking long walks, handwriting letters, and playing with dogs. When I do these things, I’m not only happier, I also get flashes of inspiration for work. New ideas come to me when I let myself do the things that I enjoy—this phenomenon is akin to having shower thoughts.
3. Pursue your interests and take it step-by-step.
Maybe you’re considering taking that writing class? Perhaps you’re not sure because you don’t consider yourself a writer and are worried that everyone else in the class will be better than you. Ignore the voice of judgment and follow your intuition—sign up for that class!
It’s easy to feel discouraged when we look at other people around us who are fifty steps ahead of us at the thing that we’re interested in pursuing and think, “Why bother?” However, the reality is that everyone starts somewhere. If you don’t start today, time will pass anyway and a year from now, you’ll be exactly where you are today if you don’t try.
The more steps you take toward what speaks to you, the more likely they’ll add up and lay the path for you to follow your calling.
As an example, in 2017, I rediscovered yoga, something I had first tried several years ago, but didn’t enjoy. Slowly, I built up my yoga practice—I was going to yoga classes, which then turned into yoga retreats and festivals. Before long, I had a strong desire to go to India to complete Yoga Teacher Training (YTT).
I had no idea what would result from YTT—I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to be a yoga instructor. However, I knew that, at the very least, I wanted to complete YTT for myself because that’s how much I valued yoga! Through the process of YTT, I discovered that I do, in fact, want to teach yoga to others.
“Follow your heart” is a short and simple phrase, yet it may seem like a tall order for many. May these three steps help guide you to pursue the dreams in your heart.