7 Ways to Follow Your Heart

hiking trail“Follow your heart.”

We’ve all heard it, and deep down, we know it’s the way to live, right? After all, who wants to wake up 5, 10, 12 or more years down the road only to realize we did the “smart” thing – the thing that paid the bills or landed us the prestigious career, but not the thing that we really wanted to do with our lives?

So we know we need to follow our hearts, or at least find a way to balance what our hearts say with what our heads tell us so we don’t end up starving to death or living out of the back of a bus somewhere. (Unless you like that kind of thing. 🙂 )

But how, pray tell, do you actually follow your heart? What does that actually look like?

How to Follow Your Heart

I’m all about incredibly practical advice.

I think one of the main reasons more of us aren’t out there doing what we’re meant to be doing is that somewhere along the way we realize that while we were taking a pleasant cat nap in cargo, someone kicked us out of the emergency exit and now we’re hurtling at a million miles an hour through the stratosphere with no chute, no instructions, no canteen of water, oh – and that was your cell phone that just fell out of your pocket. Damn.

We don’t know what the heck we’re doing, or even what the heck we’re supposed to be doing. So we’re all wandering around and doing the best we can, but with a sneaking suspicion that we’re missing something.

So whatever I can do to help, I’m here baby! Here you go:

1. Listen: Tune in to know what you actually want. What does that mean? It means that little voice that wonders “Would I like yoga?” Or “Why do I keep thinking about going to Peru?” “Writing a book?” Or the thousand other seemingly random thoughts we have in a day.

Many of those thoughts can seem like flotsam – just junk being carried by the current of our minds. But learning to listen for themes or feel for a spark of energy caused by a particular kind of thought can help us tell the difference between the mental junk that’s just passing through and the stuff we’re meant to listen for. If you’re at this stage and just starting to tune in, keep a notebook and pen or at least your phone handy and jot down any thoughts that seem to have a particular resonance.

2. Be brave: Once you’re actually aware of what you want, there may be many subtle and not so subtle ways in which the world asks you to give it up.

For example, your mother might think a career in law is a wiser choice than one in acting. Or your father might frown upon the idea of going abroad for a year to work and live instead of continuing on with your computer science degree.

It takes a lot of guts it takes digging deep to the very core of who you are, and then being willing to let your relationships (much of what keeps you feeling solid internally, you might note) be pulverized like a mushroom in a lawnmower blade instead of giving up on yourself and your truest dreams.

3. Stay strong: When your family and friends think about you following your heart, you’d like to think that they are happy for you. But that’s not always true. In fact, sometimes dirty words come to mind. Words like betrayal. Selfishness. Disloyalty. Because when you’re willing to stand true to what you really want, sometimes people take offense to that. But if you can let that go – if you can let your need for their approval get chopped to hell in that lawnmower blade, you’re going to come out the other side with a what-YOU-really-wanted-salad. And much of the time, when you stand true to you, the people who love you come around.

4. Don’t believe or listen to the haters: There’s always going to be people who don’t like what you’re doing for some reason. It’s your job to remember this: Their hate towards you is always a reflection on them and what they’re sad/angry/worried/insert negative adjective about in their own life here. If they say that you’re a fool for doing what you’re doing and ask “How could you do it because you’re never going to make enough money to pay for your kid’s college education?!?,” they’re probably secretly envious of the amazing life education you’re already giving your kids.

5. Know that anything can happen: You’re in unchartered territory. This isn’t the land of zombies and corporate drones doing what they’re told. This is the place where people do what they’re doing because it means something to them. As such, this isn’t the land for the faint-of-heart. You’re going to have to move on from mistakes quickly, make decisions with confidence, and play with the big boys. Things happen. And they happen fast. Get ready!

6. Repeat: The school of life is going to constantly challenge you to bigger calls to action. Thought you’d dug deep, been brave, and faced your deepest fears? Ummm hum. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet, girlfriend. There’s more where that came from. Life will keep throwing you more, bigger, better challenges, expertly designed just for you. Clever little bugger.

7. Enjoy: Basically the entire point, right? Following your heart isn’t easy, but the whole point of it is that it’s fun. And in the moments when it’s not fun, at least you know it’s right – that you’re on track for where you’re supposed to be in your life – and that feeling leaves the air around you pregnant with possibility and excitement.

I hope this step-by-step guide gives you a place to start when you think about setting off to follow your heart. What sounds like a journey that should be filled with rainbows and butterflies is sometimes no place for anyone but the bravest of souls. But if you can manage the journey, you’re rewarded with a life that you have custom built for yourself.

As you embark on your own journey to follow your heart, what feels like the most daunting part? What’s still standing in your way? I’d really love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do 
with your one wild and precious life?” 
― Mary Oliver

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