this article originally appeared in the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health’s online newsletter)
Have you ever noticed how “Follow Your Heart” cards and decals often have colorful hearts and cartoon-type rainbows? They suggest a yellow brick road of sentimentality. Yet I’ve found that following my heart has been the most electrifying, raw, and courageous thing I’ve ever done.
When I left my position as an attorney on partnership track at a prestigious law firm, I didn’t think of myself as naive. I had graduated from Harvard Law School. I wasn’t just chasing butterflies. Instead, I felt like I was being chased. My true spirit howled from the rafters. It haunted me with inner knowing. I knew there was more to life for me than limping to an office and using the rest of my existence to cope with the pain and exhaustion of working in that office. When I finally left, it felt like jumping off a mountain and committing to finding a way to fly or be willing to die in the process. It was anything but hearts and rainbows.
Just because a choice comes from an inspired place, doesn’t mean it lacks authority. Can you imagine sending a firefighter into a burning building with a decal of pink hearts and fluffy clouds? There is nothing weak-minded or fanciful about following the call to be more in this lifetime.
The limits of reason
We live in times of change. These days, following your heart isn’t just a luxurious thing to do, a parlor game or hobby. It’s a necessity for your finances, your health, and the survival of your soul. As a career coach, I’ve worked with too many people who have compromised their blood pressure, or immune system trying to be “reasonable.” Some got into debt buying distractions to avoid the pain of denying their authentic desires. In this shifting economy, it’s passion that will keep you competitive, hone your excellence, and earn you the security of alignment and natural confidence. If you want to tap unreasonable strength, then search beyond your “reasonable” mind.
I’ve worked with many clients who did not find their calling in the narrowly defined boxes of career assessment tests. Linda, an attorney, tested high on logic. But it’s only when she got that embarrassed, “this-is-what-I-really-love” smile, talking about baking a raspberry pie, that I knew we had discovered joy she could not will away. It’s the desires that just won’t go away– that have the power to take you all the way. It’s time to stop diminishing our prize resource, our inner wisdom. Many of us have been on a personal growth path for years, and have felt marginalized, seen as following those wacky philosophies and practices that only now is modern science corroborating. As a former lawyer, I’ve felt as though I got more respect if I said I was suing someone than if I said I was healing them. We live in a culture in which it’s considered normal and clever to treat alternative intelligence as a lack of intelligence. Believe me, I have a head on my shoulders. And I also have a heart, a gut, a thousand sensors in my cells, and I believe a strand of genius that serves as conduit to the divine. I never saw leaving law as a rejection of logic. I saw it as expansion of genius, the upgraded operating system.
What about practicality?
In my first book, This Time I Dance! Creating the Work you Love, I wrestled with my desire to leave behind the world of safety for a life of joy. But I finally realized, even while terrified, that my love could usher me into new realms of happiness and stability. In a chapter called, “It’s More Practical to be Magical,” I wrote that there was more safety in following my summoning heart, that shining advisor of another way to live, than in denying it: “Because if you knew where your heart could take you, it wouldn’t even be “practical” to choose practicality.”
“Love doesn’t pay the bills.” I’ve heard that saying more than once. But love does pay the bills. Love gives you strength and energy and creative ideas and access to a mushrooming storehouse of sacred abilities and inclinations you would never have had otherwise. Just love doesn’t pay the bills. But when you put your strength into your love, your conviction, your time, your excellence and your dignity, love pays the bills and it pays the debt you owe yourself. Love has paid my bills and, at this point, the bills of employees, too.
Of course, many of my career coaching clients have fears about being able to support themselves doing the work they love. I often have them put their toes in the water so that they can discover the creativity, and current for themselves. Rhonda dreamed of being a full-time health coach. Keeping her day-job, she began seeing volunteer clients on the side. The more she met with clients, the more she saw the incomparable value of her work. One day, working with an overweight man, she came up with a new program to meet his needs and the needs of many like him. Rhonda didn’t have concrete ideas or strategies when she first thought about coaching. But when she devoted herself to the work she loved, she tapped into a knowingness and inventiveness that helped her see for herself that her desires had thick roots in abundant soil.
Your soul’s calling
I know many people will say that they don’t know what their joy or life’s work is. ButI’ve worked with thousands of people, and I’ve always seen the same exact thing happen. When you take your desires seriously, you suddenly know what to do. We often don’t know what we love, because we don’t pay attention to the interests or activities that don’t look like they will be financially rewarding or fit into our existing lives. But where there is electricity, there is power. You may need a sacred time-out for reflection or the company of someone who is on fire with their own life to help you ignite your innate clarity. Remember, your doubt is not “realistic.” It’s conditioned. Just because a tribe of uninformed or frightened people agree on a reality, does not make it real. There is an emerging tribe of people, myself included, who will tell you that it’s more realistic to believe in your natural strengths, inner resources, and the formidable power of love.
This much I know. You do have a life purpose. You do have inspired work to do. You have enough love and energy in you to create absolutely any circumstance you need. Why would it ever be good judgment to ignore your own gifts, desires, and blueprints to the divine? Why would it ever be frivolous to ride the river of your joy, especially when it meant that you could make a unique contribution to our society, and would have more aliveness, hope, and promise to offer those around you? When did despair and suffering become the measure of productivity and contribution? How did facing down our fears and limitations become viewed as being soft-hearted and dizzy? Human culture has evolved and expanded because of those who followed a vision, not because of those who swallowed one.
So, what soul calling have you been telling yourself isn’t practical? What desires have been knocking at your door? Are you willing to trust your love more your fear? This path may not be easy, but it will soothe and liberate you more than anything else ever will. Dare to dive deep into your lifetime. Follow your soul no matter what.