Oct 21, 2011

Follow your Heart

I had just completed my first year of law school and I was clerking for a judge during my “Summer 1” (as the law students call it).  I should have been enjoying my time off from class but I didn’t feel happy.  At lunchtime, I should have been rubbing elbows with the higher ups, networking and learning the politics of the courthouse.  Instead, I sat in the giant window in the Judges Chambers with my salad, scribbling away furiously in a pink legal pad. 

I knew at Christmas of that year that I wasn’t happy in law school, but I kept pushing to make it fit.  Instead of gloating about the coveted clerkship I was privileged to obtain, I was writing, trying to organize my feelings on returning to law school for a second year.

Whenever I come to a crossroads in my life, I like to make a list of pro’s and con’s. Sounds kind of silly, that a list could help me make decisions, but my gut seemed to be confused and as hard as I looked for Jiminy Cricket, he didn’t appear to be anywhere in sight.  It was just me and my pink legal pad.  So I restored to the list.

The list was comprised of pro’s and con’s of topics like; time, starting over, staying on a set track and finances.  Things that were logical and concrete.  Then, in the column marked “Pro,” (the upside for leaving law school) I drew a <3 symbol.  I didn’t write anything by it, I didn’t need to explain.  As my pencil drew the lines of the heart, I heard my mother’s voice in the back of my head, echoing, “If your hearts not in it, it’s nothing worth pursuing, you have to follow your heart.”

That day, I stopped the incessant list and put down the pencil and pink legal pad.  I made my way over to my desk in the corner of the Judges Chamber and started Googling graduate programs.  It was like asking a child what they wanted to be when they grew up. I didn’t know, I hadn’t ever considered anything besides law, but this felt like the first day, in a long time, when I asked myself what would really make me happy?  I remember not knowing exactly what I was looking for, but I knew it wasn’t law.

You see, the fountain of youth may be a myth but the secret to happiness is said to be found when you “follow your heart.”  The problem however, is that your “heart” is merely an organ in your chest that beats and pumps blood.  This heart cannot be the one they are talking about.

The heart we should follow must be the theoretical heart.  The one that you draw on notebooks in elementary school when referencing your first crush.  The heart that accompanies your signature on the bottom of greeting cards at birthdays and holidays. The heart that, as you get into your teenage years, you’re warned NOT to wear on your sleeve!  The same heart people are referencing when they advise you to think with your head before your heart.

A thinking heart?  Now, this is where things get complicated… You see, the older we get the more we’re cautioned to handle our hearts with care. BUT WAIT... How are we supposed to use caution with our heart and simultaneously be thinking with it and following it?

There are just too may contradictions.  Should our hearts be cautioned or should they be followed like a beacon pointing us toward happiness?

No wonder everyone is confused and many of us, including myself, end up a little lost.

You see, there seems to be two options…

1.  We use caution with our heart, think first and think of others.  Doing what makes others happy because were happy when our loved ones are happy.

2.  Forget caution and follow your heart.  Doing what makes ourselves happy even though it may disappoint or hurt the people that we so dearly want to make happy?

Neither sounds like a “happily ever after” to me…

The crux is that not everyone is going to be happy, despite the simple formula to “follow your heart.”  Some of us get lost and we forget about our heart so we stay lost.  Some people look at their lives and prefer to see the negative, dark things.  They focus on what needs work rather than what needs credit and appreciation.  They actively chose not to be happy with themselves and thus, they struggle to be happy for others.

You see, these people think that happiness will find them, so they fail to look for it.  The secret is that happiness is not something that spontaneously comes upon us.  Although at times it may pop out of the blue, I think it’s safe to say that happiness falls in line with almost every other aspect of life… in order to have it; you have to work at it.

I know, definitely NOT something we wanted to hear.

We wanted happiness to follow a fairy tale story line… that it just happens.  It comes knocking on your door and we embrace it and skip through the day.  Like winning the lottery without ever having to buy the ticket.  It should just strike our lives and everything falls into place. But that is the stuff Disney movies are made of, not life.

Come on, we’re all adults here.  By now we know that fairy tale princesses, leprechauns and constant euphoria is not real. In life we have to work towards what we want and we have to embrace it and take it.

Unfortunately, like most good things, happiness does exist without sadness.  In order to let in the good we have to let in the bad.  There is no path of least resistance to finding happiness. To obtain happiness it must be earned.

Whether it is a goal, a career, a relationship with family, friends, or yourself… true happiness is only found when we consciously and consistently make the choice to be happy.

The cliché “Follow your heart” reminds us to do what's right for ourselves, because happiness comes from within.  It reminds us that trying to please everyone results in jumping through hoops and running in circles ultimately running the risk of ending up back at square one.

To “Follow your heart,” the first step is to find the gumption to ask yourself, what makes you happy?  Then you need to find the courage and endurance to go get it.

 Although the age old advice to “Follow your heart” may be an effective expression that reminds us to be our own leader. … It is a guide to advocate for ourselves, follow our own way and our own passion. However, it can be vague, and sometimes despite the simple formula, we would all rather just ask for directions.   

When we really think about it, the expression enables us to avoid all of the confusion of leading and following or jumping through life’s hoops, circles, and squares. “Following your heart,” seems to sometimes place us exactly where we need or are supposed to be. 



    "Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."~Abraham Lincoln