What does it mean to “follow your heart”? For years I wondered about that. That, and “be yourself.” I can remember in fourth grade when we had a little module lesson where the message was “be yourself,” and I bit my tongue from asking “and what if you don’t know who that is.” A nine-year-old with an identity crisis, I was a neurosis prodigy.
Later, in college, I would try to “follow my heart,” laying in bed praying for God to give me a clue. A burning bush would be nice, a telegram would be better. I laid in the dark and the quiet begging my heart to tell me something. Nothing, nada. So I followed my insecurities and other people’s priorities instead. For those who thought I was a failure, I followed money. For those who’d bullied me in school, I followed status. Boy, didn’t that work out well. I’m just a smash on the country club circuit now.
Lately I’ve been faced with a dilemma on how to replace part of my income while managing a life change: children are coming into our home soon, we hope. And after doing the math of commuting costs, daycare costs, etc., I realized the days of a corporate career are over. So, I can get a grant to update my skills and do freelance work in that area, or start selling my sewn work. The first is definitely lucrative, and I can do it. But good gosh I do love making pretty things. I go to bed at night dreaming of the pretty things I could make. I love fabric. I love to look at it, touch it and definitely take it home. I could collect fabric the way others collect art. I’ve bought fabric with the sole intention of hanging it on my wall. (Note: there is no doing both while taking care of an invalid elderly person and raising small children. Ten years ago that was a great idea. Not now.)
Somehow, I have to force myself to do one, and I have to force myself to stop doing the other. So, as I was driving up to the gas station to add a few gallons to the tank it hit me: maybe that’s what it means to follow your heart. There’s no voice, no telephone call from God (but still, wouldn’t that be awesome?). You just take a direction and instinctively you know the way.
I never could figure out corporate folks. Well, eventually I did and that’s when I started going to churches on my lunch hour just for a spiritual sponge bath. But I always felt like I’d been dropped on an alien planet. But take the baristas at the coffee shop. Chefs, artists, designers? They were my best friends. Even so, I remained convinced that given my past academic performance and alleged intelligence, I was meant for a life of traditional success and position. And when it wasn’t working, surely it was all my fault. I had to adapt more, work harder, get more therapy. Oh hell, let’s face it, I wasn’t one of them and I was the last one to know it. Well, I know it now. And the point of that whole paragraph? I didn’t instinctively know the way.
I think sometimes we have dreams, and then we have dreams. We have the goals that seem to feed the demons in our lives. But that always ends up being a game of whack-a-mole. You get the right job that makes you feel like no one will ever make fun of you again, but then you realize you’re surrounded by a-holes. You get the salary that makes you feel like you’re not the family loser anymore, but you’re running around so hard to make it you’re an exhausted wreck with no time or patience for the people you love. So then you’re lonely and you have to whack that demon in the head. It goes on and on until they serve up your retirement cake and you hit the golf course and realize nobody really likes you and your family has moved on to people who’ve taken your place except on Christmas and birthdays. I’m not kidding. I know someone this happened to. It’s sad.
Then there are the dreams the heart has so deep and profound we can’t reckon them. They’re so old and ancient in our souls that we dismiss them as some trivial childhood game. We can’t conjure up a picture of what it would mean to answer them until one day it happens. You write or sew or paint or sing or whatever and your heart sits still in the happiness of it. It surrounds you and all those things going on in your head, those nasty insecurities that call out seem to lose their voice, and you don’t need to answer back to tell them they’re not true, because they are no longer true.
I’m not there yet. Honestly. I’m still at the facing demons and figuring out who they all are phase. I’ve managed to identify a few: Fred, George, Harry. We have lunch on Tuesdays. But they aren’t controlling me quite as much anymore.