What does it mean to follow your heart?
For me it means freedom, moments where I feel the raw emotion of love—loving myself, loving strangers, experiencing other cultures, seeking to understand where people come from, and why they are the way they are.
It seems simple now, but to a lot of people, it isn’t. And it wasn’t always clear for me, either.
I want to tell you about three people who led me on this path of following my heart and knowing my values.
The first was a guy who was about to offer me a job at a southern California financial institution.
I found myself a year out of college with a bachelor’s degree in international business. I had studied the European Union in Austria. I was working on being tri-lingual and was a perfect candidate for a well-paying job.
He looked at my resume: snowboarding, travel, smart. He told me the job was mine if I wanted it. But–I seemed way too interesting to sit behind a desk.
I thought, you are damn right! Why did I think I wanted that job?
For people who value wealth, stability, growing a family, etc., it might have fit them. I’m not saying one way is right or wrong, it’s right or wrong for YOU.
I realized that for me, crunching numbers and getting a fat paycheck just didn’t feel…right. I never felt myself in those business clothes anyway.
But how did I get so far down that path?
I had gotten a scholarship to the University of Redlands. It was close to the mountains, the desert and surfing. It was a way for me to do “what I wanted” (be in California and adventure) while still doing “what society wanted” me to do, which was college, job, money, house, family.
For about two years I really struggled with “what’s right” – doing what I want or what I think I should be doing? I didn’t know it at the time, but I was deciphering the two ways we feel—with our mind and with our heart.
My heart wanted adventure and freedom and travel and love, and my mind wanted a good college degree, a job and security. I really went back and forth.
So when that business professional was about to offer me a job, he noticed the mismatch before I did. He saw my heart on paper, by what I had been doing with my life.
The second person who helped me on this path was a life coach named Billy. At the time I was a ski instructor with the fancy degree, and I felt confused. I called him up…why not? He might know something I didn’t.
Billy sent me a list of around a hundred values and asked me to rate my top ten, then my top three. It was easy to identify them: travel, adventure, freedom, love, peace. Yes, all that!
He then told me to look at my values when I made a decision and ask: does the outcome serve my values or take away?
Wow, suddenly it seemed so easy to make decisions.
I saw that getting a “real job” would mean no freedom, lack emotional depth, and seem fake or forced.
Giving a shot at being a photographer full time would mean freedom, travel, getting to experience and capture emotion, working for myself, happiness, living my passion.
Wow. Why the hell was this ever so hard? Why was it so hard for me to just go for it?
Well, it’s hard for a lot of people. Because our mind obeys society’s norms and the heart obeys and respects YOU.
The third person that was so huge in my self-understanding, who allowed me to recognize this difference between mind and heart and led me on a path to truly “feel” the difference, was Marianne Wells.
Marianne likes to say, “If my heart could do the thinking and my head could truly feel, then I would know what was really real.”
Now I see the difference, but how do we think with our heart?
I’ll tell you.
Slow down. Find yourself in silence and shut off your mind completely. Close your eyes, put your hand over your chest and feel it rise as you inhale life’s energy. Pay attention to the pause before you exhale and release that breath. You have just released carbon dioxide into the air. It will serve as food for plants that will grow and help sustain you for another breath.
There is a symbiotic relationship between you and the earth. You are not a machine or part of a cookie cutter system. You are not what you are labeled.
You are a real, live human being, and with a heart pumping blood to your systems, you are a miracle. You are unique and beautiful, and YOU have something special to bring to the world.
Spend time in silence listening to your breath and heart, and this meaning will find itself with you.
And know, at any time, that YOU alone are enough.
One other thing Billy said that stuck with me was “What would you do if you were making your decision based on NOW” — if you didn’t consider the past and the college degree as part of your decision?
I thought, “Well, of course, I’d follow my dream and try to make photography work.”
So I did. And you can follow your dream too — whatever it is that makes you tick. The past is the past and the only time to do it is NOW.
Namaste, Holly Shankland