What Really Happens When You Don’t Follow Your Heart

This day will start out like any other day. You’ll be eating or working or jogging when an idea pops into your head: a grand idea to go somewhere great or do something crazy. You’ll dismiss it like you have a thousand other outlandish ideas and think that you won’t look back because, after all, it’s just another dream. And besides, you haven’t attached yourself to the idea yet; your heart isn’t in it. So you keep eating or working or jogging and try not to think about it anymore.

But it keeps coming back: it has landed itself in your mind and its tendrils are wrapping themselves around you, tightening around your brain and your body and your heart. It doesn’t matter what the idea was — a faraway trip, a creative project, a confession — whatever it is it will begin to consume you.

Days go by. Sometimes you indulge in dreaming about the possibilities of this idea, and other times you trap yourself in the impossibilities of it. Every day you try to rid yourself of it, to distract yourself with more eating or working or jogging, with other ideas to which your heart won’t hopelessly attach itself. When that doesn’t work, you surrender just a little bit and try to think of ways you could follow through on this idea without risking as much as you thought you’d have to. Perhaps you can wait a couple years to go on the trip, when you’ll be done with your current job. Maybe you can wait for some fancy grant money to come through to fund your project so you don’t have to worry about doing that and paying rent for the next six months. And that confession? Well, writing it down is almost just as good as saying it in person to that person… so why not just do that?

You spin these webs and congratulate yourself on being mature about the situation by taking inventory of all your options. But after several weeks you realize you’re getting stuck, and that the only way to get unstuck may be the most impossible thing to do. It is also the only thing to do: to follow your heart.

You think about this statement and what it really entails. You realize that “following your heart” holds much more weight and responsibility than your mom once implied on your birthday cards when you were growing up. You have grown up, and now following your heart means actually doing what your entire body and mind are begging you to do, no matter what the risks or consequences. You could lose your job. You could squander your savings. You could get seriously emotionally hurt.

And you’re there. You find yourself in the place of risk and possibility, of mustering the courage and fighting like hell to hold onto it. The adrenaline of making the decision to go for it pulses hot and thick through your body, and you can’t help but imagine gushing to all your friends and even call your parents to tell them. “I’m traveling to this place!” “I’m pursuing this project!” “I’m telling this person how I really feel!” Everyone will be excited for you, proud of you. You’re on your way, kid, and the whole world will know it.

Then your blood starts to cool.

You start trying to figure out the logistics of your plan. You see they might be a bit more complicated than you thought. You psych yourself out as the doubt of your decision creeps, more and more, into your life. You convince yourself more easily than you ever thought possible to back down, to allow cowardice masked as reason to break down the idea you’ve built up. You convince yourself you’re not giving up, just putting it on hold, and that this is the mature thing to do. You are proud of yourself for being so wise, so patient.

And just like that you’ve let it go. The agony of the past several weeks finally dissipates, and you feel relaxed. Content. You carry on with your life. Sometimes you revisit the idea, but only when you’re alone, and only from a distance.

You think everything is fine. But then something starts happening. It catches you off-guard and starts to throw you off balance. It’s something stirring deep in your gut. You don’t know what it is at first, and you try to ignore it. You take some deep breaths, drink a glass of water, and carry on with your day.

But it’s festering now, this stirring which now feels more like a twisting knot. It’s making you angry. You become short with your friends and stop calling your parents. You lash out at anyone who asks you how work is going, or when you plan to travel next, or if there is anything you want to get off your chest. You realize what’s happening, how every time someone asks one of these innocent questions your mind darts back to that moment that you could have quit your job, taken a trip, or made your confession — that moment that has long since passed.

Now there’s not much you can do. You see the grave error you’ve made and beat yourself bloody with guilt and shame for not being true to yourself. You carry on, keeping the worst episodes to yourself so people don’t think you’ve completely lost it. You tell yourself that everything will be okay, that this is not irrevocable. But weeks, months, years down the road, you will never forget that feeling of turning your back on yourself, of that time you stopped following your heart. TC mark

image – Cuba Gallery


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  • http://twitter.com/yellowicepick anj

    Spot-on and well-written.

  • Lily

    If only this were mandatory reading.

  • Whi73Rav3n

    Two quotes I’m takin from this:
    1.) Don’t be fooled by cowardice masked as reason.

    2.) Weeks, months, years down the road, you will not forget that feeling when you turned your back on yourself.

  • http://twitter.com/jyu07 Jill Yu

    This is perfect for my situation right now. Thanks for this. Helped dissipate the doubt I’ve been feeling.

  • http://twitter.com/marisasaystweet MarisaSays

    Some mornings it’s like TC is in my brain.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=667441091 Archita Trisal

    Damn you.

  • Evija Sundman

    Amazing! Well said, my friend!

  • http://twitter.com/oliviarafferty Olivia Rafferty

    exactly where i’m at. thanks TC.

  • cyan

    i’m at the point of holding on. and i really hope i can hold on. thanks, have bookmarked it for future potential cowardice.

  • internetfemale

    i have recently decided to persue becoming a working creative. this is EXACTLY what I need on days I talk myself out of the change. thank you for this post!!

  • http://stumblingtowardsperfect.blogspot.com/ Phoenix Rising

    Like a brick to my head….

  • Claudine

    Funny, you’d still get the point even if you just read the first sentences of each paragraph.

    • 13579

      Especially the last three “You think everything is fine. But it’s festering now, this stirring that feels more like a twisting knot. Now there’s not much you can do.” Actually reminds me of Kafka.


  • Kneewah

    Great piece,  but i disagree on the fundamental. Following your heart equals to following your emotions. Emotions are a guide in life but their success is dependent on emotional strength/stability and maturity. So always proceed with caution when it comes to matters of the heart. Make sure your emotions are in check.

    • Anonymous

       impulses might be unwise to follow, particularly if done out of fear, but I think this really is talking about something different. Its talking about wanting to pursue the things in life that give you emotional succour, satisfaction, pleasure.

      Yes, emotions are a guide in life – they tell us where we want to go, what we want to do, who we want to love…They give us a deeper meaning than just intellectual thought. The mind is there to make these into a practical reality.

      When you speak of emotional strength, well, this is developed, and built, by learning to trust which emotions to follow, and one can only do this, by following them, and learning.

  • http://www.ayuva.com/ Ashish Paul

    I agree with the the comment above here that one needs to be careful and not follow every emotional thought. However, this post is more relevant to those recurrent strong emotions that stay for much longer and even when one tries to ignore them such emotions stay. And we all know when we have such gut feelings about something. Having said this, its hard to follow the heart because it needs courage to go after ones heart. This article came at a very appropriate time in life……..forced me to think of that time in future when I will or I might regret……………thank you!!

  • Shatha H.

    Sometimes, NOT following your heart is the best thing to do!!!

    • Followur-Heart

      then, i’m sorry to say, you wouldnt get very far in life.

      • Shatha H.

        I said sometimes…Open your eyes while reading or YOU wont get very far in your life :D

  • MeWho?

    Thanks for the guilt trip down failure lane

  • Mouse in the house

    I would like to print this out and frame this. So true.

  • http://twitter.com/EvWasLike Ev Junior

    At least once a week, while reading this site, I have to look over my shoulder to make sure the author isn’t sitting behind me, shaking his or her head at me while writing an article.

  • Coleelectric

    When the heart is right, you have to follow it. There is no other option.

  • DJ

    This is…. pretty much exactly what I needed to read right now. Thank you. I just don’t want it to be too late to follow my heart so I have to try every day to fight against my ego which will tell me what I’m dreaming of is impossible and follow my intuition in order to prepare myself. It’s so f*cking hard,  because it’s so easy to just bury myself in work, food and internet stuff but I know that none of these things can truly bring me happiness and that I feel better when I put up a fight against my ego even if I don’t manage to win in that particular case. Because I know my heart pays attention to me when I’m willing to fight for it, for my dream but when I’m not it just says “so long” until I decide I want a full life again. Thank you so much for capturing my feelings= you rock. 

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