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.