Have you ever had that moment when you gut was telling you something that didn’t make sense? I had that feeling last January. It was demanding I quit my full time job in fashion.
My parents, of the rational mindset, tried to persuade me not to. They didn’t understand why I would quit my secure and well-paying job so instantaneously without much saved, or without a cemented backup plan.
Truthfully, it started when one morning I woke up and realized I could be doing the same thing well into my 30s or 40s. I could be in the same office, eating the same food, feeling the same numbing chronic dissatisfaction. This idea that everything would be just “fine” for the rest of my life haunted me.
Fine is a stagnant concept. Fine is safe. Nothing safe was ever conducive to pushing boundaries or to evolving. I wanted to feel exceptional and thrilled to be alive every day, not just “fine.”
When I quit my job, I was met with skepticism. Most thought I was making a stupid decision. My closest friends told me that this would hurt my career majorly and I may never find employment again. As much as I usually would’ve let this type of judgment affect me, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. It was a high that unfortunately plummeted into a sense of urgency to get my shit together fast.
From scratch, I started paving my own way. I started creating structure for myself. I started accruing freelance clients. Everything seemed to be going well and I was enjoying my newfound freedom tremendously.
Just two weeks later, my dad called me to tell me that my mom was having an operation. Following the surgery, we found out that she had cancer. All of this was completely unexpected — my mom seemed healthy the last time I saw her. Suddenly my own career instability was further exacerbated by an even more profound sense of instability. Maybe I should have let that feeling pass and not acted on it. Patience is a virtue I never had, but should’ve tried harder to develop.
When my mom’s chemo/radiation schedule was set, I realized that my new flexibility meant I could fly home to California and see her through the entire duration of her therapies. Once I addressed this to my new clients, one of them actually preferred I work in California. She was flying out there herself for the first time and needed someone else to work with her.
By following my gut, circumstances allowed me the time I needed to align my life just enough that I was able to freely do the things that mattered most. If I hadn’t quit my job, I wouldn’t have been able to take my mom to her treatments, stay for hours with her in chemo, or have some time with the family, or with myself, to emotionally unpack and deal with the situation. I probably would have been forced to quit my job anyway and/or my performance would have suffered. Imagine being emailed about clothing and makeup choices on the red carpet while all you could think about was whether your mom was going to live. I would’ve been much worse off if I hadn’t acted when I did.
We always think about open doors in our metaphor for opportunity. What about the other door you walked through to get where you are? Sometimes it’s best to choose to close it. Then you’ll have no other choice than to walk through the other door of new possibilities. When I closed that door, I was forced to walk through the other and not dawdle in the empty room between. The other door led the way to higher valued priorities and self-fulfillment.
To follow one’s gut is to be irrational. It’s to risk being faced with questions as to what you’re doing without answers, at least not immediately. It involves being judged and labeled negatively especially by yourself when your actions don’t seem to make sense. It exposes all of your insecurities that you work so hard to hide. Discarding rules and hard facts is scary and vulnerable. In a society in which you have to be strong, confident and logical to get what you want, vulnerable is the last thing you want to be perceived as.
The appeal of doing everything “right,” thinking through ones’ decisions, making the “smart” and logical choice protects you. In a world fraught with uncertainty, those are qualities that make us feel stronger. If you live your life that way and it makes you happy, that’s fantastic. However, if there’s a gut feeling pushing you to do something daring, perhaps it’s often the best choice for yourself to take that risk. It’s counterintuitive that the strongest stance is actually one of perceived weakness. When trying to appear strong, you’re operating out of defensiveness and fear that people might discover your hidden vulnerability. Everyone is vulnerable in some way or another. When you allow yourself to be vulnerable and trust in your irrationality, you have nothing to lose, nor to hide. All that energy you would’ve wasted protecting yourself goes to building something productive.
In a rational thinking class in college, I learned about one case study in which a doctor saw a patient with a rash on his leg. His rational diagnosis was one easily treatable by antibiotics. His colleagues all came to the same conclusion — the condition was obvious and easily treatable. The doctor had a gut reaction that something just wasn’t right. By following through and subjecting the patient to what seemed like unnecessary tests, he saved the patient from having to amputate his leg. His rash was actually an early symptom of a disease that was extremely rare and potentially deadly.
It’s easy to dismiss that feeling, especially when we’re caught up in our lives. I’m not encouraging everyone quit their job; that was a a drastic example of an instance that paid off for me. For someone else, it could be a feeling to travel, to create, to do something different and new. Attune yourself to these inclinations and pay attention to them next time. It could be a big personal or societal breakthrough; it could be a a step in the right direction in our pursuit of happiness.