Following your Heart is (probably) NOT what you think

Let me tell you a little story about following your Heart…

5 years ago, I was fresh out of the University. I was a straight-A student and proud owner of a Master’s in Computer Science.

Some people would think I had all the prospects of becoming “rich” and “successful” within a couple of years.

But what I really had was a HUGE problem.

I never wanted to study Computer Science and I never wanted to be a developer. What I really wanted was to study English Philology.

But I didn’t realize how much I didn’t want to be a developer until it started getting real.

When I started looking for a job I realized that… I just couldn’t do it!

I actually felt nauseous every time I submitted my CV.

So, I had to do something about that. But I didn’t know what that thing would be.

I was at a sort of crossroads

On one side of this crossroads, there was my Mind.

It was saying: “You spent 5 1/2 years of your life studying this. You spent God-knows-how-much of your parents’ money… and you’re going to quit?! You can’t quit! So, stop whining, grow up, get a job and get over it.”

And then, naturally, there was my Heart on the other side.

And it was saying: “Nooooo, no, no! I can’t do this! This is horrible!! It makes me feel sick… I want to do something else… I want to… write stuff in English!”

OK, THAT ridiculous thought was exactly what I had in my head!

You can probably see why it was pretty much an impossible choice.

Not getting a developer job would basically mean throwing my CS degree out of the window because, with no experience, this degree would be worth exactly nothing in a couple of years.

And then… “write stuff in English”. What a brilliant career idea! And all I had as proof of my English writing skills was my high-school degree. It was worth nothing.

At that point, I was very scared

I was scared that I was going disappoint my parents.

I was scared that I was going to be a failure.

But, most of all, I was scared because I knew that, once I made that choice, once I let go of Computer Science, I could never go back.

I just didn’t WANT to make a choice

Instead, I decided to play clever and make a little bargain with Destiny.

I said to myself: “OK, Gerry, if you can convince anyone to hire you to write stuff in English, then, yeah, go ahead and do that.”

You see, that bargain was very easy to make because I was 100% sure that NOBODY was going to hire me.

I mean, there was (and still is) an abundance of people with degrees in English Philology and English Literature and whatnot. I couldn’t compete with that!

But, fortunately for me, Destiny decided to play clever, too.

And I actually got hired to “write stuff in English”.

This is where it gets interesting…

So, I ended up following my Heart.

And what do you think happened next?

Well, I’ll tell you what didn’t happen.

I didn’t wake up rich and famous the next day, or the next month or the next year… I’m still not rich and famous! :-)

What did happen on the next day was that, yes, I was “writing stuff in English”. But do you know what that stuff was? Support emails.

And I was making money but it was times less than what developers got.

Now, don’t get me wrong.

I’m not complaining. At that point in time, I was very happy I had the opportunity to “write stuff in English”.

Heck, I was happy I didn’t have to be a developer!

So, I’m NOT trying to say that following the Heart was a bad idea.

I think it was a great idea because, eventually, that “writing stuff in English” thing evolved into a decent career for me.

But it didn’t happen overnight!

And that is exactly the reason WHY I’m telling you this story.

I think there is this misguided notion in our society that “following your heart” means that you’re going to wake up to the perfect life, that you’re going to wake up exhilarated every day and every second of your life is going to be amazing…

Well, I don’t think that’s realistic.

And I’ll tell you why.

It’s not realistic because everything in life has both benefits and drawbacks.

And, every time you make a choice, be it a small choice or a life-altering choice, you’re always GIVING UP something in order to GET something else.

In other words, there’s always a price to pay.

For example, imagine you’re making this very dumb choice: “Should I eat one candy bar every day after lunch?”

If you decide to do it, you’re going to GET the pleasant feeling of the sugar rush and a surge of energy but you’re also going to PAY for it because sooner or later, you’ll become addicted to the sugar rush and, sooner or later, this habit is going to be a bad influence on your health.

And then, it’s the same with the big choices. Take me as an example: I GOT a job that I enjoyed but I PAID for that. I paid by saying goodbye to the 5 years I had spent in the University, I paid by disappointing my parents who kept saying “You should get a real job” and I even paid with money because I didn’t get the salary that I could’ve otherwise gotten as a developer.

That’s what the “Mathematics of Choice” is about.

In the “Mathematics of Choice”, a choice equation always adds up to zero because there are always benefits and drawbacks to both sides.

So, I think that, if can begin to look at choices that way, if we can begin to look at following the Heart that way, if we can appreciate both the benefits and drawbacks of every choice we make, then… Life would be much easier and much less disappointing.

And then we’d stop trying to answer questions like:

“How can I make the perfect choice?”

“How can I create the perfect experience?”

How can I create the perfect life?”

Instead, we’d try to answer the more productive questions like:

“What do I really WANT?”

“What is the price that I have to pay?”

“Am I willing to pay that price?”

What’s the moral of the story?

In closing, I don’t want to tell you to follow your heart (although I do recommend that).

Instead, I want to leave you with a question.

And the question is this:

“What are you willing to GIVE UP to GET what you want?”

P.S.: You can read more of my thoughts about online entrepreneurship, marketing and copywriting on the Sans Magic blog.

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