Don’t Just Follow Your Heart, Lead Your Heart

Photo by Tyler Ung @mr.photy
6 min read.

You’ve heard it all before, follow your intuition, tune-in to how you feel, listen to your gut. It all sounds cliché and vague because it’s easier said than done.

What does that even mean anyway? How do we listen to an organ that just pumps blood? Where is the gut? Is intuition a feeling or a thought? What are my emotions trying to tell me?

More questions with no clear answers. If that all sounds too abstract to you, I’m with you.

Then one of my mentors told me:

“People always say, ‘Follow your heart.’ I challenge you to lead your heart.”

Here I was spending all this time looking for something to tell me what to do, what to feel, where to invest my time and energy. I was waiting for my heart to just give me an answer. Maybe if I looked inward enough, maybe if I just let my mind, meditation, or emotions guide me, maybe if I just go with the flow, something good will happen. But these were all passive approaches disguised as patience.

Don’t get me wrong, patience is key. But a lot of us tend to wait for something good to happen before we take action. We wait for more opportunity, for more luck, for some sort of calling or sign. We wait, hoping for the happiness, the passion, the perfect partner, or our true identity to just show up. But what if nothing ever shows up?

I bought my domain name, created a website, wrote a bunch of nonsense and am sharing it with the world. Am I Ernest Hemingway? Can I be J.K. Rowling? Was there some sign that I’ll be a rich and famous writer one day? Not at all. But I’m also not trying to be like them. I’m working on being me. And that’s not something I can just wait on.

Why Wait For Good to Make Something Good?

“Luck is like a bus. If you miss one, there will always be the next one. But if you aren’t prepared, you won’t be able to get on.”

-Qi Lu

Throughout my limited number of years so far, I’ve observed so many people sit in the backseat of their own lives. I was one of those people! We’ve internalized everyone else’s fears of risk, embarrassment, failure. We dream big, but we act small.

We stop ourselves from doing something because we tell ourselves, It just doesn’t feel right yet. I’m not ready yet, or I don’t know what I want, I just haven’t found something to be passionate about yet.

The unfortunate thing is that many of those people then attribute other people’s success to luck or nepotism or privilege, anything other than that person’s own doing. Because it hurts when we compare ourselves to them, watching them do great things while we stay in the same place.

It feels better to say that they had extra help than to admit our lack thereof. But once we’ve externalized that, we’ve now lost control of our own well-being and the ability to lead ourselves.

Qi Lu, a wise and assiduous soul (based on what I’ve read from Alex Banayan’s interactions with him), says people misunderstand luck. It doesn’t happen at random, it comes by regularly. You just have to make sure you have the correct fare to get on. If you’re sitting at the If we prepare ourselves, gain the skills, do the work, surround ourselves with the right people, then luck will let us on for the ride.

I thought every entrepreneur or successful artist was just lucky. They had connections. They had rich parents. They had genius DNA. They had an immense amount of passion that was calling for them. That’s because that’s all we hear, their success stories. We never hear about the mental and emotional battles, the pain, the mistakes. We don’t realize how much hard work they’ve put in to get to that point.

Rather than waiting for that spark that I could surrender to, I took this understanding and acted. I jumped before I was even ready. I’ll figure out how to build the plane while in the air, which might be stupid and dangerous, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to wait for the magic carpet to sweep me up.

Following Your Heart is Too Comfortable

It’s easy to follow something else. It’s easy when everything feels right. It’s comfortable.

What I’ve learned is that ironically, our need for comfort causes more stress than it relieves.

When your questions seem to have no answers, there’s value in following your heart, trusting your instinct, having faith, whatever you want to call it. It’s part of the art of surrender.

But I’m assuming you value growth. You want to be a better version of yourself every day. You won’t be able to do that by waiting for something else to give you that validation for your actions.

I’ve been seeking this ‘feeling’ all my life. It’s why I was living so monotonously for so long. I hated icebreakers because anything I said was boring. I didn’t have any hobbies or interesting things to say about me. My excuse was because I didn’t feel like anything really fit me, that ‘it wasn’t meant to be.’

I rarely embarked on any creative endeavors because they were too vulnerable. I admit, I was afraid of the amount of responsibility. And it was because I was looking for the easy path where my heart was supposed to guide me.

Don’t Base Your Life on What You Feel

Emotional intelligence is not just about learning what you feel. It’s about learning to respond to those feelings to your full truth rather than reacting on assumptions.

Emotions are valid, but sometimes deceiving. They’re just your brain’s best-guess on how to interpret what’s in front of you based on your past experiences and an unreliable memory. They can provide great insight to your personal values if you’re able to reflect upon them. But they can just as well lie or misinform you when we apply too much meaning to our initial feelings and blindly following them.

I would text something to someone I’m trying to date and as I’m typing it, it sounds like it’s a great idea. I sound endearing and caring, maybe a little cheesy, but it’s fine. I send it and I either get a short response or nothing at all for hours or days and of course, all the emotions come up. She hates me, I’m too corny, pushy, eager. I’m unworthy of love.  

If I were to believe those emotions, I would never go out on any more dates. I would start developing pity for myself or hate for everyone else. I would never express anything remotely close to an emotion ever again.

But then I call her and we have a beautiful conversation. She says she was happy to hear from me. We joke, we laugh, we talk about deep topics. But more importantly, there was no signal of truth to what I was feeling. The pessimistic bully in my head was lying to me. He didn’t have the full picture, he just assumed the worst.

Of course, don’t ignore your feelings, but don’t completely base your future life on them as if it’s some crystal ball that will guide you into enlightened truth.

Take Lead and Improve Your EQ

In this work, I’ve come to understand that emotional intelligence (or lack thereof) is at the root of so many social issues today. We were never taught how to deal with our emotions and those of others and it’s greatly impacting our mental health. And with everything happening so quickly, it’s hard for us to slow down.

I collected 11 exercises with the intention of helping you do that on your own. Let me know which ones worked or didn’t work for you!