There is nothing quite like the magic of a dream come true. Once we discover that there is something meaningful we want – something we aspire to having, achieving, or doing – and we set out in the pursuit of making it happen, it can be hard to imagine ourselves without it. We ignore (for once!) the internal voice that warns that we may be getting ahead of ourselves, and we begin to envision a future that looks exactly like our dream come true. It’s a beautiful thing, to not only be able to visualize that outcome, but to experience the optimism that accompanies it. It’s almost as real as the actual thing – in fact, according to your brain, it’s basically the same.
The happiness you experience when envisioning that future version of your life is actually happiness, as far as your brain and body are concerned, which are the only places happiness occurs anyway. The same chemicals flood your brain, and you experience the same sensations in your body as you would if you had actually gotten what you wanted. It is, in a nutshell, awesome. It also goes to show you how important your mindset is in shaping your actual experience of the world, btw, but that’s a bigger topic for another day. Don’t sleep on the chance to note it here, though.
The question we’re pondering today is what happens when, despite all the daydreaming, visualization, good ol’ hard work, and flat-out longing, it doesn’t work out. In the realm of dating, we’d say that it’s not you, it’s them, but the bottom line is, it’s just not. You didn’t get the interview, or worse, you did (and it went so well!) and you still aren’t getting an offer. You’re not getting that new project at work. You didn’t get the apartment, the internship, the leadership opportunity, whatever it was. Your love is unrequited. Your hopes are dashed. Your heart is broken.
Then, all of a sudden, you can hear that inner voice after all. Maybe it’s laying a little blame on the other party that let you down – that would be normal. In fact, depending on you and the situation, that blame-fest may be pretty loud. But, at some level, it’s probably also laying it on you for thinking you deserved that thing in the first place. And why?
Because it’s trying to protect you from getting hurt again. Sure, it’s the other party’s fault for letting you down, but if you play it a little “safer’ in the future, you probably won’t have to feel this horrible disappointment again. Protect yourself. Protect your heart. It just makes sense, right?
Well, my friends, I’m here to let you in on a little secret…that’s not what hearts are for. They aren’t meant to be locked up in protective cases and isolated from certain feelings and not others. They aren’t meant to be silenced in the process of figuring out what you want from your life. They aren’t meant to keep you safe. Hearts speak the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. They are surprisingly resilient. They let you know without hesitation when you are in a place, with a person, or looking in a direction that resonates with their (your) desires. Although that doesn’t mean that place, person or direction will always agree, it does mean that keeping your heart open will always give you an open portal to better understanding yourself, to knowing what matters to you, and having a clear sense of what tradeoffs you are willing to make, and what is simply too important to forsake.
Yes, it can be so very messy at times, but it is also so, so worth it to see what your heart is actually made of.
Even though we’re speaking the language of feelings here, this is great data to have when it comes to decisionmaking, too. And for what it’s worth, most feelings happen in the body, but also specifically in the brain, so we haven’t forgotten all that thinking after all. But if you’re truly open to all of the messages your internal self is trying to communicate, including what your heart is saying, you’ll have a much clearer sense of what should come next.
And yes, it’s a risk to crack that heart open, to be honest about what you want and to pursue it, as they say, wholeheartedly. But it is also the only way to live authentically, and create impact that makes you feel the most fulfilled through work that is most aligned with your values.
As impossible as it may be to believe when you are facing disappointment or hopelessness, your heart can handle being broken, but it will not serve you best if it remains closed off out of fear of vulnerability. You will not know how far you are capable of going if you don’t give your heart the chance to lead you, or least to be heard. And if your heart is open, when happiness and joy and even love are presented to you, you will be able to fill yourself up, and celebrate those moments even more profoundly.
“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” – Rumi
“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” – William G.T. Shedd
Photo credit: Rachel Walker