What happens when, facing a choice, your heart suddenly inserts itself into the conversation?
The final question in the recent Democratic presidential debate focused on resilience in the face of personal setbacks. All the candidates had strong responses, but South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg had—by almost all reviews—the most moving story. It connected at such a personal level for many because it was an account of following his heart.
A military officer and elected official from a deeply conservative state, Buttigieg spoke eloquently about living in fear of the impact that would result from revealing that he was gay. Yet he reached a point, he said, where he was “not interested in not knowing what it was like to be in love any longer.” The good news ending to his story of following the heart is that “When I trusted voters to judge me based on the job that I did for them, they decided to trust me and reelected me with eighty percent of the vote.”
As an ambitious young politician, the safe approach may have been to keep his secret hidden until after that election. Many of us, no doubt, would take that path, following the lead of our head in order to navigate the slings and arrows of the world. The struggle between head and heart—or logic and emotion—is as old as humankind.
Let’s be clear. Not all attempts to follow our heart are wise. Not all stories of following the heart turn out as well as Mayor Pete’s. It is fair to say that the world often dismisses those who follow their heart, marking them as unrealistic dreamers. There are many individuals and groups who have felt they had little choice but to hide their feelings, because if their emotions came through too strongly they would be criticized or not taken seriously. Yet, following your heart can often be not only the emotionally satisfying way forward, but the right choice which deserves to be respected and supported, especially in situations where our culture tells us to be safe and prioritize our head.
When faced with personal setbacks, my natural instinct is to push my feelings aside and show a strong, pragmatic, stoic exterior. But I’ve also had the opportunity—when I choose to do so—to take a different path. I find too often that I limit both my ability to connect with others and the possibilities for personal growth when I quickly and reflexively dismiss the impulse to bring my emotions forward.
Mayor Pete’s story led me to think about times when I’ve decided to follow my heart. I almost always find unexpected surprises and learn new lessons about myself. When I call on my emotions, I open up to others and their perspectives in ways that don’t always come naturally. When my heart is part of the equation, the journeys we are on together become more important to me. I am pushed to see and understand with new eyes. My heart encourages me to let gratitude be a driver in my life.
Following the heart, as Mayor Pete showed, often requires courage. But don’t be so afraid of the consequences that you choose not to live fully with head and heart. We really need both to survive.
Have a great week.
More to come…
Installment #11 of The Gap Year Chronicles