"What is the one thing you could do today that, if you did it, would make everything else easier -- if not irrelevant?”
It took me a while to answer this question when I encountered it. I thought about it for at least a solid minute, and even then my answer was short of truly honest. I came up with surface level things, such as “having someone hand me a billion dollars, cash” or "a triple-jump promotion", or “owning my home outright”.
When it comes to questions like these, the head is a terrible place to sort things out. The fact of the matter is, I have lived my entire life in my head and very little of it in my heart. If I were to diagnose everything that’s not quite right with my life, it would have everything to do with the fact that, when it comes to making key decisions about my life, my heart will want to go one way and my head will tell me to go the other.
Now, I was a good little kid, a pretty good student and a great rule follower. I am also keenly aware that being black and female in America is to live in a perpetual state of risk, so I am generally risk avoidant as a rule. Unfortunately, the heart likes to go for the riskier options. That means, whenever my heart and head encounter a fork in the road, my head wins out. After all, I had always been taught that, the heart is fickle and doesn’t know what it wants, to be careful what I wish for with the understanding it will always be worse than what I have or what my head is telling me is the right decision. Be safe, goes the guidance -- follow your head.
So, I started to get used to the tight, rigid, suffocating feeling of living in my head and avoid the spacious, giddy, awake feeling of living in my heart. I have been holding out hope for years that my head will lead me to a place where I can finally be fully safe and my heart will be able to be free. The older I get though, the more I’ve come to realize that the head will only lead you to a space to where it is comfortable — a space that is small, cramped and full of the trappings of safety.
The answer to that question -- "What is the one thing you could do today that, if you did it, would make everything else easier -- if not irrelevant?” — isn’t a head question. It’s a heart question. When I dropped out of my head, albeit reluctantly, and descended into my heart, I realized that the answer was pretty simple.
Stop giving a sh*t.
If I stopped caring about how things turned out, everything would get a lot easier and a lot of things would become irrelevant. If I didn’t care what people thought of me, everything would get a lot easier. If I didn’t care how much money I made, everything would get a lot easier. If I didn’t care about where I lived, everything would become a lot easier.
Better yet, I could start really focusing on what matters. I could focus on my book and making future plans that focused on what I thought was best instead of spending my time caring about what everyone else thought was the best use of my time.
Some people think that living in the heart means jumping around like a forest sprite doing whatever you want whenever you want. It’s not.
Living in the heart is the difference between the feeling you have when you smile to make someone else feel comfortable and when you smile because you are genuinely happy.
It’s the difference between saying what you think someone else wants to hear and saying exactly what’s on your mind.
It’s the difference between getting dressed to impress others and getting dressed to impress yourself.
It’s the difference between doing what you’re told and telling people what you’re going to do.
One way feels confining but safe, but that’s how every cage works: you’re safe in the cage … but you’re also in a cage.
People often tell me they see me doing wonderful, incredible things with my life and that I have incredible potential. I never quite knew what they meant. I’ve longed to see the path from the me that I know in my head to the person they see, believing I would need to change to realize that potential. The path was always hazy, I couldn’t quite make it out. So, the book continues to languish, I walked away from the beginnings of a career in television, fearing I’d never make enough to make ends meet. I don’t coach because I am too busy hunting for a certification program (and clearly have work of my own to do!).
My real problem, however, is two fold:
- I have been working to realize my potential for others' sake.
- I have been using my head to try and get there.
Living in your heart doesn’t mean selfishly shoving everyone out of the way with a devil-may-care attitude. It means letting others go their way, but being honest with yourself about the path you need to take and owning the decision to follow it.