What Does It Really Mean to ‘Follow Your Heart’ in Your Career?

How can you tell when a big career decision is right for you? If you’re contemplating whether to accept a new job, change your career path, or go back to school, you may have asked friends and colleagues for their advice. Inevitably, many will tell you to follow your heart. But, what exactly does that mean?

It doesn’t mean ignoring the facts in favor of your whims or preferences. Neither does it mean throwing caution to the wind and proceeding without a plan. When it comes to making good career decisions, it’s important both to know what your heart wants and what the market will bear. That means doing plenty of soul searching, as well as your research, before committing to a new direction.

How to Follow Your Heart and Make the Right Career Decision for You

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1. Appreciate the value of your own opinion

It’s only natural to seek the advice of others when you’re trying to decide about a job, a career path, or make another important professional decision. A mentor, career coach, or other trusted advisor can give you valuable insight. Just don’t forget to check in with yourself, too.

It’s easy to get down on yourself and look to others with more experience (or maybe more perceived wisdom or success) for answers. But, you know yourself and what works for you better than anyone. For this reason, you should value your own opinion above everyone else’s.

Were you taught the importance of being humble as a kid? Well, that’s a great thing. However, later in life, this can sometimes translate into an inner dialogue that lacks conviction and confidence. Someone who doesn’t value their own opinion enough might find themselves racked with doubt. (“What do I know anyway? I need to talk to so-and-so to find out what they think about this and then I’ll decide.”)

Learning to trust and value your own opinion is so important. It puts you in the driver’s seat of your own life and career, which is where you really ought to be. Believe in yourself and in your opinions. Otherwise, someday you might find yourself living someone else’s life rather than your own.

2. Don’t Ignore negative feelings

Following your heart doesn’t always mean taking a leap. Sometimes, it means listening to and honoring your less-than-optimistic instincts.

Maybe you’re used to overriding negative emotions. If you’re tired, you push through. If you’re stressed, you try not to think about it. And, if you’re bored, you adjust your approach in order to make the work more exciting. Being positive and optimistic can give your career a real boost, so there’s a lot to be said for it. However, that doesn’t mean that you should ignore your own difficult feelings when they arise.

In fact, doing too much of what you don’t like can set up bad habits that lessen your ability to determine your own likes and dislikes. It’s great to push forward with positivity. Just don’t forget to notice when something rubs you the wrong way intellectually or emotionally.

3. Stop Making Decisions Out of Fear

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Following your heart can help you to make good decisions. When you listen to yourself, it’s easier to move in a direction that suits you. However, it’s all too easy to let fear cloud the picture. Therefore, it’s important to learn how to separate your fear-based thoughts from the rest.

For example, your instincts might be telling you that it’s time to change jobs. Then, you start thinking about everything can go wrong. Fear and doubt take over. Pretty soon, you’ve talked yourself into staying put because doing something else feels too scary.

It’s rarely a good move to act impulsively, but it also isn’t a good idea to make decisions out of fear. Instead, you can learn to identify those thoughts as fear-based, and take a step back, rather than getting caught up in them. Instead of allowing negative emotions to steer, think of them as a warning to check your plans for holes. Then, let logic determine your final decision.

Learning to separate your fearful thoughts and feelings from your authentic ones is an important part of learning to trust and follow your heart. You are not your fears. When you’ve honored your fears and addressed them, you’ll have more insight into your true instincts.

4. Understand your preferences and your abilities

Learning to listen to your heart comes more naturally when you know yourself well. So, be sure to pay careful attention to things like what makes you feel joyful at work, for example. When do you lose yourself in what you’re doing because you’re so focused and invested in the task at hand?

It may be tempting to keep your head down and just keep going through your to-do list without pausing for this kind of self reflection. However, listening to your gut means knowing what makes you happy. So, take the time to better appreciate your own preferences at work.

Similarly, it’s important to have an accurate understanding of your professional abilities. Be real with yourself about what you’re good at doing and where you need to improve. Appreciating where you are now can help you figure out where you’d like to go.

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5. Notice how following your heart pays off

follow your heart
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You make dozens, if not hundreds, of decisions at work every single day. Sometimes, you’re probably driven by fear when you choose one path over another. And, at other times, your intuition drives your decision-making. It might help to pay attention to the consequences that follow different actions as you work toward learning to follow your heart.

There’s scientific evidence that supports the idea that using your intuition can help you to make faster, more confident and more accurate decisions. And, you can get better at trusting your intuition as you learn to apply it more consistently and reliably. You might just notice that when you make a choice from your gut, things tend to go well. But, when you make a decision based on worry or trying to please others, for example, the outcome isn’t as satisfying.

Should you take a job because your father would be proud of you if you did? Or, might that course of action prove to be unsatisfying in the end? Should you shy away from a promotion because you’re afraid you aren’t up to the challenge? It’s probably better to try to believe in yourself and put those kinds of self-destructive fears aside.

Learning to listen to your heart helps you to move your own logical and self-aware voice to the forefront of your decision-making process. In the end, this should help point your career in a positive and rewarding direction.

6. Don’t Rush to a Decision

It takes time to make good decisions, especially if you’re trying to balance research, the input of your trusted advisors and your gut instincts. At Psychology Today, Jeremy Nicholson, Ph.D. explains:

…according to research on financial decisions by Kirchler and associates (2017), individuals are more likely to make risky choices under such time pressure.

Thus, when we are in a rush, we jump to a quick conclusion that may be full of biases and hunches, rather than carefully thinking through the facts and information.  Therefore, quick thinking might be helpful for small, habitual, everyday decisions that don’t require much deliberation—or have much risk involved. Nevertheless, if the decision is more complex and important, then take the time to think it through thoroughly.

Sometimes, of course, you’ll have to make a choice in a limited period of time. But whenever possible, give yourself room to make a good decision. This might mean drawing better boundaries with coworkers or learning to put less pressure on yourself. Do whatever it takes to give yourself the time you need to make the right choice.

7. Don’t Forget to rest

It’s really tough to tune into your own higher wisdom when you’re tired, overworked, or otherwise not at your best. Taking time to care for yourself is an absolute prerequisite for tapping into your own guidance. So, if you really want to learn to listen to your heart, be sure to prioritize self-care.

Take time to eat well, exercise and get plenty of rest. And, be sure to spend some time away from the pressures of work, too. Enjoying friends and family and even just indulging your own hobbies once in a while can go a really long way. If you try to make an important professional decision when you’re super stressed or otherwise rundown, it might not be easy to tap into what your heart is trying to tell you. You have to be calm and rested for that.

Tell Us What You Think

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