I know how the combined pressure of not wanting to disappoint your friends or family, but also wanting to pursue your dreams can make it difficult to know whom or what to prioritize. The ability to follow your heart as opposed to other people’s is a great skill to have, but finding the courage to do it can be a tricky journey, and a very personal and unique one at that. While everyone’s process is different, here’s what I have found helpful and hindering when it comes to figuring out what I want and then making it happen.
Pinpoint your own desire.
This year, I found making plans for summer a little daunting. A bunch of my friends were doing day camps in the area that they also wanted me to sign up for, while other friends of mine wanted me to do stuff with them. My parents were also pressuring me to figure out my summer. It felt like I was being pulled in a lot of different directions, so much so that by the time I started thinking about summer everything that “I wanted to do” were just things that people were telling me to do, not things I was actually interested in. I took a step back and asked myself what I wanted, which was very helpful in making my brain feel less clogged.
The standards that other people set for us can frequently make what we want for ourselves much less clear, which is why this step requires a lot of reflection and plenty of thought. Think about the things you want to do. This can be a place you want to travel, a career path you’re interested in, really anything as long as it’s what you want. If you’re having trouble distinguishing what you want from what others want, here are some questions you can ask yourself: Is this something I feel passionate about? Do I think about this thing a lot, or is it more that others tell me about it a lot? Is this something that I do, or regularly think/dream/fantasize about doing? Create a bucket list of sorts. It should include all of the things you want to do, big, little, or minuscule. Including bigger goals is important, because these are the ones that capture broader ideas that speak more to who you are and who you want to become. Once you have created this list, look for recurring themes. Are many of your points related to travel? Maybe you should do a study abroad program. If they’re music related, consider starting a band. These recurring themes will tell you a lot about what you want, which is key to following your heart. I mean, how are you supposed to pursue your dreams if you don’t know what you’re dreaming of?
Be vocal about what you want.
Thanks to the handy list you made before, you likely have some idea of what it is you want and changes you want to make. Before making these changes or decisions, you might need to inform people of your plans so that they understand how you see yourself.
Right now I’m in seventh grade, and earlier this year I started thinking about high school. My school is a 6-12 school, so while I do have the option of staying through high school if I’d like, I’m interested in seeing my other options. My parents and friends were pretty clear that they wanted me to stay where I am. They’d constantly remind me of all my school’s reputation and accolades until it seemed that the only words that I was hearing were, “It’s such a great school!” Although on paper it is a great school, I was still figuring out whether or not it was a great school for me. It got to the point where I told my parents that as much as I respected their insight, they needed to respect mine. At the time, I assumed that people were trying to force me into wanting what they wanted when in reality, they just didn’t know what I wanted. After telling my parents and my friends that I wanted to look into all of my options for high school, they saw my independence and backed off a bit.
Communication is key when you want someone to stop doing something, because in most cases they don’t know that they’re getting on your nerves or stifling you. Be vocal about your aspirations before jumping to conclusions about others’ motives. I’ve found that the most successful way to get people to stop forcing their standards on you is to inform them of the standards you have for yourself. Maybe your parents really want you to be a pastry chef, but you want to be a surgeon. If you’d like them to stop nagging you about opening a cronut shop, tell them that you want to be a surgeon. If you inform people of what you’re doing and keep them updated on how it’s going, the odds are that they will see the independence and passion that you possess and realize that they don’t need to tell you what to do, because they you’ve got it figured out.
Commit to your mindset.
When making difficult life decisions, it is easy to go back to being dependent on other people and not listening to yourself. If you find that happening, remind yourself of the climb you had to take to start paying attention to what you want—I’m sure it was hard and strenuous. Don’t make yourself go through that again! I know that’s easier said than done. There have been several times when I’ve felt as if I have reached the zenith of following my gut, and then I’ve fallen backwards. Recently, I was going back and forth with my teacher about the thesis statement for a paper I was working on. What I wanted was very different from what he wanted and I ended up completely disregarding my own desires and rewriting the paper entirely to fit his criteria, as opposed to following through with the vision I had for it.
Going with your gut isn’t always easy, but the payoff is great, which is why you should try to stay in touch with yourself. It’s possible that your self-assertion could go awry—you might end up in a fight with a parent who wants you to follow their rules, or a friend who just doesn’t get it—and maybe the reaction you get won’t be the one you were wanting or expecting. Even if that is the case, knowing for yourself what you want is huge, and a vital part of your happiness and well being. Whether or not you get the support of others, listening to your heart and trying to follow it will be an eye-opening process. You’ll know what is best for you and learn so much about yourself, which is worthy of praise and celebration in itself.
Do your thing.
It’s time! You’ve informed people of how you want them to treat you, and of the changes you’re making. Now all you have to do is…do it! There may have to be some compromise, and the way that you wanted to do something may not always be the way it plays out. But even if EVERYTHING isn’t EXACTLY as you envisioned it, you can still take charge! Maybe your parents won’t pay for the art camp that you wanted to attend; save up for it by selling your paintings. Don’t stop when someone with the upper hand says no, because there are always alternate ways to get to where you want to be. For now, do what you can. Wear that pink fur coat you’re afraid to wear! Start your new hit band! Whatever it is that you desire, do it. You know what you want, now run wild and flaunt what your heart is telling you to flaunt.
Figuring out what you want and then acting on it definitely isn’t easy, but the pleasure that comes with it makes the battle worthwhile. There have been many times when I have struggled with listening to my heart, and chances are that you will, too. But you are not the only one: There’s an entire world of teenagers, adults, and children who are still figuring out how to hear themselves. Each one of us will make mistakes that are part of figuring out where and who we want want to be. Sometimes those mistakes warp the path we take. But as twisted and unimaginable as your path may be, listening to your heart will build your sense of well being and self-assurance for the journey. ♦