Is Following Your Heart Impractical?
“Following Your Heart is Impractical. Once again, I don’t think this is wrong. The early stages of following your interests will be messy, which is why it’s crucial to learn to distinguish between surface pleasures and deeper callings “
Written By Noah Cohen: Published Jan 7th, 2020 | Updated Jan 7th, 2020.
Noah Cohen is the driving force behind Humanic.Tech, a habit tracking app and life dashboard designed to help people reach their most ambitious goals. 🚀
8 Minute Read
“There is a Point Where Learning Becomes a Means of Avoiding Life”
First, thank you for joining us today Henri. You’ve been helping people find and follow their passions since 2009. Can you kick off the interview by telling us a little bit more about how you got started in this space?
Way back in 2004, I was fresh out of school, and I somehow bumped into online poker. I heard of a friend making a living playing online poker, and I thought “Hey, I could do that.”
That started a 5-year journey of me playing poker for a living, traveling, and trying new things. Yet as early as 2006, I felt an urge to write, to express myself.
I’ve been writing since the age of 7, when I wrote my first few stories about a bear and his friends (Winnie the Pooh inspired? Who knows).
So you could say writing was always in my bones. I didn’t write consistently. But I always kept returning to the written word.
Between 2006 and 2009, I hemmed and hawed. I wanted to write, but I wasn’t sure I was good enough. I was worried about what others might think. I was afraid of failing.
The usual suspects.
I eventually became so sick of these excuses that I decided to see what would happen if I started anyway.
What came out when I did that was Wake Up Cloud, my blog. The articles that came out had to do with my life experience, which was about following what I was interested in, and battling my inner demons.
From there, I listened to my readers, and I listened to myself. I sought to find the intersection between outer demand and inner supply.
What steps would you suggest that someone take who isn’t quite sure what their main passions are? How do you suggest someone determine what their main focus should be if they aren’t sure where to start?
Start following what you are interested in.
If you have many interests, start with the one that you can take action on.
If you have many that you can take action on, and you can’t decide, then flip a coin or throw a dice. Chances are that while the coin or dice is in the air, you’ll wish it lands a certain way. Pick the choice you secretly want it to land on.
If, after all that, you still don’t want to start, chances are you are held back by fear.
What helps with fear is to forget about any big goals, and focus on taking tiny steps.
Instead of writing a best-selling book, write 200 words, and publish it anonymously.
And if all this fails, perhaps you need to give into your fear until you grow so sick of it that you’re ready to start anyway.
That’s what had to happen to me. Sometimes these things take time.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you see people make when they change their focus and start spending more time nurturing their passions?
Giving in to fear. Going after what makes you come alive tends to bring up your inner demons. What if people criticize you? What if they laugh? What if you fail? What if you’re not good enough?
Fear limits your ability to play with life. Instead, you begin to look for step-by-step courses, hoping that they will give you the formula to success, hoping that you can sidestep any discomfort.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I went through several years of spending money on all kinds of courses (get-rich-quick schemes included).
But I kept coming back to following what I was interested in, despite fear and confusion. I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I simply couldn’t not do this. In the process, I discovered that I didn’t have to take my thoughts so seriously. I realized that my mind was often wrong about what could go wrong, and what that would mean.
Gradually, I began to pay less attention to my fears, and more attention to where I felt drawn to go. All this time, I’ve been putting one foot in front of the other.
You’re a big believer in the idea of following the nudges within your heart. You don’t promote risky behavior like quitting your job or going all in, but instead you promote the idea of taking small steps and testing yourself along the way. What are the three most common objections from people who disagree with the idea of following your heart or making a business out of your passions. How would you counter their objections?
I often agree with most of the objections, because I tend to be more practical. Here are three objections that come to mind:
Passion Develops with Success. The objection is that passion isn’t found, it develops as you become more successful, and more skillful at what you do. This is probably true, but it has to start with what you’re interested in. If you have no interest in something, it will be hard to push at the beginning. That’s why a small interest, when watered with attention and work, has a high likelihood of becoming a passion over time.
Passion Limits Your Options. When people try to find their passion, they can limit their options to fields such as art, music, sports, and so on. I agree with this. And it’s why I talk about finding the intersection between what you’re good at, what people want, and what you want to master. This also doesn’t always mean that you’ll find one passion that will fit perfectly.
Following Your Heart is Impractical. Once again, I don’t think this is wrong. The early stages of following your interests will be messy, which is why it’s crucial to learn to distinguish between surface pleasures and deeper callings. In my decade of helping people with this, I haven’t found a way around experience. Meaning, you have to do this yourself, and notice what works for you.
This all comes down to experimenting with how your body works. What do you truly respond to? What feels magnetic? How do you want to live life?
Can you tell us a little bit more about your approach and thoughts regarding goal setting and expectations? Once you’ve found something that pulls you in, how important setting goals to guide you on your path? On your blog it seems like you take a more present “in the moment” approach to growth. What dangers do you believe lie in expectations and goals?
It depends on what you need. When I work with people, I usually help the more goal-oriented people relax, and the more relaxed people focus on goals.
I tend to be in the former camp, which is probably why I write about being in the present more. We tend to teach what we need to learn. My mind is naturally focused on achieving goals, avoiding mistakes, and doing things right. That being the case, I find myself balancing it out with relaxation.
What can happen with goals is that we begin to live in the future. We think that when we build a successful business, write a best-selling book, or travel the world, we’ll be happy.
Sure, you’ll feel good for a while, but it will pass, because our experience of life doesn’t work that way. You can see it yourself by noticing the depressed billionaires and unhappy celebrities.
None of this means you shouldn’t do what you feel like doing. If you feel like making a million dollars, then by all means do so. You will learn what you need to learn.
I find goals helpful when used appropriately. I don’t dismiss them outright, because they are useful in focusing the mind. But I don’t mistake goals for peace or happiness.
People have multiple passions and they might have multiple ideas about which passion they want to focus on, build a business around or find a job within. What advice do you generally give to people who have multiple ideas but don’t know what path to choose?
Start with the one that you feel like doing. If you don’t know what path to choose, it may be because you don’t have enough information or experience to go on, which means it’s helpful to start anywhere, and see how things unfold.
In my life, I’ve done my best to take action in the direction that I find most interesting. If a path suddenly becomes blocked, I look around, and I start moving in another direction. I emphasize taking tiny steps because it is the only way you will discover how this works for you. You can read my story, and hopefully you will be inspired, but eventually you have to see how this works in your life.
There is a point where learning becomes a means of avoiding life.
On your blog you mention that “being in a hurry is a symptom of entertaining insecure thoughts.” What do you mean by this?
It doesn’t have to be just insecure thoughts. It could be fearful thoughts, stressful thoughts, anxious thoughts, and so on. When we take these thoughts seriously, we naturally want to escape them. We look for pleasure, and we want to avoid discomfort or pain. So when we have an insecure thought, we feel it.
When that happens, it’s natural to have another thought in response to all that about escaping the discomfort. And in terms of following your passion, this escape can look like wanting to hurry to find your passion so you can be free from the discomfort. Instead of chasing this illusion, it’s helpful to look within, to see that these thoughts change on their own, and when they do, your feelings change.
As you calm down, you gain clarity about where to go next. You get more in touch with what you’re truly interested in. We all have access to what you could call inner wisdom. Some call it God, others call it intuition. I’m not so concerned about the label. I care more about how it can help us live life.
If you could go back in time 10 years and give a younger version of yourself 3 piece of advice with respect to living a fulfilled life, what would those three pieces of advice be?
I think the only advice I would give is to relax more, but I don’t believe the younger me would’ve heeded that advice. I had to learn by trial and error, which is what I recommend to you as well.
Learn from what you’ve just read, but experiment with it. See which pieces fit into your life, and play with them.
I have no idea where life is going, but there is something within me that seems to know how to navigate this thing we call life.
That navigation happens through what I feel drawn to do. Not superficially, but a deeper yearning to move in a certain direction.
Thank you greatly for taking the time to chat with our quantified self blog readers today Henri! To our readers, if you’d like to learn more about Henri and the work he does over on Wake Up Cloud you can check out his website here.
Compete with yesterday’s version of yourself.
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