Listening to My Heart

Listening to My Heart

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Create Your Best Future

Listening to My Heart

Wherever you go, go with all your heart.

~Confucius

The fall of my senior year of college I was an emotional wreck. When I looked ahead to my bright, shining future all I saw was a cubicle with my name on it. This was not the future I wanted, but to me it seemed as though the major forces in my life (mostly my family, friends and the college career center) were forcing me in that direction. Without ever stopping to ponder what I actually wanted to do with my life after graduation, I had begun applying for positions at Fortune 500 companies because that’s what I “should be” doing. In the busy hustle of college life I had forgotten that I had a choice, and the inner turmoil that resulted was crushing me.

Luckily, I was given the opportunity to travel to a conference focused on finding “the life worth living.” The conference centered on living with purpose and spiritual direction. I was placed in a group of fifteen total strangers, but that was where I found my direction.

During one session we were asked to read an article called the “Cup of Trembling,” and then to individually reflect on what fears were holding us back from following our dreams. When it was my turn to share I heard things coming out of my mouth that I didn’t even know I had been thinking. I shared my fear of the nine-to-five desk job and the lack of direction that I felt looking past graduation. I shared my fear of living in poverty, and the fear of leaving the nest and beginning my own life.

This group of random people listened to me pour out the contents of my soul and then they probed me for more information. They genuinely wanted to help me straighten myself out so that my future matched what my heart was saying. They asked me to put aside all of the barriers and excuses I made for myself, and to reflect on what I would most like to do.

I explained that I wanted to serve others, to go somewhere and be in a program like the Peace Corps, where I could dedicate my life to something that would make a difference in other people’s lives. Speaking the words out loud made me realize that if this was my goal I had the power to make it my reality.

I felt renewed and ambitious. I returned home with a new perspective and a fresh energy. The sadness and anxiety was replaced with a sense of purpose. I researched the Peace Corps, and started discussing my decision, but I didn’t tell my parents until I was reasonably sure that it was the direction I wanted to take. I was a little apprehensive about their reactions. I envisioned the conversation taking a variety of directions. I felt they would see my decision as irresponsible. I feared they would think that now was the time in my life to grow up and to start earning money to pay back my student loans or that I was somehow trying to back away from my responsibilities as a young adult. How on earth could I go so far away and expect that they would take care of things for me while I was gone? I was worried they would take my decision personally. I remembered back to high school when it was time to choose a college. My mother felt that four hours was too far away. How would she feel about her only child moving across the world?

I told my father first. I was nervous and afraid, but I knew that my father would embrace my ambitions more easily than my mother. After I told him, I felt the immediate flood of release: it was as though telling him made it real and now it had been decided that this is what would happen just by speaking the words. He responded by helping me find out more and explore my options. Overall, he seemed supportive and a little excited.

My mom was less enthused by my new ambition. She made it clear that although this wasn’t the direction she had hoped I would take, she didn’t think it was a bad decision and she still loves me. That was enough for me, so I endured the lengthy application process. I wasn’t sure how it would all turn out; I prayed about it and asked God to place me where I would be most useful. During my interview I didn’t express any preferences for location, but I did mention that I would like to learn French or Spanish. My recruiter’s eyes lit up as she explained that she would like to find me a business assignment in French-speaking West Africa.

And here I am one week away from leaving the familiar comfort of everything I have known for the past twenty-one years. One week away from turning my life upside down. One week away from moving to Africa to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years in Mali, a country I had previously never even heard of.

Sometimes life takes you places you never expected to go. The call to follow one’s own heart is not always a voice of reason. This is what I must remind myself every time I ask the real questions weighing on my mind: What on earth am I thinking? How am I ever going to survive? Am I tough enough to face the challenges ahead? Will I actually do any good? Wow, am I prepared for this?

As my parents will surely attest, no, I am not prepared for this. I have lived a pampered life so far, and this will most certainly be one of the hardest times of my life. However, I feel deep in my soul that God would not call me to service if it weren’t something we could get through together.

~Danielle M. Dryke

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