I have been true to myself and I have been untrue. I’ve followed my heart and I’ve betrayed it.
And over the last three months, I’ve taken the leap from one extreme to the other, or from living completely against who I really am to diving unapologetically into the wild uncertain life of creativity and entrepreneurialism that now feels non-negotiable to me.
Here’s the biggest thing I have learned, and the reason I feel this need to share my message of creativity and its role in our happiness:
No matter what’s happening on the outside, being true to yourself feels better than not being true to yourself. By a mile. By ten thousand miles.
You could have a fancy job and loving boyfriend and looks-good-on-paper life. But if who you really are and what you really want out is being violated, you will never be happy. And amazingly, you could be alone, jobless and broke (or getting there) and if you feel like you’re finally on YOUR true path, you will wake up feeling alive every single day.
(And yes, these are all things that are true for me now. And I have never felt more excited about what’s ahead.)
But there’s one thing that has been the hardest part of the lesson for me: there is no neutral.
If your longings—in career, relationship, life—are being ignored, it will hurt and it will not get better over time (I’ve tested it out, trust me).
There’s no middle ground; you’re either being true to yourself or you’re going against your heart.
My time at Google taught me this in a big way.
I didn’t understand why I was so unhappy and everyone else on my team seemed to be doing okay. Some were even thriving. And this made me feel pretty awful about myself.
What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just buck up and be grateful my foot was in the door like everyone else?
I wrestled with these self-shaming thoughts for months, and felt really confused and torn. It only got worse until one day I finally made a choice. I finally gave myself the gentle, compassionate words I had been waiting for the world to say to me, which was this:
It's okay to love what I love, and it’s okay to want what I wanted. And it’s okay not to be comfortable doing something everyone else seems fine with.
I had to tell myself this. I couldn’t keep feeling guilty and torn. And I realized that the world, the big scary “They” that we live in such fear of, would never show up at my door and give me carte blanche to chase my dreams. I had to give myself that push.
Only after giving myself permission to love what I truly did love did I begin to feel like I was coming back to life.
Only then did I find the passion that used to propel me so effortlessly forward.
It’s important to know what you love and who you really are. No one else can show you. You need to do the hard work of figuring out what you love, why you love it, and what kind of a life feels like a fantasy life to you. And it’s up to you to start learning the steps to get there, even if you have to start with a crawl.
If you feel stuck or if you feel “wrong” for not loving where you are right now, I want you to know that it’s going to be better than okay.
You are so close to discovering who you are.
Because in the end there are only two ways to discover who you are, what you love, and what life you’re meant to lead:
- Follow what feels good.
- Do things that don’t feel very good, and in the process learn more about what will feel good.
That’s it. These are the only two ways to understand where your happy is.
Every interview I’ve ever listened to, every article or biography I’ve ever read of all the change-makers and the successful people I study like a raging fangirl has been a story of both of these, so don’t worry if you have to make a lot of “wrong” choices before you find what feels right.
But some people find it easier to mostly do what feels good and somehow have the courage or creative confidence to be fully themselves, which is terrific.
Most of us, though, have a lot of fear around freely expressing who we are, so we need to do things that feel wrong and painful to finally get clear on what will feel good.
And often we don’t have enough clarity in the beginning to understand that what we thought were idiosyncrasies about us or even flaws are actually little expressions of our gifts. They may be things we don’t need to work around or replace, but instead to incorporate into the vision of the life we’re moving toward.
This is why creativity matters. I call it creativity, you can call it self-expression. In the end, it’s about self-love.
Something wants to be expressed within you, and letting it free is an act of love.
Is this selfish? I think this is an interesting question.
I think only a truly alive and happy human being can spread this love and joy to others, and I think someone can only be truly alive when they are being kind to themselves by responding to the callings of their heart, wherever it leads them.
I believe 100% that the deep and quality kind of “happiness” (not just pleasure or comfort, but fulfillment) is only possible when you and your heart are in harmony.
That being said, I want to be smart about this. This discussion of doing work you love and following your passion needs to be tempered with realism, especially these days.
First, I don’t want to trivialize how hard this idea of following your heart is in the real world—which is not the perfect happy place where your calling falls into your lap and you become self-made millionaire and live happily ever after, as most of today’s self-help gurus suggest.
Learning to even hear what your heart is saying is a difficult, albeit rewarding, practice.
Second, following your passion (a loaded term, but our cultural mantra these days so let’s go with it) isn’t about only thinking about yourself and your immediate gratification.
To be true to yourself, you don’t have to abandon caution to the wind, disregard obligations or your finances, or be irresponsible in any way. Because that’s dumb.
I just mean that finding your passion can really just start with letting yourself love what you love, and fully expressing the parts of you that want to come out, even if it means you take one little baby step today and have to work to bring it more fully into your life over months or years.
If you’ve been living against who you are, it’ll feel like an awakening when you finally break free. You will come alive.
And this isn’t just true for your creativity or your career. I think this applies to every area of your life.
If you’ve been in a relationship that feels wrong for you, or if you’ve been hanging out with friends you feel like you’ve outgrown, the act of finally committing to what feels loving and healing for you by breaking free will feel good.
Even if it hurts, even if there are tears shed, and even if things actually do fall apart (because they totally might), beneath the chaos there will be a quiet but very deep feeling of knowing that this is right for you.
You will feel like one strong whole again.
And that, to me, is real happiness.