27 November 2007

Do You Follow Your Heart? Head? Intuition?

A friend of mine is asking for advice. He’s in his 20’s. He’s struggling to define what’s next, not sure whether he’s already there or even where there might be. He’s going through the kind of thing that any thoughtful person seems to go through. Specifically, he's debating about whether to pursue an MBA or not, but as with any of these big life decisions, the specific decision hinges on so many other decisions, all feeding into the question about what kind of life one wants to live.

For me, a big part of what is meant by integrity is an alignment of head, heart, and gut. (And in matters of romance, I think it's important to add in a fourth organ.) I feel best when reason, emotion, and intuition all conspire to assure me that I'm in the right place, doing the right thing.

But here’s what I’m wondering. Which is the best leader? What have you relied on at different times in life? Have you plunged into life head first? Heart first? Or have you been led by your gut, that sense of intuition that you can’t articulate? How has it worked out? Does it depend on the situation? What do you think is best to follow?

Thoughts? [At this point, it'd be customary to express yourself in the comments section. Thanks!]


Norman said...

Ask him to think about the future, then ask him how many years away that is.

Next ask him what it looks like half way to that point.

Then half way to that point.

After a few iterations of the question, I suspect the picture will start to become familiar.

At that point, suggest he take those pictures and put them together going in the other direction to create a possible "roadmap" for himself.

As he does this, I'm sure he'll use his head, heart and intuition to weigh, evaluate and modify what he's created until it feels right, and seems exciting.

Remind him that he can do this exercise again and again as he moves down his chosen path; that it's not a one way street into a tar pit.

Simply put, trying to place one aspect of yourself above another is neither necessary, nor productive.

Fortunately, humans, like all systems, contain the whole in each and every part. By understanding and accepting this, we can find the best in ourselves.

Anonymous said...

I think your heart should tell you what to do, your head should tell you how.

God, evolution, or some combination of the two granted us a whole toolbox of possibilities and solutions. It would be a mistake to pick just one tool and announce that this is the only one you're going to use.

exskindiver said...

in my early 20's i was cautious.
i always played by the rules.
when i was younger, i believe i did not have enough experience behind me (also called wisdom)
to be able to go with my heart or my gut.
so at that time of my life i definitely relied on my head (influenced greatly by my parents, family, society)

then after going through life, it got tiring.
plus experience and enough banked "wisdom" (also called mistakes)
has given me the license to also go with my heart and my gut--with my head--
because my mantra is: life is too short.

but i won't tell this to a 20-something. because it isn't too short for a 20-something.
in fact, he has got a pretty long life ahead of him that he must live before he can say that.

Ron Davison said...

I suddenly feel like I ought to stop posting my ideas and simply post open-ended questions. Really great answers from all three of you. I feel a little humbled to have thought the head / heart / gut thing was all that insightful.

I really like the iterations to the future approach. Neatly captures the person's own relevant horizon and translates that into short-term to do lists. Very cool.

I like the heart for what, head for how distinction. I'm going to work on that.

Jazz musicians learn the rules before they learn how to “break” them in jam sessions. Joseph Campbell said something like, Heroes absorb the rules of society and then transcend them, moving from a state of being used by the rules to using the rules. I think that yours is great advice and it seems like you’ve come to the same place as Theolonius Monk and Joseph Campbell – pretty good company. Thanks for providing such a thoughtful answer. (Or was it an emotional answer, one that came from your heart? I’ve suddenly gotten myself confused.)

Seriously, though – thanks for sharing your insight -- all of you.

Life Hiker said...

I would posit that a sober look at talents and personal social objectives will lead in the right direction.

Successful MBA's are smart, analytical, problem-solvers, personally "tough", and good communicators. If you want to compete in that world, you should have at least most of these traits. If you don't, inventory your talents and identify careers that maximize on them.

Personal "social" objectives are also important. Some careers do better without the baggage of a family. Some careers support or do not support a family financially. I went from an English comp major to an accounting major in order to feed and house my family, for example. It worked out fine.

Lastly, I would say that it's important not to close doors that are much harder to open later. If you can conveniently get an MBA now, for example, maybe you should do it. Even if a corporate career turns out to be non-fulfilling, the knowledge/skills learned in such a program are broadly applicable to life and work. There would be a lot worse places to spend two years of your life.

Incidentally, my three sons are 47, 45, and 34. All have gone through major career changes and are successful. Be prepared to change direction as your heart and your externalities lead.

Ron Davison said...

I was hoping you'd stop by before this posting slipped into the abyss of yesterday's news. Unsurprisingly helpful answers, thanks. About your sons, I think that the mid-course correction is going to become more the norm. My own career looks coherent to me, but it probably doesn't look that way on paper. (And I've not succeeded in executing the final part of it yet.)

LET'S TALK said...

Great points made here. I cannot think of any others to make, except to say; always believe you can and always believe in yourself and find away to do what you must for the present and the future.

fermicat said...

In my mind, there are only two reasons to get a graduate degree in anything: 1)you love it, or 2)it allows you to do something else that you love.

Ron Davison said...

Always believe that you can ... find satisfaction of some kind, even if looks different than what you'd thought. I agree that hope is essential.

that puts it in simple terms - very clean, very clear.

Thanks to both of you for adding to the insights.

cce said...

I know this is a pretty cliched tag line but - "Do what you love and never work a day in your life" comes immediately to mind. This would be a vote for the heart I guess, though I find it hard to believe that there are people out their that LOVE being executives (yet I know they exist).

While twenty, the heart probably holds sway, idealism being a pretty powerful factor in the life of a twenty-something. I'd imagine that with age, comes wisdom and the head begins to take over at some point. I say he should go with the heart as long as the spirit moves him. Before long, the stuff of mortgages and taxes and school districts sort of extinguishes all spontaneity.

And then, as life proceeds towards middle age, the gut will take over as all humans become slaves to their particular gastric woes. Constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, kidney stones. While heart and mind may want to move to Africa and distribute AIDS medication, at that point, such worthy enterprises are all but impossible due to the various and sundry ailments that restrict travel to countries with questionable plumbing. Thus, the gut takes over by necessity.

Good luck to your friend and may his bowels remain healthy.

Ron Davison said...

I found your advice very moving - fortunately I made it to the men's room in time.
I like the idea of being led by different things at different times. It's almost less a matter of you choosing which will lead you than it choosing you.

Vladimir Dzhuvinov said...

Give no advice, show instead that you're confident in him :)

I feel your friends needs a bit more self-esteem. He then would know what to do with his life :)

Ron Davison said...

I can depend on you to approach the problem from a different direction. I think it is true that our courage is key to attaining any goals we'd actually aspire to and, sans courage, we're likely to say, "I'm not sure what to do." Great reminder, thanks.

Anonymous said...

WOW! Well, there’s at least 2 very good books I’ve read lately that I’ve absolutely enjoyed:

‘It’s Your Ship’ by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff

‘Wooden on Leadership’ by John Wooden

Both are EXCEPTIONAL books and I loved reading each one. I’d be more than happy to loan out both books.

What have you relied on at different times in life?

Sex, a Good bottle of Wine from time-to-time, Music, Lots of Exercise, Lots of Learning, Lots of Listening, Lots of Love. All sounds cliché but it continues to work for me.

Have you plunged into life head first? Heart first? Led by your gut, your intuition that you can’t articulate? How has it worked out? What is best to follow? Does it depend on the situation?

Yes, Yes & Yes. I’ve used all approaches, found success sometimes while at other times heartache found me. I think this is what you would call “living life”.

Remember to tell your friend “hindsight is 20/20” because it doesn’t matter if you have a Crystal Ball or a Ouija Board. And unfortunately, Doc Brown and his souped-up DeLorean are only possible in the movies. We can’t control fate, only our response to it.

Remember when Curly (Jack Palance) took Mitch (Billy Crystal) off, just the two of them, to round up a stray? Mitch was scared to death of this old cow-poke who was rough around the edges but Curly was really doing what he enjoyed the most . . . he had found the “one thing” that makes life worth living to him, and told Mitch *HE* had to find that “one thing” that makes life worth living to him. Isn’t that what it’s all about for all of us? Hoping to find that “one thing” that makes life worth living?


LSD said...

All this talk of organs reminds me that the ancient egyptians removed the brain from their mummies because they thought it's function was to produce mucus. To look at it for clues, we might sympathize with their mistake. -But let's talk about the blood pump and the digestion tank...

When I look at my own curlicue path, I wonder that any young person knows what they want to do. Just the same, young minds are amazing and I concur with Vladimir when he recommends the value of support and confidence.

I have often thought that wisdom is produced when the heart and mind concur and that happiness is found in the overlapping areas. -I ought to think of it more often.

Ron Davison said...

I find this mind blowing. There is only one of two possibilities. One, my readers are the wisest in the blogosphere or, two, there is an abudance of provocative advice out there. In either case, I'm more than appreciative of the comments and kind of stunned that you're reading me. Wow. Thanks.

insight through honesty, humor, the practical ... all excellent reminders.

you're making fun of me, but really, we begin and end life focused on our digestive tracts, so the whole idea of a stomach's importance is not so silly. Anyway, you combined humor and insight and I'd have expected nothing less from you. Thanks. Thanks. Thanks. (he said, mumbling, repeating himself as his voice drifted off ...)

Vladimir Dzhuvinov said...

I think we're somewhat downplaying the gut's intelligence:

"The Second Brain?

Neurological activity is an important phase in coordinating digestion. Neurobiologist Dr. Michael Gershon of Columbia University has written about a layer of 100 billion nerve cells in the stomach. This "second brain" coordinates digestion, works with the immune system to protect you from harmful bacteria in the gut, uses the neurotransmitter serotonin and may be implicated in irritable bowel syndrome and feelings of anxiety (like butterflies in your stomach) [source: Psychology Today]."

David said...

I use all four simultaneously in every situation. That is, I once did but, since one shut down, I find myself in less danger.

Daryl said...

Ron, no surprise in how I feel. Use whatever (heart, head, etc...) to figure out what makes you happy and then use your head like crazy to figure out how to get there. -Daryl

Ron Davison said...

I does seem like the brain's functions are exercised in more places than between your ears. On top of that, there is a ton going on beneath the level of consciousness. Leave it to the brain to be fascinated with the brain.

you make it seem like a greek chorus. I don't think that I'm supposed to laugh at the mention of the one guy's defection, but the way you word it ... it is kind of funny.

No, I can't say I am surprised. Let any organ make the problem that we think of as goals and then let the head solve the problem of attaining it. That sounds kind of like you - and probably me as well. But there may come a day when you rely on your heart to solve a problem that your head got you into.

Anonymous said...

Send your friend to fastcompany.com's archives for lucky issue number 13 and read two amazing articles: "Is Your Job Your Calling" and "Are You Deciding On Purpose." Both are about making choices, but from different perspectives - both very useful. I try and reread these every year and allow for some digestion time after reading.

Ron Davison said...

it's been too long since I've read Fast Company - they've had some marvelous articles and those suggestions sound credibly good. I'll have to click over there. Thanks.