Taking the Risk and Following Your Heart

I decided to go back to school sitting in a stadium filled with tens of thousands of women listening to a jovial septagenarian talk about embracing life. My mom asked me to accompany her to a Women of Faith conference, which is a nationally touring event series.

The presenter quoted EB White, and it hit home:

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

Luci Swindoll was the speaker. In her book Doing Life Differently: The Art of Living with Imagination, she talks about being a high-end executive at an oil company and deciding she wanted to travel and write. One night, she sat down at her kitchen table and wrote out a long-term plan for making the switch. I forget how long it took her— years, I believe. But she figured it out and did it, and has had a life full of adventure ever since.

At the time, I’d been in my government IT job for about five years. It had taught me new ways of helping the world, of making assistance more accessible, of using technology to encourage community dialogue. There were many aspects of my job that I both enjoyed and found worthwhile, but it wasn’t what I was passionate about.

I wanted my career to echo my heart. Around that same time my dad dittoed that wisdom. He bought me a wooden box inscribed with a Howard Thurman quote:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

For me, I feel the most alive when I’m writing, which is why I’m starting an MFA program in September. The picture is of me and my ever-supportive mother standing in front of my new school! Notice their ad appropriately reads, “Live What You Love.”

There will always be voices in the back of your mind arguing against radical change, particularly when there’s high risk involved. If I’d stayed at my job for three more years I would’ve had a pension plan, one of my own voices reasons. And the decision to leave now was something I had to weigh carefully.

There will also be friends, family, coworkers who tell you about choices they’re making to provide for themselves and their families. And it’s really easy to compare your choices against theirs. (And sometimes they’ll be vocal about your decisions, right?).

Yes, we have to balance being responsible and pursuing our dreams. But what that looks like varies from person to person. The people I admire haven’t necessarily made the same life choices, but something they have in common is that they’re not complacent. They work to better themselves, their kids, and often their communities.

Ultimately for me, it’s worth the risk to “pursue my bliss.” I’ve been as practical as I can about the change— it took two years between that moment at the conference and now to build my writing skills, my portfolio, and enough financial security to make the change. And now, I’m as ready as I’m going to be!

I want to be careful to point out that this post isn’t against government jobs, office jobs, tech jobs or anything else. I believe we are all very very different, and what makes us happy is just as diverse. Perhaps you’re in accounting, but you’d rather be working with people. Or perhaps you’re a coder and couldn’t imagine a better fit! I just want to share my journey in case it speaks to anyone else. And if it does speak to you, I wish you luck, and hope you find a workable way to follow your heart.

Jera Brown is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Donna Dyer

Jera, what a great and personal post! Keep your passion, even if the face of inevitable criticism, frustration, and setbacks (all to be expected in an MFA program and a writing career). Keep your interest in connecting people and communities using technology, too! To write great stories, you have to hear a lot of stories! Thanks for this post, and good luck!