My Heart Tells Me So
“Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.” Rumi
Sometimes your life changes course just when you need it, but least expect it. Earlier this summer, I found myself at a career crossroad without a clear sense of my next professional step. Deep inside I knew that I needed to take a breather before I transitioned to a new role. For a minute, that terrified me.
Thankfully, I have a spectacular husband, daughter, family and tribe who breathed life into me as I began to contemplate what would come next. Going beyond well-meaning affirmations and loving gestures, which I gladly welcomed, they generously offered guidance, and connected me to inspiring people and ideas. By giving the best of themselves, they helped me find the courage to embrace the unknown.
Taking a pause in order for growth to happen
Over the years, I have benefited from executive coaching and leadership development programs that helped me best deploy my skill sets at pivotal career moments. At this transition juncture, I felt a longing for journeying into self-discovery. That is how I found myself dedicating two days to the curation of a Life Plan with my immensely talented friend, Alexander (Zander) Grashow. Over the course of this deep, personal exploration we examined patterns throughout my life, spoke truths out loud, and tapped into what I’m capable of being when I harness the power of my heart and mind.
My key learning was the deep disconnect between my heart and mind. For a long time I have carried a narrative that opportunity and potential have been gifted to me in ways it has not for my family before me, and I needed to make good on that. Over the course of my career, I inadvertently disconnected from my heart in the pursuit of doing and acceptance. My head went into overdrive while my heart needed tending to.
The magic of my tribe
While deep inside I knew my next chapter would come around when it was meant to be, it was initially unsettling to experience time passing when I no longer had a day job. I went through real waves of emotion - turbulence in my heart — at times with shame and self-doubt. And as I sought to lean in to this moment of being untethered to institutions and expectations, joyful opportunities to do good while feeling good manifested all around me.
I found myself with time to help my brilliant friend, Tiffany Dufu, launch her latest venture the Cru. When she needed the help, I was able to interview and match amazing women for the inaugural Crus. Being there for my friend was a gift to us both. I could now also attend board meetings for Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Brooklyn Children’s Museum in person vs. multi-tasking over video/phone. And I was delighted to volunteer on an initiative of the Hollywood Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace. Increasingly, I felt lighter as I contributed to such fundamental and worthwhile causes.
Reconnecting with my childhood tribe
But there was more to my journey. I needed to fully reset and rediscover life beyond work. I yearned to reconnect with my family beyond a stolen day here and there. The timing was perfect with the summer and end of school year just around the corner. My deepest want has always been to head on far flung adventures with my husband and daughter — adventures informed by a sense of home. So we chose to go home — the Dominican Republic, the home of my childhood — for two weeks. We took advantage of this extended stay to leisurely reconnect with family and friends, discover new sites, learn to surf, and enjoy delicious Caribbean fare while lazying around multiple beach towns.
An outcome of an education in an American international school is that my childhood friends are scattered across the world. Despite distance and years apart, these friendships have always felt like the best version of home. And a feeling of home is where my heart is happiest. They, and dear friends we made while living in the Bay Area, informed our next itinerary. For a month, we traveled to Denmark (Copenhagen), the Netherlands (Amsterdam), Spain (Bilbao, Ea and San Sebastian), and Portugal (Lisbon, the Azores and Porto), visiting my and my daughter’s BFFs. Fun note: In every location we would inadvertently run into Dominicans. There’s nothing like walking around in a foreign country and catching a nearby conversation with that familiar accent — it always makes my heart skip a joyful beat.
This period of adventure, discovery and wander filled me with gratitude and optimism. Visiting museums and historical sites, walking aimlessly through unknown and strikingly beautiful neighborhoods, eating and drinking to our hearts content, loving the local fashion, reminiscing over childhood stories, all in the spirit of honoring my heart; turned from travel experiences to transformational moments.
I found myself so busy connecting to my heart, I didn’t have room for extra baggage (figuratively and literally as we only traveled with carry ons). I heeded Alexander’s summer assignment with great determination — I played until I needed to rest and I rested until I wanted to play. Connecting to my heart became both my motivation and measure. Seeking only enjoyment and connection, helped me embrace all new experiences with full abandonment. Every meal, every encounter, every visit, meant an opportunity to fully feel my way through my emotions. Life was happening around me and I was tuned into it with every heart beat.
There were also moments of deep self-reflection and the occasional doubt. Reframing career expectations can be daunting. Old ideas about failure and achievements crept in from time to time. I spoke more, out loud — through my heart and not just in my head - to my husband about my wants and fears, and heard his. It slowly became clear to me that my life’s purpose was to catalyze agency towards the transformation of organizations and people for good.
What began as an exploration of “What is my next chapter?” turned into sharper questions of “what does work need to do for me to light me up?”. Some answers came quickly. For example, where I go next needs to be a place where I can shine my light so that it illuminates the hearts of others; so that they, too, are willed to do the right thing for others. Some answers are more concrete regarding organizational commitments and capabilities, and others are still under development.
Rediscovering my family
In addition to learning more about what I truly wanted to do next, I learned fun, new things about my family. Like all the cool songs my daughter knows, by heart. Her growing appreciation for environmentalism and activism. And my husband’s ability to navigate through any unknown environment with basic tools. This trip confirmed once and for all that he is, hands down, the best person to have by your side when facing an apocalypse, or finding your way through unexplored locations.
My daily practice
Also upon Alexander’s recommendation, I started a daily practice of connecting to my heart. Over the years I have tried a host of meditation techniques, apps and classes. But I couldn’t get the monkeys in my head to stop chattering about. What worked for me? A simple (and short) meditation exercise each morning before I get out of bed along with a reading from Journey to the Heart and The Poetry Pharmacy. Tiffany also gifted me with What I Know for Sure which was immediately added to the rotation, because everyone needs a little Oprah wisdom. While I was experiencing awe, confusion and connection, I drew on these words to further commit to my energy and purpose.
And I found myself realizing that sometimes the truest learning is the acceptance that our perspective has shifted. That I could let go of the act of doing, performing, delivering while I embraced what I truly needed. My travels this summer turned into a dialing in of perspective and priorities, and gratitude. If I had just jumped back into work, I would have missed the gift of connecting to my heart.
Now that I’m back exploring my next life assignment, I do so with explicit decision criteria, a daily practice that keeps me from sinking into old habits and the frenzy of the city, and a rich memory of the warmth and glow from days of play and rest. I am confident that where I go and what I do will be more joyful, intentional and impactful. My heart tells me so.