What does your heart tell you to do? Do you listen to it? What are you passionate about? How often do you do the things you are passionate about?
For years I spent my life doing the things I thought I ought to do. I always chose the responsible route, the safe way. Then something happened that threw me for such a loop that it made me rethink everything I had ever learned. My kids were still young enough that I was responsible for them and I was still too chicken to take any risks that might jeopardize their well being. But that was the beginning of a change for me. When the kids were in their teens I started doing things for myself. Things I had always wanted to do but put off for a better time. Things that had never been a priority because they had always been trumped by responsibility or obligation. Things that may have been a possibility back then but I didn’t entertain the thought for something that might be just for me. I didn’t think it was appropriate. I thought it was selfish to do something for myself when there were so many other people around me who needed help. I continuously put my wants, needs, goals and dreams on the backburner.
I started with something simple and believe it or not still practical as I didn’t have a vehicle at the time. I got my motorcycle license and bought a bike. I didn’t realize it but later on I learned that I had inspired a few other women and gave them courage by my actions. In the meantime my kids got their motorcycle licenses too and a short time later my son and I went on a road trip to the east coast of Canada. This was a trip for me and we had a blast! This time I started getting feedback from co-workers, friends and even just acquaintances that I barely knew. I got comments that ranged from “oh, I wish I could do that,” or “I have always wanted to do that,” to “Wow, that’s gutsy,” “I would never have the courage to do that.” A few girls I knew went out and got their bike licenses and bikes that year and one has since gone on a few solo bike trips halfway around the country. I didn’t know it at the time but later they said I had inspired them. They said they had always wanted a bike but never actually thought about getting one until they saw me and my bike going places and doing the things they had dreamed about. Funny when you think about it, me doing something I had always wanted to do (for myself) and it inspired other people. Wow!
Shortly after I started planning an Appalachian Trail thruhike. It was something I had wanted to do since the day I had found out the trail even existed but back then my kids were too young to even consider it. When my youngest left for university that was my year to take the risks I had never before felt comfortable to take. Even then I played it safe taking a six month leave of absence rather than quit my job. I had purchased all of the gear I would need ahead of time and had saved up money. When you think about it, I wasn’t really even risking anything.
While I hiked I kept an online journal where friends, family, coworkers and total strangers could follow along on my journey. I knew thousands were reading it but I was too busy hiking and enjoying myself to think about it too much. A couple of times during my hike I was approached by total strangers who had been reading my journal. They were now planning day hikes in hopes of a future thruhike. At the time I was a bit flattered but mostly embarrassed. I was just out there hiking doing what I wanted to do. I didn’t see myself as an inspiration to anyone and it felt dishonest to accept their thanks. After returning home and going back to work I had so many people tell me how much courage I had given them just by living out my dreams. I couldn’t believe it! Total strangers emailed me to say they were now planning on hiking the Appalachian Trail and thanking me for allowing them to follow my adventure. They were asking me for advise. Acquaintances I barely knew told me how they read my journal and were so surprised that I had made it the whole way. They claimed it helped them to realize how they could reach their goals too. They all had different goals! Some lost weight and got in shape, one decided to take up running, some of them started solo camping trips and two of them went on to hike the Appalachian Trail! I don’t want anyone reading this to think that I am in any way trying to take credit for their achievements but I am trying to show how the actions that I thought were just for myself were not.
It turns out that following my heart and trying to live out my dreams isn’t just for me. I was wrong to think it was selfish. Instead it has helped so many other people have the courage to listen to that still, small voice inside them and act on it!
I am sure that I was just one of many of the people who motivated and inspired those people I mentioned earlier. There have been lots of people in my life who have inspired or motivated me and yet for some reason I didn’t stop to think that maybe they were just following their goals and dreams. Maybe by following our dreams we are living out our purpose in life and in that way helping the people around us in the best possible way that we can. All I know for sure is that since that time every single time I have followed through on one of my own personal goals or dreams it has turned out to benefit more than just me. I will go further and say that for every security (real or imagined) that I have given up to live out my dreams I have helped someone else feel more secure in making the decision to follow their own dreams.