When we think of following your heart, we probably think of famous risk takers. I think of great athletes who weren’t “great” in the traditional sense of the world, but had a dream and pursued it against all odds, like Rudy Ruettiger or Vince Papale.
I knew a Rudy or a Vince. But his name is James. He was a great friend in college who was, probably by his own admission, only a mediocre competitive swimmer. He somehow talked his way onto the Penn State swim team, and let me tell you, he worked his butt off. He loved swimming (not a trait you often find in competitive college swimmers, interestingly), and he brought his best to every workout, every meet, every team meeting. He had heart. By the end of his college career, he was a top swimmer in a Division I program.
He had not been discouraged by the fact that as a younger swimmer, he didn’t win all the time (maybe ever). He was driven by his own improvement. Dis-couraged was something he never was. He had courage to follow his heart. He ended up coaching swimming for years (I can only imagine he was a fantastic coach), married a swim coach, and now teaches college and also has a brood of kids, all of whom will no doubt benefit from his wisdom and courage.
He inspired me because, while I was born with talent in swimming, I didn’t naturally have a solid outlook on what I should do with that talent or how it should be tempered. I was also a hard worker, but I never appreciated, until I met my friend James, what it meant to have the courage to race my own times and have pleasure in my own improvement, versus qualifying for some big meet or winning a race.
James’ swimming improved greatly in college. Mine did not. I peaked early, in high school, for many reasons, including subjecting myself to crazy, intense workouts too early, too fast. What I learned in college, however, was that I could follow my heart and regain a love for swimming (which I had lost completely) regardless of whether external measures would label me a success, and that it took courage to work at something that I was not “at the top of,” so to speak. I really enjoyed my last few years of swimming in college in large part because of the lessons James taught me. And I’m grateful to him for the fact that I can now go to a pool, do a mile at a leisurely pace, and get out satisfied, the clock be damned.
Peter, Jesus’ apostle upon whom the Church was built, was the same kind of leader as my friend James. Peter followed his heart. Peter was no great speaker, and sometimes said some goofy things that I can only imagine made Jesus and the other guys roll their collective eyes. Peter also had set backs, where he didn’t follow his heart but let fear guide him. But he learned from those backslides, regained his courage, and went on to great things. Let’s face it, when Jesus calls you “a rock,” you rock.
I’ve gone back to those lessons I learned in college, and made some exciting career changes in the past 4 years. I took great risks and left a career that I was really good at (if I do say so myself) to start work in which I was not as good, at least not initially. Through great leaders like my friend James, I learned to have the courage to follow my heart.
Who in your life has led you to have the courage to follow your heart?
Have you told them what they have meant to you?
P.S. James, you rock.