This line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet first squirreled its way into my brain in 10th grade English class.
But why does it take so long to learn it? And what does it really mean?
The full quote is:
“To thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
For me, it goes way beyond the “be yourself,” “be authentic” advice.
For me, it’s about following my passion. About doing the thing in life my heart is telling me to do, regardless of whether the world sees my work as a commercial success. It’s about not sitting in an assisted living center wondering what would have happened if I had written that book that was my life’s dream.
Your heart will tell you if you just listen
This week, I had an interesting conversation with someone in the book publishing industry. This person told me that I shouldn’t write a memoir. That it won’t sell because I am not a celebrity. That I should consider writing it in some other format.
And I knew in my gut that this person was wrong. That I had to do this.
“There are people out there who tell you you can’t. What you’ve got to do is turn around and say, ‘Watch me.’”
To the kiddos in my elementary school classroom, I used to say, “Do the thing you didn’t think you could do” and “Figure out your own way to show me what you have learned.” That philosophy spilled over into every part of the classroom. For a social studies project, one student wrote a rap song, another created a short play with historical figures as the main characters. Someone else used mixed media to make a visual arts exhibit.
They did it their way.
If you are a remedial learner like me, it may take you a little longer to trust your gut and follow your “Heartsong.” In the animated movie Happy Feet, Mumble is a little penguin who can’t seem to find his Heartsong because he has a terrible singing voice. But what he has is a gift for dancing. In the end, he learns that that is his Heartsong.
And it is never too late to make the leap.
Sometimes we have a dream but life gets in the way
It isn’t always that we are a Leo the Late Bloomer. Sometimes life takes us on side trips that cause us to forget what our Heartsong is. For me, it was single parenthood and a 15-year teaching career that paid the mortgage and put food on the table.
For my daughter, it was time in Hollywood, pursuing her acting goals and waiting tables to survive. She returned to Seattle after the big earthquake in Northridge, California, went back, had some success on national television, then returned to Seattle again because she needed more security in her life.
Still, her Heartsong was calling her.
One day she called me. “I’m thinking about going back to college and getting a degree in theatre arts,” she said.
At the time, she had completed just one year of college. She continued waiting tables nights while she took classes at a community college in Seattle.
Then a wonderful thing happened.
She applied to several “Seven Sisters” schools, the top private women’s colleges in the east. She knew she couldn’t afford the tuition, but she turned in her application anyway.
Then the news came. She had been awarded a full scholarship to Smith College, admitted through a program for women of promise who had interrupted their college education earlier in their lives.
She will graduate this May, fewer than three months from today. And her proud parents will be there, cheering her for following her Heartsong.
Have you ever been discouraged from doing something your heart was telling you to do?
Did you have a dream but life got in the way?
Do you think we ever reach an age where it’s too late to pursue our life goal?