When following your heart actually makes sense

Have you ever been faced with an opportunity, only to wonder if you should take it or not? If so, what question did you have to ask yourself in order to say yes or no? Maybe you asked yourself lots of questions. I have. But over time, I’ve found that there’s one question that stands out in particular. And it’s essential for you to ask yourself this question is order to make good decisions.

That question is:

Is this opportunity in line with my long-term goals?

Oh, you don’t have long-term goals, you say? Then this doesn’t apply to you. Wait. It totally does. Because you have a heart. If you have a heart, you have desire. If you have desire, then it can inform you to make long-term goals. And if you have long-term goals, you can accept or reject new opportunities accordingly.

Let’s look at that again:

  1. Heart.
  2. Desire.
  3. Long-term goals.
  4. Criteria for new opportunities.

The problem is that many of us do not put in the effort to articulate those desires and turn them into tangible goals. To “give names to the animals,” so to speak.

Give your life a road map

Once you define your long-term goals, your life has a road map. It doesn’t have to be for the next 20,10, or even 5 years. But it does need to be as far as where you want to be in the future. Take a moment and think of where you want to be in a particular area in life (work, community, art). Then think of the “closest future” you can think of for that area. It should be no less than one year in the future, and not much more than that either.

I recently was offered a job that would bring in steady income for the next few months. As a freelancer, this is very significant. However, when I lined this opportunity up with my long-term goals, I realized that it wasn’t in line with what’s in my heart. I couldn’t spend such a large portion of my life working on it. Regardless of the money involved, or the other benefits (money is rarely the only thing).

Where there is no revelation [vision], the people cast off restraint…

We need long-term goals to keep us in line in the present. We need restraint – in regards to our time, our resources, and our positioning. Without long-term goals, how do we know how much time to spend on something? How do we know how much money to spend or not spend? How do we know in what location – what country, city, neighborhood – to be in?

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

But it’s not enough just to have long-term goals. They need to be accessible, we need to be reminded of them. Especially in those crucial times when an opportunity – a windfall – presents itself.

Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.

It’s interesting that a tweet contains only 150 characters. That means that what you have to say has to fit in those 150 characters, or you don’t get to say it to your followers on Twitter.

In ancient times, when tablets were actually “tablets”, they could only be so big. This was so that someone could be able to carry one easily enough so that they could run with it. A tablet of such size can only contain so many characters.

Can you articulate your vision so that you can run with it? So that it can endure the distractions of day-to-day life, and still be present in your environment? So that you won’t forget it when opportunities arise?

How I set long-term goals

Whenever I take the time to set or review my long-term goals, I always return to one question:

What is the motivation behind this?

  • Trade – is this something based on extrinsic value? In other words, can you put a price tag on it?
  • Partnership – is this something based on intrinsic value? Is it something that money can’t buy?
  • Gift-giving – is this something based on internal value? In other words, you would do it for free even if no one else knew or cared?

I want all three of these aspects in my life, and I believe everyone does.

The next step is to identify what needs to be done in these areas. And – this is key – I lay them out in chronological order. I tell a story with them.

Finally, I set a “rhythm” to accompany the “road” of each long-term goal. If the rhythm isn’t “on”, then the road won’t work. For example, you may have agreed to start a business. But if you can’t take care of the business administration on a regular basis (the rhythm for your business), then the road won’t work. Or maybe you agreed to start a community effort with some other people. But if you can’t establish a rhythm of weekly contact with those people, then the road won’t work.

(Note: I recommending setting long-term goals once a year*, and then reviewing them on a weekly basis.)

How to filter new opportunities

And this is how you filter opportunities. If a new opportunity can reasonably be placed on the timeline – the rhythm or the road – of one of your long-term goals, then it’s a “yes.” If a new opportunity has no place in the rhythm or the road of any of your long-term goals, then it’s a “no.”

So you may ask yourself, can I do this? Can I set long-term goals, plan for the future, and actually say “no” to opportunities? You may have realized by now that you are a leader. You are the only one who can lead your life, and the things that are under your responsibility. (This could be your family, your employees, your students, your community, etc.) So If you don’t lead, who else will?

Next steps:

  • Define the areas of your life according to Trade, Partnership, and Gift-Giving.
  • Establish a road and a rhythm for each area.
  • Write it all down and make it accessible – be it in a note-taking app like Evernote, or on a whiteboard, or printed out and hanging in your workplace.

Leave a comment below to share your top 3 goals for the next year!

* This is an affiliate link to Michael Hyatt’s “5 Days to Your Best Year Ever” online course. My wife and I have been going through the course for the past two years. It’s awesome!