On my philosophy of life

When in doubt, follow your heart.

If I had to summarize my philosophy of life into a pithy quote, this would be it. It probably comes across as a tired cliché, but it holds deep wisdom for me. And there’s more to it than meets the eye.

When I first began drafting this essay, inspired by Peter Limberg’s flash philosophy exercise, I was all over the place. Perhaps I could break down my personal philosophy to align with the main branches of philosophy, I thought. How would I answer questions like what is true (epistemology), what is real (metaphysics), what is good (ethics), what is beauty (aesthetics), and what is just (politics)?

But this approach felt too forced, too rigid, and too academic for a first attempt at defining my philosophy. So I took a bunch of notes, collected ideas from various sources, read other people’s philosophies, and even chatted with family and friends about it. Still, something was missing. When I thought I’d arrived at an insight, I would struggle to capture it in words.

Then it dawned on me. I was trying to define my philosophy of life by looking outward when I needed to look within myself and self-reflect. That’s how the answer would emerge. Or at least an answer more true to me than anything I could identify externally.

What my reflections revealed was plain to see, but I continued to fight it. “Follow your heart” sounded too much like a naive, whimsical mantra without much practical value. In reality, I was just failing to see what it really meant because I was mistaking instinct and intuition.

Eating that yummy piece of cake in front of you even though you’re satiated is instinct. It’s an involuntary response resulting from the evolutionary need to survive. Seeing the cake and pausing to consider whether you should eat it is intuition. You haven’t yet logically thought about the pros and cons, but you’ve sensed that you should pause. Wisdom is in that pause.

When I look back at major life decisions that I feel good about, I realize that I relied heavily on my intuition to point me in the right direction. Whether transferring between universities, switching careers, getting married to the love of my life, moving cities, living nomadically, starting a company, taking a sabbatical, or enrolling in a Master’s program, intuition has been my inner compass and guide.

And when I find myself feeling dissatisfied, confused, or stuck, it’s usually because I’ve stopped listening to my intuition and let the “shoulds” of life take over.

To be clear, this isn’t a renunciation of reason. Reasoning my way to a solution is my default problem-solving mode. It's an important filter, helping me evaluate the strength of my intuition in various situations and determine if it’s warranted.

If I have a strong intuition but lack good reasons to act on something, I take it as an invitation to investigate further. When both align, I’m at my most confident. But when I attempt to think my way to an important decision without first sensing into my intuition, I’m typically led astray into analysis paralysis.

When in doubt, letting my heart lead the way has been my most reliable strategy for navigating life. Writing this essay is a reminder that I should take my intuition seriously and not over-rely on reason in 2024.

Thank you for reading! I encourage you to think about and articulate your own philosophy of life. It is a challenging exercise, yet a deeply important one. Because if you don’t, someone else will define it for you.