“Follow your heart.” “Go with your gut.” “Find yourself.” “Speak your truth.” We’ve all heard these phrases ad nauseam. Each one is supposed to encourage us to live authentically and in line with our own wishes, desires, values, and ideas. Yet we can also find it so very difficult and challenging to do so (or even to fully understand what doing so means).
First of all, what is our “heart” or our “truth,” exactly? And is it really ours? As someone who has taught in high-achieving environments, like Yale and Stanford, it’s easy for me to see how one’s culture completely shapes what one thinks is “truth.” High-achieving students (and high-achievers generally) buy into the idea that “I am what I do.” They think their value stems first and foremost from their productivity — whatever shape or form that takes. As a consequence, their well-being depends entirely on whether they are getting rewards and achieving their goals: receiving A’s, founding a start-up, getting an internship, or landing a coveted leadership position. You are a worthwhile human being if and only if you are successful, powerful, wealthy, or have reached a certain status.
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