Recently I watched a re-run of one of my favourite films, Finding Forrester – the heart-warming story of an African-American teenager (Jamal) and his friendship with a Pulitzer prize-winning and reclusive writer (Forrester).

Forrester is helping Jamal refine his talent for writing as the young man navigates the demands and uncertainties of succeeding at a prestigious private high school. During one scene in the film, Jamal is stuck – frustrated by his lack of progress on his assignment, when Forrester says to him:

The first draft comes from the heart, the second from the head.

I interpreted these words as meaning that you should be guided by and express what is inside of you, what is most important to you, as this sets the tone and compass for what comes next. It can be imperfectly expressed but it will be pure and authentic, honest and strong. Later, comes the refinement.

Forrester’s advice immediately reminded me of the  struggles and dilemmas people often express about their careers  – “I would really love to do …,  I have always dreamed of being … , If I had my time over again …”  You may yourself be familiar with such conversations? They express hope, excitement, possibility and sometimes regret. They come from the heart and speak to what really matters most to us.

And yet such conversations are too often and too quickly shut down by the ‘practicalities’ of life – ” I’m too old (or too young) for that … , I could never be good enough to do that … , it would cost too much money … ” The head kicks in and our ideas and ideals are immediately put on hold, or worse still discarded forever.

And yet, head and heart are not mutually exclusive aspects of human expression and of career decision- making. They are indeed both part of the same mix of who we are as a person. One doesn’t preclude the other – they equally complement the other and can be managed, so that the work you do while serving your practical preferences and requirements (such as income, flexible hours, ‘security’, location) is also aligned to and guided by your core values and interests (like service to others, opportunities to advance, leading teams, creating things).

I am reminded of the story of a young man I met once who was facing the dilemma of what degree to commence after high school. His was one of those classic ‘head and heart’ problems in that he wanted to study music while his parents and others (including himself) raised concerns about where that “would lead him”. Would it be a waste of money and time? What jobs would it lead to? Will it leave him far behind his peers who had chosen business, teaching or law degrees? This was a massive struggle for one so gifted, because to not study music would feel like a complete denial of who he was at that point in time. So, the young man went on to do the music degree, thriving and learning much more than the curriculum of the music course, as he navigated the challenges of  securing gigs, putting bands together and negotiating with recording companies. Well after graduation he continues to play and record music and is now completing further studies in management – an interest that developed in his undergrad days of managing bands and people, and which he intends to apply in the massive industry that is music and the performing arts.

If you haven’t seen Finding Forrester, it is worth a look, not the least for the reminders it offers of honouring who you are.

Until next time, go well