I remember one year in middle school when we had the option to choose between two projects. One was the more academically challenging one. The other was far more creative, but would earn much less respect in my highly-disciplined, rigorous school.
I wanted to do the creative project because I thought it would teach me something you couldn’t discover in a classroom. But being my perfectionist self, I felt like I should do the one that would get the teachers to respect my zest for academic challenges. So, I chose the harder one.
I worked on it night after night.
I got an A.
The teachers loved me for it.
But late at night, my mind would wander to the creative journey I had elected not to take. I’d think about how I would have written that essay, what the characters would’ve looked like, and what I would’ve learned about myself in the process. I remember my mother coming into my room one night, sensing my uneasiness.
She knew her daughter. She knew the choice that had stood before me, the decision I had made, and why I had made it.
We talked for a little bit, she congratulated me on my hard work, and then she said something I’d never forget.
“AJ, there is no should in this life. Follow your heart or you’ll wind up living a life that will make someone else really happy. The thing is, I want you to be happy.”
I never forgot what she said.
I remembered it when I chose the college that touched my heart when I sat in on its classes, not the one my friends would’ve been impressed by. It was the best decision of my life.
I remembered it when I decided to pursue a love that made sense to almost no one, including my mom. The thing was, it made sense to me. And I’m so glad I took that journey,
I remembered it when I quit a secure, stable job that made me feel empty and unhappy. I wound up waitressing that year in Manhattan and laughed more than I ever thought possible.
And I remember it every time I’m faced with a decision where I have to walk toward or away from something that tugs at my heart.
In an often logical, practical, money-driven, every-man-for-himself world, my mother taught me empathy. Compassion. How to love with the best parts of yourself. How to conquer fear with heart and soul.
She even taught me that when following my heart would lead me to disagree with her—and it has many times—that it was okay to trust myself. I can never repay her for that.
Happy Birthday, Solange. You mean the world to me. Thank you for being you. And I love you like crazy.
Jedediah Bila is a Fox News host and commentator, author, columnist, and former professor and academic dean. Follow Jedediah on Twitter @JedediahBila.