A Personal Path
One local man’s journey to inspire others
Posted on Jan. 10, 2017
For most parents and kids, college is the expected next step after high school. Jake Heilbrunn was no different, heading to Ohio State University following graduation from Torrey Pines High School. But soon after his arrival on campus, Heilbrunn’s health declined. He developed a mysterious full body rash that he couldn’t kick. “I just fell into a kind of depression and was really anxious. I realized that what I was doing really didn’t align with what felt right,” he says. Heilbrunn then took “a leap of faith” and left college. His medical issues cleared up within weeks.
Heilbrunn soon traveled to Guatemala, where he spent months backpacking, exploring, volunteering, and “witnessing my own transformation from such a low, confused, unhappy place to this happy person with a zest for life.” Heilbrunn realized his own experience could help others struggling to find their own path. At just 18, he was inspired to write a book. Heilbrunn dove into the process the day after his return from Central America, and launched a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to self-publish the work. Entitled Off The Beaten Trail, the book debuted in September 2016 and features an endorsement from one of Heilbrunn’s mentors, Jack Canfield, bestselling author of Chicken Soup For The Soul. “It was pretty surreal. To see it was a dream come true,” says Heilbrunn.
There was much more he wanted to do to reach people who might be struggling as he had. Heilbrunn contacted the administration at Torrey Pines High School, who welcomed the idea of him speaking at an upcoming assembly. A public speaking career was launched. Being so close to their age helps students relate to Heilbrunn. “Of course, people who are older have great, relevant things to say, but when you have someone who is two years older than the oldest kids in the school, it can hit a different way,” he explains. Heilbrunn admits he worried that since his path did not include college, it might give school administrations pause. That hasn’t been the case. “My message really has nothing to do with going to school or not going to school, or traveling or not traveling. It’s about having the courage to listen to your inner voice and do what you believe is right. There’s not just one specific path,” he says.
Although writing and publishing a book requires a lot of work and dedication, Heilbrunn says the personal responses from students are the most fulfilling. Following a recent speech, he recalls chatting with a girl who was moved to tears. “I think that’s really why I do this,” he says. “Even if it’s just one person, it’s those small moments that are very meaningful.” jakeheilbrunn.com Deanna Murphy
Photo by Chandler Short