Documenting the Coming Singularity

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Follow Your Bliss

"Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be. If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn't have opened for anyone else." ~ Joseph Campbell

Were we to put it a lot less eloquently, we could say "Do what you love." But let's not. Let us stay with "Follow your bliss." What does it mean? What did it mean to Joseph Campbell, the phrase's creator? To find out, let's consider another quote:

"We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come."

First, let's agree on what the concept does not mean. It does not mean that we should be self-centered. It does not mean that we should be focused on transitory pleasures. It does not mean that we should abandon all sense of responsibility and do whatever feels good. These pursuits, as anyone who has tried them can confirm, do not amount to anything close to "bliss." Agreed? I think we can leave that sort of nonsense behind and further agree that it does mean to pursue the life we were meant to live. Ah, but then we encounter the sticky matter of providence and fate, both of which imply some sort of cosmic intent on our behalf. Let's steer a course away from that sort of thing and agree that "meant to live" suggests the life that we are best suited for, the round hole that we can fit our roundness into, the one that, when we find it, we say, "Ah, now I'm doing what I was meant to do!"

Now, let's move from the purely conceptual to the personal, which may shed a bit more light. What does it mean for me? At the time of this writing I am 47. (For the sake of this discussion, let's assume that following your bliss, or rather, seeking your bliss, begins at or near high school graduation.) At that point, because I had within me a sense that things electronic would hold my interest, I chose to chase electrical engineering as a major when I began my college life at the University of Florida. Sadly, my character and habits were not up to snuff for so challenging a degree. I easily achieved a 3.5 GPA in my first quarter, since I had already mastered all the material thrown at me in these first-level courses back in high school. My second quarter, however, was a disaster. The courses were much more difficult to hurdle and, rather than buckle down and put in the time required, I partied and trusted in my knack for getting good grades with little to no effort. This time, my knack tripped on the first hurdle fell on its face.

Around this time, as it happened, a very clear fork in the road appeared before me, in the form of religion. I was approached by some other students and invited to a Bible study. Within a few months, I had joined their church, and shortly thereafter chose to become a minister when I grew up. Why? I would never have admitted this then, but I was drawn to the rock star image and adulation of the church members. To be a leader in this church was to be among the elite. The fawning and rapturous praise were right up my craven alley. I didn't mind feeling like one of the elite. I didn't mind it one little bit. So I changed my major to Physics Education, which would prepare me to be a high school physics teacher, which I had no intention of becoming; this was a means, in essence, by which I could sail through college while putting lots of time into becoming a leader in the church. (In this particular denomination there was no formal training required…all the better!)

Over the objections of my parents, who were justifiably concerned about my radical shift in trajectory, I became a campus minister in Miami, then a missionary in Jamaica, then a preacher in several U.S. cities. I did that for 14 years. The truth is, I didn't enjoy it. That path was not my bliss. But I had chosen it, and there didn't seem to be any other forks in the road. Just that one, tedious street. Over the years, my health depreciated to the point where I couldn't do ministry anymore, and I was put out to pasture in various administrative positions for the next 9 years, within the same denomination. I still was not following my bliss, but a steady paycheck kept me firmly in harness.

So, how did I escape? I wish I could tell you that I made a courageous decision to follow my bliss and got the hell out of there. No, it didn't happen that way. Instead, the church, my employer, suffered some severe financial setbacks and had to let me go. An involuntary separation, but it did set me free, and for that I am grateful. (To whom, I do not know.) In any case, however feckless was my escape, escape I did, like a caged rat who suddenly sees that the cage door has been left open by a lazy lab tech. I was in a position, through no boldness on my part, to finally seek, and perhaps find, my bliss. Have I found it? I think I have, and, if Mr. Campbell is correct, doors will open and I will be doing what I love, serving others, and making a living at the same time. Bliss!

What's your bliss? Please share your own story by commenting.

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