Friday, July 8, 2011

Following Your Bliss

Joseph Campbell’s famous advice rings true: Follow your bliss. Sounds great. The only problem is, how do you figure out what your bliss is? Then how do you deal with all those people who freak out when you finally head down that path?

Like many people (women especially) I spent all my childhood and most of my young adulthood listening carefully to other people’s ideas about what I should do with my life. These were authority figures - relatives, teachers, clergy - people with more worldly experience than I had, people who told me they knew what I should do. I was a good girl. I did what they told me to. It wasn’t my bliss.

It took me nearly thirty years to develop enough guts to tell all those people that I didn’t want to follow their advice any more. It still amazes me how difficult that first step was. We’re so strongly conditioned, from childhood onward, to listen to good advice from respected elders and then do what they say. Most of them mean well, but they’re not inside our heads and hearts. They don’t see the world through our eyes. They can’t.

My eleven-year-old daughter recently figured out that everyone experiences the world differently. It took me years to understand what that really means. The ultimate result: It means you’re going to make people angry.

It took me thirty years to figure out that all the stuff other people told me to do wasn’t my bliss. Then it took me almost another decade to determine what my bliss really is. Beware: The fact that you’re good at something doesn’t mean it will make your soul sigh and your heart sing. If you’re good at more than one thing, prepare to experience repeated disappointment until you figure out what you really need to do with your life. Just don’t give up, that’s all. You’ll find it.

The funny thing is, once you figure it out and head down that blissful path, people will get mad at you. They’ll say you’re not doing the right thing. They’ll assure you that you’re misguided and aren’t really following your bliss. It’s funny for this reason: They’re sure your bliss is the thing THEY told you to do.

The French teacher who wanted you to be an interpreter. The great-uncle who wanted you to be a professor. The minister who wanted you to be a counselor.

Some of them will be diplomatic and polite about it, but the fact is, you’ve wrecked their version of the universe. You’ve chosen to follow your rules, not theirs.

That’s the bit that Joseph Campbell never talked about. I wonder who cursed under their breath when he decided to spend his life teaching mythology at a women’s college. Whoever they were, I’m glad he ignored them.