Why “Follow Your Bliss” Is Bad Advice

There’s a somewhat famous quote that goes like this:

“I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” — Joseph Campbell

This quote makes it sound so simple, so deceptively easy. Let’s say your bliss is crocheting ear muffs for gerbils. Will tiny earmuffs open doors? Not sure. Who’s to say.

You’re Probably Going to Flounder

Look, I’m a huge proponent of following your bliss. Don’t get me wrong—I think we should all get out there and follow it. However, when the advice given (follow your bliss!) is shallow and flippant, we expect it to be a straight line. We think what comes next is, “And then she lived happily ever after.” And we get blindsided when it’s a LOT more complicated than that.

Following your bliss is confusing and you’re probably going to flounder. Knowing this is half the battle. We should really call it what it is:

“Flounder after your bliss.”

You Gotta Pay the Bills

In my twenties, I discovered my bliss: writing novels. But then corporate life seemed so much bigger and more important and I only wrote sporadically over the years.  I had to pay the bills, so writing fiction took a back seat.

Over the years, I worked for several media companies and gained some fantastic experience—both in life and writing. Then I left my corporate career to become a freelancer and entrepreneur; here I gained even more in-depth experience, both in writing and in how the world works.

All of this added up to a fifteen-year detour of floundering around and feeling like I was failing at the pursuit of my bliss, but it all had to happen in order for me to write a book worth reading.

Following Your Bliss Might Look Like Spaghetti

All of this to say, the path you take when you follow your bliss might look like spaghetti. You might get lost a bunch of times. You might not know if you’re doing it right or if you’re going to wind up in the right place.

There are a lot of articles out there on the internet telling you that if you just follow your bliss, it will all fall into place. Maybe? Maybe not. But if you keep the North Star of your bliss in sight, you’ll get there eventually. And when you flounder and get confused, that’s normal; don’t beat yourself up.

The Hero’s Journey

Joseph Campbell—the guy who insinuated that if you ‘follow your bliss’ and then life is perfect—knows better. He’s the guy that came up with the concept of The Hero’s Journey. We all have one: you are the hero of your own life.

What does this mean? It means that when you’re tired of feeling like a victim—of feeling like you don’t have a say in what unfolds in your life—you head out there to conquer some crap.

You slay dragons (your own inner demons) and you get some courage—one of the hardest things to do—and you overcome obstacles, and you rid yourself of enemies…and it’s a lot to take on. It’s a lifelong tale of epic bad-assery.

The Hero’s Journey doesn’t pretend there are no obstacles in life. The Hero’s Journey does not involve sitting in meditation while you visualize your ideal life and then magically manifesting it. It’s a pursuit of bliss, but it’s harrowing and dangerous and filled with action.

Part of My Hero’s Journey SUCKED

Once upon a time, I had a client who was paranoid and mean. I really liked the work and I was learning a lot, and so I didn’t quit. But I also wasn’t handling the situation well.

When the client would insult and demean me, I would numb my feelings with all my old coping mechanisms. Pizza, macaroni and cheese, yadda yadda yadda. I also went out with friends every chance I got as a form of escapism, so there was a lot of wine flowing. One night, it was a margarita, which was served to me in a giant glass. As I drank it, I thought, “Take me away from myself and that maniac.”

Now, this is all unevolved behavior, obviously—to allow my baser instincts to take over. (And I recall telling a friend that night that if I really allowed my baser instincts to take over, I would resemble a drunk walrus.)

I didn’t have to respond this way. There’s always a choice. I could have meditated and observed all my thoughts from a detached distance. I could have looked at this jackass with compassion, and understanding that he’s very fear-driven. I could float above the situation from on high and stay all serene and stuff.

But sometimes negativity gets your goat, and it triggers you time and again. So why the heck did I put up with this garbage?

Lemonade

The most important message I have for you today is this: Look for the silver linings. There are advantages to every nasty situation. I know, it sounds so Pollyanna-ish. “Everything happens for a reason!” (Makes you want to wipe the smile off some peoples’ faces, doesn’t it?)

But I gotta tell you, it’s true.

Take my situation. I’m not a morning person. I tried for months to make myself get back into a morning routine so I could write my next novel. But what happened when my alarm went off? I was too comfortable to get up. I was content to work for my clients, no longer blogging for myself, NOT writing my second book, Secrets of Successful People. I was comfortable. I had no reason to put myself and my author career first.

But then I got this client, and things got ugly. I suddenly become uncomfortable with how my life was going. And this meant I found some new-found inspiration and motivation to get my book written.

I knew that—on days I didn’t write—his punches landed harder. Conversely, on days I took time for myself to write, his punches slid off me. I started to notice the difference that writing made in my life. When I made the effort to follow my bliss and write, it buoyed my spirit and helped me maintain my confidence in the face of insults.

Instead of ignoring my alarm in the morning, I started getting up at 6AM every day to work on my second book. My attitude about my life changed when I laid that foundation of having done something nice for myself each day before the poop hit the fan.

And that, my friend, is a miracle.

Am I glad this guy sucked? Uh, yeah! Kinda! Because of him, I began to leap out of bed with excitement because I got to write for myself, first thing, every day.

I’m building a magnificent life because of him.

Sometimes Bliss Involves Poop

I’m a huge fan of lifestyle design. I think we should all get out there and follow our bliss and create lives of our dreams. But sometimes on the way to the meadow, you have to cross a cow pasture and you might step in some dookie.

Do you say, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly ruin my new Louboutin’s by crossing that pasture—I have to give up my dream.”? No, you get out there and deal with the cow poop when you can see your dream on the other side of the fence. You forge ahead, perhaps while wearing your beer helmet with both straws held firmly between your lips.

The point is this: In a world becoming ever-increasingly filled with flowery language insisting it’s easy to give up what we don’t want in pursuit of what we do want…I just want you to know, that if you’re not finding it easy, if it’s not all rainbows and sunshine, then you’re not alone.

Sometimes it’s hard. Really hard. And not at all blissful, at least while you’re going through it, before the story unfolds and the rewards come.

But is it worth it? Yes. Even while I was scraping poop off my shoes every day, my vision of the prize at the end held my attention—a finished book. With all the distractions and misery, I remembered to keep my North Star in sight.

Are you with me? Come on, let’s go flounder after our bliss.

Get my new book, Secrets of Successful People: a novel, on sale now.

 

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One thought on “Why “Follow Your Bliss” Is Bad Advice

  1. Katie

    You are an exceptional writer! Finding your bliss gets glamorized far too often. It sounds like a great idea until you are knee deep in the stress, hunt for revenue, and self-doubt you beat back with a stick everyday. Great job telling the other side of “Follow Your Heart”, but wear your boots, because it’s poopy out there.

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