Follow Your Bliss
While most of the colleges have graduated their 2014 students, and are deep into that modern misery called “Maymester,” high schools and lower schools are still hard at it. Many around here—thanks to the Ice Apocalypse of December 2013, are not graduating until after June 1. So Mimi adjusts her academic regalia and addresses the graduates of the Class of 2014.
I was a child of the Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver era of the 1950’s; a teen of the Hair, “Summer of Love,” Flower Power era; and I became a parent in the fairly forgettable 1970’s. The message of the first was that we would grow up, go to a good school, and participate in the American Dream our fathers, uncles and grandfathers had fought two world wars to assure. The message of the second was that most—if not all—institutions had failed us, so we should just “tune in, turn on, and drop out”—it didn’t matter anyway. The Hippies of the 1960’s discovered computers and turned into the organic-living folk of the ‘70’s. People with long hair--wearing Birkenstocks, jeans and denim--began to make boatloads of money writing “code” and creating something called the World Wide Web.
Somewhere in there, we had the examples of people like the Beatles who joined their gurus in ashrams in India and tried to tune into their higher consciousness. At the same time, the soft voice of a man, named Joseph Campbell, whose field of study was mythology uttered a phrase made famous on T-shirts and bumper stickers: Follow your bliss.
For the driven, success-oriented, Type-A personalities, the concept of flowing your bliss was spelled BLI$$. Make the most money, rise higher and faster than anyone else, own more, and control more. If that didn’t make you happy, then you were crazy. The whole thing was too passive—success, money, power were to be had by getting up and going, going, going.
For some, following your bliss was another call to walk away from what the world had to offer because “the world” was corrupt, evil, and soulless. Tune in to your feminine side or your soul or whatever you called it—but leave the world alone.
Finally, now in the second decade of a new millennium, some people are beginning to really hear Campbell for the first time. The political pundit and creator of the Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington’s new book is called Thrive—and it is a call for people to reimagine the definition of success. She suggests we reconsider that success might be more than power, money, and getting ahead. She suggests we add a “Third Metric” to that—she calls it well-being, wisdom, and wonder. According to Huffington, Third Metric thinking asks us to open our lives to more than what is immediately before us, look past the thinking of the past and seek to make our lives bigger and greater than the dollar signs.
There’s an old saying that no one’s last words were, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.” Huffington wants us to consider that and ask what—if we were uttering our own last words—we might wish we’d done more of.
Maybe the answer for many of us should be to follow our bliss. Campbell’s complete quote is: “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.” That doesn’t sound like navel gazing or being passive at all—in fact, it demands that we take a journey where bliss is the goal and walk through the doors the universe sets before us. Or another active suggestion: “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” Campbell’s most famous book is The Hero’s Journey and the title speaks immediately of going somewhere and doing something. Looking inside ourselves and asking us what makes us feel well, what makes us open our eyes in wonder, and where we can best seek and find wisdom is not wasted introspection. Indeed, it might be life saving. Campbell also said that a person who, “takes a job in order to live—that is to say, for the money—has turned himself into a slave.”
So, Classes of 2014 of all ages, you are about to step through a door into the wider world or into a higher level of education. Your age will determine if your greatest challenge in that next step is remembering your locker combination or carrying a tray in the cafeteria or selecting a major. All of these things are important mileposts. But no matter what your newest challenge, remember these little facts:
Many, indeed a great many, of the jobs you see in today’s world will definitely not be there in 20 years. As you move toward college or out of it, asking what makes you wonder, what makes you feel productive might be the best questions. Asking how to make the most money may not be answerable by saying, “Becoming a _________.” (Filling in the blank with any job you see around you.)
More and more businesses are learning the value of well-rounded employees who do more than come early and stay late. Do you have a place where you volunteer, give back, reach out? How does that make you feel? Aren’t you a better employee for doing that than for just “doing the job”? Look for companies that give time off for volunteer work, match your monetary giving, or support your personal outreach in some way.
Do you paint, write or read poetry, build train models? Keep it up—in fact, increase the time spent doing it. Follow your creative bliss. If you “have” to give up your creative side for the world of work, you won’t be creative there, either. Ideas beget ideas; they don’t have to be ideas on the same subject. Reading murder mysteries may make you more logical in problem solving at work or more patient because the first solution isn’t always the right one.
Dr. Seuss reminds us that sometimes the world will be lonely because “you play against you.” We play the game of life both with and against ourselves—we are our own best partner, advocate, and friend. We will make friends on the journey, friends who will last our whole lives, and some from whom we need to walk away. But we will always walk with ourselves, and if we don’t follow our bliss, we might find ourselves lost from our best part.
Hold your heads high, Graduates. Move confidently into the world before you, remembering that your best tool, your best friend; your best asset is you. Make friends with yourself, get to know what makes you wonder, where you find wisdom, where and how you feel well. Find your bliss—and follow it.