Joseph Campbell was a highly regarded 20th century teacher of mythology. I’m betting that a lot of you know his work well. (If you haven’t bumped into his work yet, I’d recommend you read The Hero with a Thousand Faces as a good starting point.) You could say that of any person, he put mythology back on the map. Campbell famously gave us the life instruction, “Follow your bliss.” In his own words, “If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”
Like any good idea, “follow your bliss” has been quoted, misinterpreted and hijacked by clever marketing folk. I attach the investment company ad from the back cover of my college alumni magazine as Exhibit A.
Madison Avenue wants you to tie your bliss to your retirement account balance, owning your dream car, or the moment when you eat the perfect dark chocolate nugget. Our common understanding of the experience of bliss, even without the immediate help of the media, is likely related to some decadent dish or a particularly fine vacation moment. Campbell has something very different in mind. When was the last time you felt the quality of bliss that Campbell’s words evoke? How about (gasp!) at work? If you’re scratching your head right now, I think you’re in good company.
Before you can follow your bliss, you’re going to have to know it for what it is. Because logically, if you can’t feel your bliss, how can you follow it?
With apologies to Campbell for any error of shortchanging, here’s what I recommend keeping an eye out for. Look for episodes of connecting with other people over a shared purpose or value. It ought to involve real eye or heart contact, and an appreciation of what’s happening as it’s happening. Watch for assignments that make your heart pound a little, or a lot. Whether it’s out of fear or excitement, there’s something worthy for you at the heart of it. (Side note: Take those assignments!) Feel the work you are drawn toward, that which gives you a sense of fulfillment in the doing of it. See what you invest yourself in, with gusto. Be aware of sensations of glad-hearted empowerment, lightness, engagement. Notice feelings of gratitude for enjoying the privilege of engaging in this particular work.
If you’re not finding anything like this happening in your work life, that fact is equally valid to become aware of.