“Follow Your Bliss”

(934 words)

Winter is back.  I remember the 90’s and the camo jump-suits that served as our second skin.  We were rarely outside without one.  The idea was to read the temperature and then get dressed for that level of cold.  Then put a jump-suit over that as you head out the door.

They had the old pattern that was globular and unnatural, fooling no bird.  Maybe I’ll see some of the old pattern today as I drive through this icy storm.

I’m on a small journey today and I’m thinking of Joseph Campbell.  Campbell wrote down and codified the story of the typical hero which we now read about and watch in cinema, and TV, as the hero’s journey.

It’s a theme I’ve always taken for granted, not realizing it follows a set pattern.  George Lucas famously based “Stars Wars” on the basic concepts Campbell wrote about.

Before ever stumbling on Campbell’s “follow your bliss” philosophy in his interviews with Bill Moyers, I came across Shelby Foote in Ken Burn’s Civil War documentary.

Broadcast by PBS, it had my family glued to the TV for 11 hours over the course of a couple of weeks in 1990.  Foote was a great interview; with the ability to tell the human story in history.  Also, his southern drawl—he pronounced war “waw-ah”—was compelling and great for TV. Foote became something of a celebrity.  He was a Civil War writer and historian, but he said that with the documentary Ken had “made him a millionaire.”

I remember hearing him say in an interview with Brian Lamb on CSPAN—yes, I sometimes watched CSPAN in college and if I’d had the courage of my convictions I would have majored in history rather than environmental science—that, to him, a university was a library with a bunch of buildings surrounding it. He loved reading his own selection of books in the library rather than going to class.

In the same interview he said that true happiness is going to bed at night knowing exactly what you’ll be doing as soon as you wake up and being hardly able to wait for it.  He was referring to his writing desk.

His struggles with hierarchy and order in college followed him into the military.  Once out, he took a job working at a media outlet until he earned his first $800 dollars writing.  As soon as he did, he quit the job and began writing for himself full time.

Once you find out what it is you love to do it’s hard to do all the other stuff too.  But, of course, we must.  Maybe all the stuff we don’t like doing makes us better at doing the things we like.  It’s where we gain experience and empathy.

Foote pointed out that he was raised in a small southern town that sent all of it’s children to the same high school.  He said this was the greatest education which, like the military, gave him contact with everyone rather than divisions that seem based on class or race.

When You Follow Your Bliss

Speaking of following your bliss, there is a movie out about Winston Churchill I want to see.  I haven’t read any reviews, but I’ll usually see a movie if the subject matter interest me or a director I like has made another movie; like Paul Thomas Anderson who has “Phantom Thread” coming soon.

Churchill spent his life following his own bliss.  This made him a pain to his military superiors and in the editorial room at the paper he worked at; not to mention politics.

But when the time came to save the world, the world turned to someone who had the energy and enthusiasm, from a lifetime of bliss seeking, to respond to the challenge.

His entire life had been preparation for that moment.


Following your bliss does not provide security or comfort to the enemy, i.e. your ego.  Doing what we love is, it turns out, hard.  It butts heads with what Steven Pressfield calls “the resistance”—the ego’s idea that sticking your neck out will just result in your head getting chopped off.

It may even leave you homeless or destitute.  That is the lesson of James Mitchener’s book Poland.  In Mitchener’s telling of the story, Poland is the historical buffer between massive hierarchical establishments known for order and control—Germany, Russian, and Austria.  It’s the no-man’s land in between.

The Polish people, for better or worse, through the centuries, could not be controlled.  Not truly.  Maybe they would be conquered for a time, but to be in chains does not conquer people.  The soul decides that.  Their bliss was freedom.

They refused, over and over, to conform to the great powers around them.  This independence is, like most aptitudes, a double-edged sword.  At times Poland was too undisciplined to compete with her highly organized and autocratic neighbors and would be overrun, destroyed, and pillaged.

At other times, however, once the rigid autocracies became unimaginative, outdated and weak as a result, Poland’s genius for freedom and inventiveness would be called upon to rescue all of Europe from invasion.  But between these changes spanned whole centuries.

It was an inherent philosophy of freedom that nourished them.  Bliss, or doing what you love, is not necessarily a means to physical or material security.

We are here looking, not for meaning, but experiences–the most profound experiences possible from our time on the planet (Joseph Campbell).

When we follow our true bliss everyone benefits.  Joseph Campbell, Shelby Foote, Winston Churchill, and the entire story of Poland are mentors for this.