Follow Your Bliss
June 26th, 2012

The old adage goes that you should figure out what you love to do so much that you’d do it for free, and then find a way to get paid for it.  I don’t doubt the wisdom of this advice, but I wonder how many people actually follow it.

I started thinking about this over the weekend when GAP and I went to see Gavin DeGraw and Colbie Caillat in concert.  They were both terrific, but the pleasant surprise of the evening was the opening act, Andy Grammer.  I thought I’d never heard of him until he started playing and then I immediately recognized his music.

The reason his part of the show was so enjoyable was because it was riddled with technical difficulties.  Ironic?  Yes, but nonetheless true.  Just as he and his band kicked off their opening number the sound blew out.  Undeterred, Grammer sang an entirely acoustic version of his first song.  The audience quieted down so that we could hear him, singing along in tones so hushed that he actually stopped and laughed.  He handled the glitches with grace, humor, and a deft hand indicating that despite not being the show’s headliner he had clearly logged his 10,000 hours.

Eventually the sound problems were resolved and the show resumed.  As Grammer’s set went on I learned via his between-song commentary that he got his start as a busker in Santa Monica.  He spent three years earning his rent money via donations tossed into his guitar case.  He commented that his family thought he was crazy, but he kept after it, which naturally prompted me to wonder what I love doing so much that I would do it in exchange for other people’s pocket change all while facing the gentle ridicule of my friends and family.

Clearly I’m past the place in life that would afford me such liberties.  I have two kids who need and deserve a happy and stable life.  Even if I did decide today that I had the passion to make a run of it as a rock star, actress, painter, or writer I’m quite sure that the career path I’ve forged in marketing is the path I will keep.  But what about my more formative years?  The start of my adult life was quite calculated – entry level desk job, sensible one-bedroom apartment, etc.  Apart from the risk of moving to a new city it was all very by-the-book.  Did I ever have whatever spark it takes to pack up and follow my bliss?

The implication here, of course, is that to follow your bliss you must make a gamble.  You must scrimp along on a shoestring budget while waiting for some bigger dream to come true.  You must risk failure and perhaps existential crisis of some kind.  But is that true?  Can you not follow your bliss in a more risk-averse way?  It seems this gambling requirement is true of artists, but I’m not sure it holds true for the population at large.

On Friday night we attended the surgical residency graduation dinner of a cousin of mine.  As a very little boy he underwent back-to-back open heart surgeries.  As an adolescent he decided that it was his dream to become a doctor.  And not just any doctor; a pediatric cardio-thoracic surgeon who could save children’s lives just as his was saved.  Earlier this spring he performed, for the first time, the exact same surgery on a child that was performed on him.  It was, quite literally, the culmination of all his professional dreams since he was 12 years old, and it didn’t happen by accident.  It was the end result of decades’ worth of education, training, and strategic planning.  And it was most certainly his bliss.

I think the problem here is not that we don’t know how to follow our bliss once we’ve found it.  It’s that we don’t know how to find it in the first place.  Don’t get me wrong, I am blissfully happy in most areas of my life.  However, I wouldn’t say that career is one of them.  I have a job that suits my interests and skill sets and utilizes my education.  I am reasonably compensated for it and by and large I find my work satisfying.  I wouldn’t, however, say that I feel blissful about it.  So why don’t I follow my bliss (apart, of course, from the aforementioned responsibilities of parenthood)?

Well, if we’re being quite honest, I’m not sure I know what my bliss is.  Barring any concern for the kind of living I could make, it probably has something to do with horses.  But back when I was laying the groundwork for my career I knew well that the life I wanted to live could not be supported by a career as a horse trainer.  I rarely wonder what my life might look like if I’d sacrificed lifestyle for bliss, because I have a largely happy life.  Every now and then, though, I run into someone like Andy Grammer and think about the path not taken.

At the very least, I’m happy that Andy Grammer followed his bliss.  Watching him perform was a real treat.  And when you get down to it I suppose I shouldn’t question my decisions too much.  Because it was the career in marketing that enabled me to afford the tickets.

4 Responses to “Follow Your Bliss”

  1. anne Says:

    What a nice post. Obviously in my wheel-house. A few thoughts…1) One is, our bliss changes throughout our lives. What is your bliss when you’re 10 might change by the time you’re 30. I’m happy for people who can stay on the same track their whole lives and still find it fun and fascinating, but I don’t think that’s me. Goodness knows I hope I’m a different person than when I was 10. With that said, for most people there are constants…things that you latch onto when you’re young that still capture you as an adult. 2) You can follow your bliss without making it your career. I feel blissful every time I bake a cookie, read a great novel, or talk about religion. And I will probably never become a chef, an English professor, or a pastor. 3) Related to the second thought, not everyone cares to have a job that is “bliss”. They’re content to meet those needs elsewhere.

    Having said all that, I, too, was uber-calculated (and probably a bit premature) when I chose my career path. And because of that, I’m not sure where I’m headed, and it’s certainly not what I would have expected when I graduated from college a decade ago. Why didn’t I do something related to literature? Film? Cooking? All too risky, probably. But I’m hoping it’s not too late to switch gears a bit. I feel fortunate that I’m in a place where the next career move I make MUST be related to all my areas of bliss. That’s the plan, anyway…no pun intended:)

  2. Aidan Donnelley Rowley Says:

    Great post, Gale. The question of bliss or passion – or whatever we call it – is one that continues to fascinate me. I often think about what I’d be doing – or who I would be – if I didn’t follow my instinct to write, if I couldn’t afford to follow this instinct.

    I do think that for so many of us though the issue is not not following, but not knowing.

  3. Holly Says:

    To echo Anne a little, I think lots of people can follow their bliss by having a job that satisfies them but allows them the time and energy to find bliss outside the workplace. I know that, even now in a job I love, some of my blissfulness from that position comes from knowing that I’m going to make it to every one of Jason’s team’s basketball games or that I’m going to absolutely have the time to coordinate my best friend’s baby shower or that I’m for sure able to commit to helping with a service project because I know I can make it. It’s a slightly different perspective, I realize, than what you’re discussing above. I also think that, from experience, if you have a job that makes you anxious or unhappy, it’s impossible to be blissful on a regular basis so your employment is an important component. But sometimes it’s about finding a satisfying job that allows you to pursue your bliss rather than finding a job that is your bliss.
    Hope you’re all great!

  4. Gale Says:

    Anne and Holly – I am very late responding to these comments, but I’ve been thinking about them for two weeks now and I just wanted to say to you both: THANK YOU for this paradigm shift. I feel silly saying so, but it never occured to me that following your bliss could be manifested outside of your career; that you could choose a career for its ability to facilitate your bliss elsewhere in your life. This has opened all sorts of ideas for me and I’m so thankful for your wise perspective!!