Finding and Following Your Bliss
If you happen to be in career hell right now, you must read this; it could save your life. If you are in career limbo - bored and discontent - stick around. This could point you in a new direction. If you already know what your bliss is and you’re following it, read this and glow.
I had never even heard of “bliss” when I crashed into mine at about age 32, a colossal number of years ago now. I had forced myself out of bed one morning and into financial district garb barely in time to catch the last Express bus to San Francisco from Oakland. Like a broken record, I was headed for a law firm where I would shrink all of my hopes, dreams, talents, intelligence and joie d’vie into a computer keyboard. I was slumped into one of those long seats in the front of the bus numbly gazing out at the Bay, when the tears that were welling up in my eyes began rolling down my cheeks. I found myself silently entreating whatever gods might be listening, “How long will this suffering last?”
By time the bus had exhausted itself into the East Bay Terminal, an answer had come to me: “It’s over.” I had a determination not entirely unlike Scarlett O’Hara’s in “Gone with the Wind,” although rather than “With God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again,” mine was, “Damn it, I’m not going to settle for this kind of life! I want work I love.” By the time I disembarked, my pain had been transformed into joy because I knew, right down to the tips of my little navy pumps, that this would come to pass. By day’s end - and probably a couple of life or death legal emergencies - I knew what I wanted to do: take my passions for psychology and spirituality to graduate school and become the kind of counselor who would deal with both aspects of being. It was clear.
Next breath: money rears its ugly head. I was regularly overdrawn at the bank and hadn’t had a savings account since second grade, but I knew there would be a way wherever there was such will. Within the weeks following the decision, “The Way” appeared. I experienced firsthand the mystery Goethe refers to in his famous quote regarding commitment:
A whole stream of events issues forth from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and material assistance which no one could have dreamed would come your way. Whatever you can dream, you can begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Bliss is not a destination. It is a path - a sometimes jagged, strenuous, challenging, unpredictable, joyous path. It is not skipping down the lane singing behind the Pied Piper. It is the direction you want to go, based on everything you know about yourself. That direction contains the things you want to be doing and learning, the kind of people you want to be meeting. You’ll have boundless energy for your blisswalk; you’ll wake up everyday with gratitude and anticipation.
So, how do you find your bliss if you don’t know what it is? You stop. You listen. You follow the bread crumbs... “Inquire within” is more than a sign in a storefront; it is where you go to find the answers. Get quiet, unplug the phone, put the books away, stop the kavetching. Take these questions to heart and make long lists in answer to them: What do you love? What do you love to do? What do you love to learn about? What do you care about deeply? What are your gifts and talents? What is your intuition telling you? What kind of life do you want? What do you want your life to say about you when it’s over?
One of my dearest friends had cancer in her early thirties. While she was recovering, she realized she wanted more than anything to become an Episcopal priest. She had no money and her health was fragile, but the energy that came into her when she had this epiphany was remarkable. She called as soon has she received her acceptance letter to seminary and said, “Just know that if I die trying, I will have died following my bliss.” Thanks to all the gods and goddesses, my friend is still with us, an inspired priest and gifted counselor who ministers to the sick and dying.
Your bliss does not have to be grand like Albert Schweitzer’s or holy like my friend’s. It just has to be yours. One of my clients’ love of dogs has turned itself into a thriving doggie day care and adventure business; another has gone professional with her love of travel - she regularly gets paid to go to Hawaii and Europe as a travel guide; another is leaving for law school in August. When we hugged good-bye last week, she said, “Whatever happens now, I know I am on the track I was meant to be on.” That track is the track of abundant life, on which your inner self meets the outer world and strikes a perfect chord.