After a decade or so since I last devoured his books, these last few weeks I’ve been happily, gloriously rediscovering the work of Joseph Campbell, the famed mythologist.
My story is a common one among Campbell fans. A clueless, socially inept, lost kid with no idea about what to do or where to fit in the world, and suddenly along comes Joe Campbell with three simple, life-changing words:
“Follow Your Bliss”.
Boom! A moment of total clarity. A moment of incandescent lucidity.
Of course! FOLLOW YOUR BLISS! What else is there worth doing, besides that? How better to spend one’s life?
At the time, it made total sense. I mean, REALLY!!!!….
I only first heard of Joseph Campbell the day I read his obituary, back in 1987 (A fact that still makes me sad, I’m not quite sure why). I then checked him out at the bookstore, and I found his work, quite frankly, mind-blowing. Transformative!
A floodgate of possibility being opened. Whoosh! Like being hit by a spiritual tidal wave.
But the thing is…
Joseph may have told me to follow my bliss, but he never told me how. He really didn’t have to many concrete tips or pointers. He just told his readers to just do it.
Much to our chagrin, it was something we were just going to have to figure out all by ourselves…
I was a bit intimidated by that. I think we all are, when we first encounter Campbell’s work. Do we have what it takes, do we have the guts to take what he said, make the necessary sacrifices etc etc and ACTUALLY apply it to our own lives?
I remember that fear well, a quarter century later…
So, now that I’m older, now that it seems I’ve followed my bliss pretty well, and it also seems to have panned out pretty OK for me creatively and careerwise, I now have young people asking me the very same question that Joseph’s students once asked him- “How do I do follow my bliss?”
Experience taught me well that there’s is no definitive answer. There is no instruction manual.
You just decide to do it, and then you go and do it. Or not. Whatever. It’s your call. It’s your path.
And it takes as long as it takes. Decades, maybe. An entire lifetime, even. There is no timeline. Nor any guarantees that you’ll succeed.
Nobody can do it for you. Nobody can go there for you- that mysterious place where the central energy of your being finds its source. Yes, you may fail in your quest to find it. But that risk is what makes it so damn powerful and interesting.
And Joseph Campbell would’ve told you the exact same thing.
Thinking about this earlier this evening, I drew the above cartoon just for the heck of it. I hope you like it, but I’m fine if you don’t.. Those little squiggly abstract drawings I do; well, that’s my bliss. Your bliss is something else. Your bliss is your own, not mine or anyone else’s.
Bliss. You have it within you, we already know that. The question is what you’re going to do about it.
Thank you, Joseph Campbell. Thank you all for reading. Godspeed!
“There is no timeline. Or guarantees that you’ll succeed.”
Success…….. I think the measure of success CANNOT be material, i.e., if you follow it and you’re broke it won’t mean you failed, cause bliss doesn’t know about finances. Maybe you won’t be happy either, but saying “I’ll follow my bliss in order to…..” i think defeats the purpose.
I think you’ve proven that. You didn’t know where the doodles would take you when you started out this blog. I think you’ve been better of not knowing, quite frankly. My guess is you couldn’t have even DREAMED about the results.
Such is the case for anyone. Having the GUTS is another thing…
You’re right. I had no idea. Not really.
But I DID know I was onto something… took a few years for the world to agree with me but what the heck, a few years is nothing.
I’m thinking about Gandhi and Mother Teresa and MLK. I don’t think some folks think about what they did as following their bliss. But I would argue that’s exactly what they did.
I think the thing you do. That Joseph Campbell does. Or Seth Godin. Or even Gandhi did. Was give others permission to change. To step outside the box they’ve been handed. To find bliss through giving bliss.
“But I would argue that’s exactly what they did.”
And I would agree with you, Keith! Thanks for pointing that out 🙂
I’m a big Campbell fan and glad to read that you are too. I do think he gave some clues as how to follow one’s bliss: read the stories. Certain ones will eventually speak to you and give some sort of insight as to the path you can take. Maybe the best thing he ever did was demonstrate to us through his work that he was following his own bliss.
Yes, Campbell left clues, but didn’t leave instructions.
Of course he didn’t! 😀
LOVE Joseph Campbell. The hero’s quest is really an amazing part of our global culture.
The Power of Myth is a great casual introduction to his thoughts and theories. It’s actually an extended transcript of his PBS interviews with Bill Moyers from the 80s.
I like “follow your bliss” even more than when someone says “follow your passion.” It sounds a lot less murky.
I’d love to see a color version of this cartoon!
Yeah, “Passion” always makes me kinda queasy. It’s kinda overused in the blogosphere, somehow….
Your bliss can be very hard to find, I am still not sure if I have found mine but the two years I’ve spent on my blog seems to have shown me a clue.
The hard thing is deflecting all the pressure you get from family and friends to do the conventional thing. That takes a lot of energy you could put to better use elsewhere.
You nailed it right here:
“You just decide to do it, and then you go and do it. Or fail. Whatever. It’s your call. It’s your path.”
Step one: “Decide.” And you sure don’t need any prerequisites or anyone’s permission to do that. I wasted half of my 20’s before I figured that out, but since then I’ve never looked back.
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it has resonances with Ignatius of Loyola’s teaching – he talked about finding consolations, and although he didn’t say you can’t avoid the bad bits of life, he did teach people to tune in to that central part of yourself that come alive to something. Not the same for everyone. Ignatius identified it with God, of course – but the principle is not far off the “follow your bliss” idea. Great post! thanks
Hugh, I think the most important clue Campbell gives is his description of when Dante first beholds Beatrice. He is seized by her beauty, and it is what propelled him. It is in “Pathways to Bliss”. The seizure is the thing. Mythology beins where madness starts.
I follow you on Twitter and finally came over to your website to subscribe. I discovered Joseph Campbell in the 70’s and still periodically reread The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I may read a chapter tonight!
Great column, I never met him but I suspect Joseph Campbell would approve!
Loved this line – “Your bliss is your own, not mine or anyone else’s.”
On a total side note, I probably have enjoyed one of your products. There are quite a few empty South African wine bottles around here…
True, no instructions. Wouldn’t expect any. Would gag at a “10 Tips for …” list on this one.
What’s hugely helpful to me is to see what others do and how they do it – in their context. I’m often able to transfer some of what I see to my own efforts, in some way, as I think a lot of people are.
Which is why your books are so useful. And because so many of the messages are dead on and applicable all around, like “Everyone has his own Mt. Everest to climb” and the idea of getting to the snow line. I think of those things every day, along with my all-time fave – “Quality is not job 1 ….”
Still working on the “[email protected]&*ing amazing” part, but the cool thing is, I think I’ll actually get there at some point, and if I don’t, at least I will have continuously upped my game trying.
Twenty years later, and millions of people have watched the famous Moyer-Campbell TV show on PBS.
Millions of us were inspired and uplifted by it, of course we were- how could we not be?
But how many people, after watching the series, actually went on live it for real? REALLY followed their bliss? Versus how many people allowed life to just get in the way…?
For me, being “uplifted” wasn’t enough. I had to do more- to live it, to honor it, to take it seriously.
It’s been quite an adventure so far 🙂
very inspiring. thanks for posting this.
Paid-up Campbell fan here.
Another thing that really stayed with me was during his interviews with Bill Moyers, he said lots of people say they’re looking for the meaning of life, but what they really want is an experience of being alive. When you’ve got that, you’re not so worried about the abstract philosophical explanations.
Hugh, great post. The kind that stokes the fire inside. Re-read it twice already and off to seek Joseph Campbell for myself. Cheers for sharing.
A lot of people followed their bliss right into jail and/or Alcoholics Anonymous. What’s the difference between “follow your bliss” and “have fun”?
“The adventure is its own reward.” JC
Hugh, I’m really proud to have known you a while back. We were at JMCT and you would stop by to show me your early business card cartoons. Other people nearby might look at them blankly, thinking the cards were supposed to give them a HA-HA. They didn’t appreciate you were handing them AH-HA’s.
You’ve followed your bliss and do what you love. That’s the difference between following your bliss and just having fun.
I remember those days well…
Who knew those days would end up being so seminal? Ha!
Love it. And I think at least one of the reasons so many people do NOT “follow their bliss” is the massive anchor of those surrounding them who — however well-intentioned — manage to stand in the way.
Not that we cannot blow past those barriers, but when friends, family, and peers set expectations, it can feel selfish to fail to meet those expectations. For me, the hardest part was coming to terms with the notion that what others perceive as “selfish” is often just their own fear talking.
Amazing to me how many people feel somehow challenged and even emotionally threatened when others choose a different path.
A lot of people around me at the time didn’t have my best interests at heart IMHO, so this “anchor” was relatively easy to leave behind.
Sometimes a fucked-up family situation comes in handy 😀
I had always thought that the point of following your bliss was to start, that the overall path would be uncertain and probably obscured, but by starting you lay the next piece of the path. The path doesn’t actually exist until you begin walking it.
There’s a pic that illustrates this idea perfectly (not mine & not my site!) here: http://personal-authenticity-project.com/wp-content/customimages/leunig_path.jpg
Clarity and courage. That’s how. Be clear on what your bliss means to you, then have the courage to own it and to truly follow it.
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You got me thinking and that’s a very good thing. In fact, you’ve inspired a blog post. I hope you get a chance to visit as I’d like to hear your perspective being more knowledgeable about Campbell than me.
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Hey, I love this! Thank you very much.
You have inspired me to stick with a recent project: 4 very simple steps to find and follow your mainline ‘bliss. I call it “Feeding the Spark.”
Upon a deeper reading and comments it seems that:
1. Any form of instruction is anathema to the idea of following bliss.
2. Deciding is the main thing.
I agree that everyone’s idea of bliss is unique and that each of us must find our own way. But does it hurt to mention – particularly to young people — a few pathways that have worked for others?
Forward momentum is huge, and boldness could inspire the universe to respond in a friendly way. But going inward, by noticing or listening when we respond deeply to Beauty or other power, feels like the first step to me.
There’s lots I’d like to say in response to this, but Thank You sums it up quite well. Great post, and inspiring.
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