When it comes to sorting out a life or a career in terms of which direction to go there are many sources to draw on. Pick your insightful book or thought leader or writer. They have loads to say on the matter.
And while you may work to find the color of your parachute or follow the Artsit’s Way, or get paid for being you there is a virtual haiku of guidance that can be followed constructed by Joseph Campbell.
Follow your bliss
I couldn’t have constructed a better three word course for life than Joseph Campbell did.
But simple often isn’t easy.
And usually it is frightening. So frightening that it has been relegated to a dark corner of the mind and rendered unacceptable.
So sometimes before you can follow your bliss you need to sort out some other thing that is further down on the food chain.
Such was the case with K.
K sat down at explained to me that she is in her first year as a lawyer and she is discovering that she doesn’t really like it.
Despite the distaste for her new career that she feels the seductive trap of continuing – she has spent so much money already, she would be able to have a decent living and that plenty of people don’t like their jobs.
My impression of K was that despite her pretty bouncy nature I could sense an inner girdle on her that strapped her in and that radiated tension out her shoulders and neck.
I asked K to continue with her thoughts on her career at this point. She explained that while she felt the seduction of continuing she also so the futility of it
The race for partner and a corner office, I already feel the pressure for them, for it. And you know what? It already feels hollow and meaningless and it has barely been a year. Some people really seem excited and motivated by it.
And then she proclaimed weakly
I deserve a job that I like.
Fair enough and not terribly uncommon. So I asked K the obvious question
So, what is your ideal job?
She did the proverbial hemming and hawing and “I don’t know”ing. Her nervousness was spilling out of her.
There is a a classic Zen story about how dealing with ineffable truth is like swallowing a red hot ball of iron – you can neither totally swallow it nor can you spit it out. In this way it felt like this ideal profession was jammed into K’s gullet – too hot to swallow and incorporate and yet so hot that it was lodged in place.
After a few minutes of talking about it in a general terms it was clear that she wasn’t coming out with anything but she stayed in her chair willing to continue on this subject. It dawned on me that we had elevated this job too high – as IDEAL. And in its loftiness it was truly unobtainable. So I reversed our perspective entirely and asked:
What is the most useless job that you can think of that would be counter to what your parents and you would expect of you?
Her corset of tension suddenly expanded and she replied quietly
It’s way too foolish.
AH HA! Now we we uncovering something.
The more foolish and disappointing the better. I want the very worst job. Bad, bad, bad. The worse it is the better the answer.
K was mortified and tense and replied
I can’t say it out loud.
So staying with the reversing I asked
Can you whisper it?
And she did – right into my ear…
A travel writer.
And she covered her face in embarrassment but suddenly her corset popped and her shoulders dropped and she leaned back in the chair. She had said it. It was out. A TRAVEL WRITER!
Her excuses came thick and fast after this disclosure – why it was such a bad idea and if she could even do it.
This is to be expected. This was seemingly her first glance at an aspect of herself that she hadn’t looked at before with any seriousness. No wonder that she wasn’t simpatico with it yet.
I told her that I could offer her a way to start to look at being a travel writer without making the leap all at once. I suggested to her an improvisational vacation.
She chould go to a bus station and ask the ticket person to choose a place for her to go for the weekend with her budget. No picking sites to see ahead of time or planning hotels or research – just go and figure it all out when she got there and make it a point to explore her locations and talk to people and then write about it and start to share it. See what it is like to write about travel where there are no stakes.
Day long trips, two day long trips.
It may make her job look different or it may open up new doors but the most important thing was to let this inner travel writer speak and breathe. She had smothered it for too long.
K said that this was scary but it seemed very enticing and that one unplanned trip sounded fun. She said that she would do it. Regardless of the outcome the woman sitting in front of me felt so much more present and interesting with more depth than the one who sat down 15 minutes before.
K thanked me and walked south towards 14th street – hopefully to travel.
Having the itchy feeling of dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs is standard. But to truly have an open door to following your bliss there is a requisite level of fearlessness that must be taken on. The fearlessness to disappoint or to be foolish are two of many that can be featured.
But so often the foolish thing…or our thought that we call foolish about a neutral thing might be a place to start. In order to call something foolish or scary we must put a lot of meaning and energy into it .
You might as well see what art you may have laid the ground for without you even knowing it.
What are your foolish and disappointing visions for yourself?