Following your Bliss vs. following your Blisters

I´m sitting at “Vino Volo”, Philly airport right now. The 7th onsite of MAPP 2013/14 is over. It was another incredible, intensive, incomparable experience – not only thanks to the program itself, but due to the other participants. A big shout-out especially goes to Ann Brafford and Patricia De La Torre.

The hardest part always seems to choose what to write about afterwards. There´s so much good stuff out there – and I only have time to write about a few things. Yesterday afternoon, our guest lecturer was Yale´s Amy Wrzesniewski. Wrzesniewski is one of the world´s most renowned researchers on meaning and purpose on the job, (career) callings, and turning the job you have into the job you want (job crafting).

Towards the end of her lecture, she touched upon the topic that is displayed in the title of this post: Should we follow our bliss – or our blisters in order to have a fulfilling and successful (work) life? Both phrases were coined by mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell who, based on his literary studies, developed the theory of the Monomyth. The idea in short is that basically all great stories (from Homer´s Iliad to Harry Potter) are based on the same universal storytelling structure: the Hero´s Journey.

The following quote can be found in his book “The Power of Myth”:

If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.

A lot of Campbell´s students obviously misinterpreted his quote as an advice to embrace hedonism as the path to happiness, to pursue “feeling good no matter what”. Late in his life and frustrated with this development, Campbell purportedly made the remark “I should have said, ‘Follow your blisters’.”

Had those students paid more attention to the structure of the Monomyth they would have grasped that the bliss in “follow your bliss” cannot be about pleasure alone. The Hero´s Journey is a path that entails great struggle, pain, and even losing (parts of) oneself: Luke Skywalker and Frodo Baggins both lose a part of their body before defeating evil for good.

This notion can be made clearer when replacing the term “bliss” with “passion”. Passion is based on the Latin word “passio” which means “suffering” or “enduring” (as in “The Passion of Christ”). Only much later did it acquire its meaning of “enthusiasm” and “strong liking”. Consider this image (source):

What success looks like

The drawing mirrors sayings such as “No Cross, no Crown” or “No Pain, no Gain”. Despite thousands of books offering us a shortcuts to “success and everything we ever wanted”, intuitively most of us know that the picture on the right is the real deal – and the one on the left (in 99,9% of all cases) is Bullshit (as defined by Harry G. Frankfurt).

Every melody would be played in C major. Every painting would depict beautiful water lilies. Every story would begin with “and they lived happily ever after”.

And how lackluster our lives would be if the left side were an effigy of truth: Every melody would be played in C major. Every painting would depict lovely water lilies. Every story would begin with “and they lived happily ever after”. Such a life would not be worth living.

Dear shortcut vendors, here´s what Yoda (picture source) has to say to you:

Yoda - Up the shut fuck you must

2 thoughts on “Following your Bliss vs. following your Blisters

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