There are countless self-help books promising the answer to a pressing question: What is your life’s purpose? Why are you here? What is that thing you were meant to attempt and complete in your time on the planet? There are plenty of people who know the answer, and don’t require help in determining their calling. Another portion of humanity wanders around seeking, perhaps confused about where their energy should go. Yet another portion does not have the luxury to wander, and toils to make ends meet without much thought about following passions. Survival is the goal.
Follow your bliss. Find your passion. Live your dreams. Cliches for sure by now, as self-absorption peaks in a society that worships vapid celebrity and hollow fame. What do these platitudes really mean, and why do so many of us need directions to find our way?
Self-reflection is required and challenging. We can ask ourselves why we majored in that subject in school, why we took that job or chose that career path. Perhaps parents or society dictated some choices, or necessity led to a vocation that earns a living somewhere far from earlier dreams. We may have learned a few things that seemed true at the time, but turned out to be false. Here’s an example: I held a belief that if an activity became boring for me, or frustrating, then I was not meant to be attending to it. My passions must be elsewhere. If I felt panic rising, then I was certain I was in the wrong spot.
I was mistaken. Boredom, frustration, even panic, are just part of the process. I previously believed that those three states were meant to be avoided – indicators of a wrong turn. Bliss, after all, is blissful. I see now that we are meant to push through them, not turn away. I think this is something those people who don’t need directions already know.
Joseph Campbell wasn’t talking about perfect happiness when he said, “Follow your bliss.” I think he was addressing a direction in which to face, a sign post pointing the way. There is nothing in his work that leads us to believe there won’t be doubt and angst on the journey. Big obstacles are, in fact, an indication that we are headed toward something great. Dark caves, deep waters, lonely stretches are guaranteed. The tedium and dangers, once we overcome them, fortify us for the bigger goal.
What is that bigger goal? Fame and fortune might be on the list, and they might not. Either way, they don’t count as your Life’s Task. The answer to that question can’t be found in any self-help book, or in the study of other people’s lives. It’s there, right past the boredom and panic.