Years ago, in a series of wildly popular interviews, historian Joseph Campbell uttered these words: “Follow your bliss.” But never in his wildest dreams did he imagine what would become of them.
In the years since, this little piece of advice—dropped into a serious conversation with journalist Bill Moyers—has taken social media and advertising by storm. It shows up on t-shirts and self-help books, promising that all you must do to figure out your complicated life is to pursue what you’re passionate about. Although helpful for all of us who have repressed our own desires, the idea crept unbidden into discussions about calling. It permeated conversations with high school students and college freshmen as they struggled to determine next steps, majors and minors, academic degrees or jobs; and it colored the worlds of unhappy mid-lifers and senior citizens phasing into the unknowns of retirement. In a word, it took over messaging about life satisfaction and human fulfillment. Just figure out what you want. It’s that simple. Or so the nagging imperative promised.
It’s time to dispel this myth. I can hardly think of worse advice to give anyone trying to discern what to do with their life. Instead, we need to tell the truth. As I argue in my forthcoming book, Follow Your Bliss and Other Lies About Calling, following a calling comes inevitably with undersides—struggles and complications that we can never fully anticipate and for which we need to be aware and prepared. Calling is, to borrow the words of researchers Stuart Bunderson and Jeffery Thompson, a “double-edged sword.” It “cuts both ways.”Continue reading “Follow Your Bliss? Bad Advice for Calling “