“The secret to my success is that I’ve never worked a day in my life.”
“I would do it even if I didn’t get paid.”
“Find what you love, and do that.”
This all seems like good advice, until you actually start to go do it. Following your bliss has become the mantra of the day but I’m here to tell you it’s wrong!
As with most catchphrases, it’s overly simplistic at best.
The above often paraphrased statements lead one to imagine a life that has no sacrifice, no discomfort, no problems or worries. The term “bliss” also paints a picture of something that you love so much, that there is literally no aspect to it that you would change. I’m not convinced that such a relationship exists.
I’m here to tell you that this whole “Follow your bliss” rhetoric can really make you feel like a failure or a freak. After all, what if you can’t figure out what your blissful passion is? What if you are following what you thought was your life’s purpose, but you aren’t experiencing joy? Are you some kind of loser? What does it all mean?
The fact is, much of the rhetoric is bull shit. People who have a passionate relationship with their work, still experience aspects of it that they would rather live without. Hell, sometimes even the parts you love may annoy you on certain days.
You see, we exist in a state of plasticity. We change. Constantly.
The things you love today might just be “meh” tomorrow, only to have the spark re-ignited the next day. OK…so maybe following your bliss is not really bad advise, but the following 7 guidelines might help you find that bliss with a bit more realistic expectation.
1. Practice Delayed Gratification (but don’t be in this state constantly, enjoy life too).
Nothing worth working for comes without work. Even if you are trying to turn your hobby into a career, you’re going to have to buckle up and get to work at some point. Taking a fun hobby and turning it into income (or lifestyle) is going to require organizing, marketing, maybe production, maybe forming relationships to get help… you might have to delay your enjoyment of the hobby part until you’ve done the footwork needed to make it a business. Also- there are only so many hours in the day, and only so many days in a life. So you might also need to give up other enjoyments temporarily in order to achieve a level of success needed to free up your time. Less time with friends, Facebook and Game Of Thrones means more time to get the work done!
WARNING!!! All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy! Delayed gratification is often a necessary ingredient for success, but I’ll caution you to find a balance that you can live with. I have gone through phases where I thought I was giving up short-term pleasure in exchange for long-term success. Unfortunately, short-term turned into years and all I achieved was a status of stressed-out grumpy ass-hole. Not only was I miserable, but I was working toward a dead-end and driving away people who might have been a great support had I been open to friendship. Life is to short to be a grumpy ass-hole, so don’t delay your gratification to the point of constant misery if you can help it. I think you can work hard and sacrifice and still make time for important people and happy-hour. Have a bit of fun now and then!
2. No dream job is free from occasional nightmares.
Sometimes the business owner is the guy who gets to scrub the toilet. Sometimes the talented artist is also the girl who has to deal with occasional ass-holes while she is acting as her own agent. There might come a time when your success will allow you to hire people to do every aspect that you hate, but to really follow your bliss will require you to do the parts you don’t like too!
I decided early on that I didn’t want to be an artist because I found that when I had to draw, I suddenly didn’t want to. The pressure to perform took the joy out of my art, so I knew I couldn’t make a living at it- nor did I want to. This is one instance where following your bliss is just plain wrong. If making a living from your passion takes all of the joy out of it, I suggest you make a living doing something you can tolerate, and keep your passion as a hobby.
If turning your fun into real work still appeals to you, then read on my blissful friend!
3. Passion today, Passe’ tomorrow.
Everyone has their ups and downs. Get over it. It’s normal. For instance, my passion is teaching, which means I am working with people. I adore most of my students, but some days I don’t want to talk to them. It’s not them- it’s me…really. Anything you love can get tiring once in a while. It’s fine. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are burnt-out. I’m sure even porn stars get tired of fucking once in a while. Allow yourself the room for bad days, slumps and mood swings.
Not only that, but fortunately we have a trait called plasticity, meaning that we adapt and change all the time. This is great news! Growth is not possible without it! However, this means that sometimes burn-out really is burn-out. Or maybe it’s not burn-out… sometimes the fire just spreads to a different area and you need to be willing to go there. More on that in a bit… (no. 7)
4. Be ready to suck.
Just because you enjoy something, doesn’t mean you’re good enough to get paid for it (yet). Music might be your life but you need to get some noise complaints from the neighbors before you make it on to The Tonight Show. Be willing to not be the best… for a while. I’ve said it many times; excellence is not perfection, excellence is the consistent pursuit of improvement. Accept the suck, just don’t be satisfied with it.
Following your bliss isn’t about taking the easy road or being a virtuoso. It doesn’t grant, nor require overnight success. Be willing to work. Be willing to suck. Be willing to earn excellence over time.
5. Think Ben Franklin, not Orville Redenbacher.
Not everyone is built for a singular vision. Some of you might really have one big passion in your life (if so- awesome! go to it!) but that’s not me! Being interested in lots of different things instead of one overwhelming passion does not mean you have to be a failure, or even average (at least I hope not or I’m screwed!)
There are polymaths that are literally genius in several different pursuits. Leonardo DeVinci, Aristotle and Ben Franklin all made significant contributions to many seemingly unrelated disciplines. Orville Reddenbacher on the other hand had one passion, and he created an empire on popcorn. He famously promoted his expertise with the advice:
Now I’m not saying you need to be either myopic or genius. But if you’re like me, and you have a huge list of interests, you really only need to pick one in order make a career. For some of us, “following your bliss” means picking one of the many that you think you can turn into a living.
6. Your life should make sense, but sometimes passion doesn’t.
Falling in love and finding a compatible mate are not necessarily the same thing. I have a passion for drawing, astronomy, philosophy, motorcycles and guitar playing, but I also want to be financially successful. These passions are not likely to facilitate the lifestyle that I desire, so I’m happy to leave them as hobbies.
Teaching, whether through my writing, videos, public speaking or face-to-face workshops, is something I really enjoy. It also happens to be a much more marketable and scale-able skill than any one of my other interests. Actually, in my case, my enjoyment of teaching can encompass all of my other interests. I don’t need to be a professional musician to teach a beginner guitar class. So in a way, I’ve found a method to follow all my blisses by choosing one that borrows from them all!
The point I’m making here though is that if your passion for doing something is not marketable enough to match up to your desired lifestyle, it might not make sense for you to try to make it work. You might find something that you can enjoy or even just tolerate but provides for your needs, even allowing you to pursue your passions on the side.
Or, (and this would be my personal choice), find a new and creative way to market your skills. There are plenty of musicians, for instance, that you’ve never heard of. They sit in for recordings and tours, they produce for commercials and movies and they write for the famous stars. And they make a good living doing it!
Following your bliss is all well and good, but you need to make sense of it. Don’t make your life decisions based on emotion. Search your heart to find your bliss, then ask your brain if there is any real opportunity there.
7. It’s OK to be a quitter.
Slumps happen. Sometimes they should be worked through, and sometimes they are a signal that you are on the wrong track. Again, we are met with an overly simplistic catch-phrase; “quitters never win”. BS! Sometimes knowing when to quit is the fastest way to success.
In his book The Dip, Seth Godin discusses this very idea. There is a tremendous opportunity cost in beating a dead horse (since we’re on a catch-phrase kick). In other words, the time you spend keeping your head down, your nose to the grindstone and “never quitting”, could be spent on something that offers a more rewarding and efficient pay-off.
I’m not telling you to give up on your dreams or your passion, but I urge you to look at your efficiency in getting there. You only live once, and it doesn’t last forever. So get your ass happy ASAP! Don’t waste years or even decades grinding on one dream, if you have other dreams that can be lived along the way.
Be happy now.
The bottom line is that I really do think you should live with passion, but don’t expect all roses as a result. Realize that ups and downs are ok, bumpy roads, tough jobs, hard work and even changing your mind… those are ok too!
By all means! Follow your bliss! But I urge you to use your head while doing it.