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Following Your Bliss: Good Advice or Bunk?

This article was written by in Best Of, People. 17 comments.


One of my favorite musical “acts” is Blue Man Group. The Blue Man Group explores, with primitively modern musical instruments, society, detachment, and collectivism. You may remember them from Intel’s old Pentium commercials. You may also remember them from the television show Arrested Development, in which the character Tobias, played by David Cross, auditioned for the show and failed, later declaring, “I blue myself.” Blue Man Group has shows in New York City, Boston, Las Vegas, and a few other cities, as well as a touring rock show, with each show similar but not identical to the others.

I recently picked up the latest Blue Man Group CD and DVD combination package, How to Be a Megastar! and watched the program. It includes fantastic music and visual performances as I expected, but I am equally intrigued by the special features, including a documentary-style interview with the creators of Blue Man Group, Phil Stanton, Chris Wink, and Matt Goldman.

When originally devising the concept of the Blue Man, the creators struggled at first. These three percussionists, who were working day-jobs as caterers in New York City, were ready to abandon their vision. At the right time, they received a sign. While watching television, they came across an interview with an expert on religion and philosophy. In this interview, the expert was asked to summarize the prevailing philosophical thought across the world, to which he answered: “Follow your bliss.”

Stanton, Wink and Goldman then knew that despite their difficulties, they must continue to create their vision through completion, even if success would never come. Thankfully for them, success did come, and Blue Man Group is now a cultural phenomenon. But the interview made me think about this particular philosophical idea.

First of all, what is “bliss?” Wordnet defines the word’s most common sense: a state of extreme happiness. The true path is the path that leads you towards a state of extreme happiness. In fact, in the interview, the creators of Blue Man Group went on to say that the journey is more important than the destination.

Am I following my bliss? I’m not sure. There was a time when I thought I had my life planned out, but year by year, I allowed this path to change. I’m now quite far from what I thought I would be doing with my life by this point, the age of 32. My job is fine, but it’s not intellectually, emotionally, or artistically stimulating. I like writing for Consumerism Commentary, but I’m not a particularly good writer. I enjoy building online communities, and that may be my personal strength for the moment, but is it my “bliss?”

Who should follow this advice, to follow one’s bliss? Perhaps not everyone has the luxury of doing so. The world needs janitors, truck drivers, bus boys, and others who perform thankless jobs — the jobs children often don’t think of when they are asked what they’d like to be when they grow up. But then again, are we sure that these individuals are not following their bliss? Perhaps their “extreme happiness” is satisfied simply by providing for their family in any manner possible.

In the case of the creators of the Blue Man Group, they needed to complete their project before they could be satisfied. With success, it seems their project may never be complete; shows are revised, new tours are initiated, and new audiences are born constantly.

After leaving the arts world, I thought my goal would be to volunteer for causes about which I feel strongly or become a to philanthropist as much as my budget allows. It seems I may be too picky to do so at the level at which I would be making a difference, and in some cases, to do so at all. Even though the organization closest to meeting my requirements is strongly involved in the activity I wish to support, having been close to that organization with intimate knowledge of its administration, I’d prefer not to do business with them. Unfortunately, no other organization is similar.

Do you follow your bliss?

Updated February 10, 2011 and originally published April 20, 2008. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Pragzz

I don’t know about your being a bad writer, because this was by far one of the best pieces of writing you’ve done. Really enjoyed it!

I have found my bliss, and having tasted what its like to be in it, I am unwilling to compromise on anything less. This can sometimes be a curse…

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avatar keef

I think the real question is this, If you were guaranteed success at whatever you wanted to do, what would it be? And once you figure that out, ask yourself, am I doing anything that would lead me in that direction?

Often times if we identify what is at the core of our ‘dream’ we find it is a deeper issue. Like if answer was ‘to be an actor’, perhaps the core passion is spontaneous, artistic connection with people and that can be achieved or realized in a way that isn’t necessarily on the acting stage.

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avatar Fred

It’s bunk. There’s a saying in geopolitics, “the winners get to write the history books,” and I think it applies to life/work advice as well. We never hear about the mass of people who tried to follow their bliss but ended up with, as Henry David Thoreau put it, “lives of quiet desperation” just to make ends meet, do we?

Interesting story from Robert Frank of the WSJ’s Wealth Report here:

I interviewed a hedge fund manager last month and when I asked him if he enjoyed his work, he said “No. I hate it. But it pays the bills…” He happens to have an aptitude that’s highly rewarded in today’s economy, so he’s milking it.

So you might think the hedgie sold his soul for filthy lucre, but when it comes down to it, we all have bills to pay, don’t we? Admittedly, some bills are higher than others, and we can argue about whether some of the expenses are really essential, but the bottom line is still that we all need to take on some form of work to pay those bills.

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avatar the debt defier

honestly, i can’t make up my mind about this. a lot of people told me this while i was trying to pick a major, and as a result, i ended up with a degree in anthropology because it “interested” me. that was probably the biggest mistake of my life. sure, i found it fascinating but that doesn’t mean it was a great career choice. later, with more life experience, i came to find out that there were lots of other things that i find interesting and enjoy doing, that would’ve paid a lot more money! i think the trick is to find a balance between finding meaning in your work and earning enough to build a solid financial foundation.

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avatar One Frugal Girl

This was a fitting post to read as I prepare for another week at an increasingly disappointing job. The trouble is… I seem to be kind of stuck… I don’t know if I can define the thing that would bring utter bliss to my life? If I could pinpoint that, I might be better able to answer the question.

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avatar Chris K

It depends. What if your hobby is your bliss, rather than your work? Sure, you could make your hobby your work, but would you still want the hobby if you have to do it? The more I think about it, the more I feel the answer is no.

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avatar Four Pillars

Interesting thoughts.

I always roll my eyes when friends talk about “doing what they really want to do” – the fact is that you have to do what you are good at in order to make money.

Even if you get a “dream” job, then eventually you will get bored with it.

Mike

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avatar Kyle

I think following your bliss certainly CAN lead to financial bounty, but it’s far from a foregone conclusion. People who love what they do tend to be more successful at it than people who don’t, but your niche also tends to place an upper limit on what you can achieve. When you reach the upper limit of what your market can bear for whatever it is you love doing, you either have to expand into related niches or live with the ceiling.

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avatar typome

I haven’t found my dream job and so it’s easy for me to feel anxious when I hear of others relishing in theirs. I’ve even tried going in different directions but found that when I dug deeper and saw the realities of the job, I was more in love with the idea of those jobs than what they actually entail. I suppose my bliss would be to see the daily grind and still want to go to work. Right now I’m staying at my job because I don’t really know what I want yet, and unless I have a strong conviction of what that may be, I’d rather not risk a job loss at the moment.

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avatar UH2L

My path has been to choose a field which opened me up to many possibilities but paid the bills and then I switched career paths when I wanted something different. I made sure that it still pays the bills. All the while, I got my MBA part time, kept my hobbies diverse, and now I have figured out what I’m truly passionate about that has a chance of making me money. This point was somewhat random, but by working another few years, I will have saved enough that I can take a bit of a financial gamble and follow what I love. If it fails, I still have my old career to go back to.

UH2L
http://www.thingsivenoticed.com

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avatar Smithee ♦1,358 (Quarter)

As others have said: following your bliss is risky. I think that for the most part I have been doing just that, and I have a lot to show for it, in terms of my friends, reputation and history of good times.

But my Net Worth is about as negative (if you include the mortgage) as yours is positive.

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avatar Venecia

I think there’s a big dose of missing the point here.

The advice is to “follow your bliss” not “follow your bliss to the exclusion of all else while they turn the heat off and you can’t feed your kids.” Maybe some of those janitors aren’t following their bliss at work, but are following it in their off hours. Maybe their bliss is fathering four healthy, happy kids or maybe they do stand-up comedy on the weekends.

And it’s about following, not reaching. It’s the journey, not the destination. FINDING your bliss is just as much a part of following it. Discovering who you are and what you love (and how that’s changed over time as well) is part of the following.

Finally, let’s not confuse bliss with success. Unless money is your only bliss (in which case go ahead and work for the highest bidder to the exclusion of all else) you can follow your bliss without talent or major sacrifice or going bankrupt. Painting is your bliss? Well, you can paint with a minimal outlay of cash for supplies. You can paint in the evenings and weekends. You can paint even if you suck. You can paint if you never get famous. You can paint if no one ever buys your work (like Van Gogh before he died). There’s no commandment that says “thou shalt not do things unless they bring approval / cash rewards.”

So follow your bliss. It isn’t just good advice, it’s a critical component to living.

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avatar Pam Grundy

This is a great article. Thank you for raising the issue. I think that most people have no idea what their bliss is, and some people have lots of ‘blisses’ so reducing them all down to one is challenging and maybe not really necessary. Usually I find a way to love what I do, or else to do what I love, usually a little of both, so yeah, I think I manage to ‘follow my bliss’ to the extent that, at any given moment, I understand myself and my desires. If I’m really unhappy, I do notice it eventually and take action to change my work life. But sometimes I just have to coast. I can’t be focused all the time–like, am I blissful yet? Am I? Am I almost blissful? Where did my bliss go? Is it over there? Is it upstairs? Did I leave it in the car? It’s just too exhausting! Constant bliss could totally a kill a person, you know what I mean? We all need a rest once in awhile.

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avatar November

I think it’s easier for some people to follow their bliss because their bliss is more obvious. Some people have focused, passionate interest in one area; and it’s almost like they have no choice other than to follow their bliss because it’s about all they’re suited to do.

I see my father as a person like that. He had one main interest as a kid. Then he studied that interest in school and got a job in the same field. His job was THE focus of his life. Now that he’s retired, he does the same thing as a hobby (although his interests have expanded to include grandchildren!).

I’ve never found anything that I’m so passionate about that I can’t help but do it. I’m interested in 15 or 20 things, but I don’t see any of them as my “bliss.” If I had something I loved so much I wanted to do it every day, and I’d do it whether or not I was paid, then yes, I think I would try to get a job in that field, even if it “condemned” me to a lifetime of low pay. But I don’t have anything like that.

So, I think my next best plan is to try to earn as much money per hour of work as I can, and try to work reasonable hours so that I have free time to spend on my many interests. But if one of my interests grows into an all-consuming interest, I hope that years of saving money and living beneath my means will leave me prepared to act on it.

I think people are just made differently — some have big “bliss” interests and some don’t. I think I don’t. After years of unsuccessfully trying to decide what my “bliss” is, I’ve decided I don’t have one, and that’s okay. Nothing wrong with being multifaceted.

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avatar Barbara Saunders

We never hear about the millions of people who follow their bliss and go broke; however, we also tend to deny the millions of people who choose something “sensible” and are also go broke because their heart isn’t in it, so they can’t really compete.

I cannot argue against the sound advice that most people are going to have non-glamorous work rather than being movie stars or “the next Bill Gates.” What I object to is the typical context for the advice — which is discouraging a person even from looking for the most fitting and pleasing among realistic options.

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avatar Holly

The pursuit of happiness or ‘the journey’, as was stated by the members of ‘Blue Man Group’, is a luxury in and of itself. Many factors affect your choice of work and if you’re lucky enough to be supported during the process of finding your ‘bliss’, then that would be ideal. My husband is a police officer and that is all he has ever wanted for a career. I especially agree with the comment above that we are all made differently, and I doubt that many people are able to specify just one or two areas of passion as related to work. I am interested and adept in so many things (art/design, psychology, finance, creative writing, science, education), that I have been perpetually lost and unable to focus on just one stand-alone vocation. I have had the feeling of ‘the grass is greener’ as I pursued one interest to the exclusion of another. I fear that pride might be my only motivation to finally get to work (I’m a S-A-H-M with 3 kids in school full-time)!

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avatar Neve

I think that if you have something in your life that brings you bliss, then you should listen to that voice inside you that says “follow your dream”.

Whether it’s just creating a blog (like my family baking blog) or doing stand-up or open mic nights or going further and actually starting a business – Go for it. Yes, you have to feed the kids and the dog etc, but get your toes wet… Go on, you know you wanna!

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