Follow Your Bliss

 

(Cedarburg, WI, 2002) The meaning of life was aptly addressed in a quirky situation comedy, Dharma and Greg. The characters are the epitome of balance in a couple, where the strengths and weaknesses of one person dovetail with those of the other, creating an illusion of perfect symmetry.

Greg, a Harvard graduated attorney from a conservative, wealthy family, works as a district attorney. Dharma, daughter of two hippies still living “the summer of love,” is a yoga instructor and most definitely a product of her upbringing. They meet, fall in love instantly and marry the same day. Their trials and tribulations as they adjust to married life are handled in a hilarious and entertaining way. But there’s more depth to this story.

A recent episode involved the dilemma faced by Greg. With Dharma’s encouragement, he suddenly quit his high stress job. Follow your bliss, she shouted, insisting if something doesn’t make you happy, then you need to find what does and pursue it.

Greg realizes, now that he has time to sit back and think, that he’s always wanted to be a cook. So, he promptly goes out and tries to get a job as a chef. After many rejections, he becomes a fry cook in a small mom and pop diner. He loves it and is having the time of his life; his parents think he’s gone crazy and Dharma’s parents praise him for rejecting the corporate lifestyle.

Then Greg’s dad sadly reveals he always wanted to cut hair but put it aside because he had responsibilities. Later, Greg’s mother reveals her long forgotten dream of being a dancer. After a few days of slopping the hash, Greg realizes he misses his old life when he sees that following his bliss won’t earn him an adequate living. Then too, after several days, the newness has worn off and this has become just another job.

The idea of following your bliss is intriguing and I couldn’t help but try to make some enduring sense of the story. It does seem that every one of us, at times, think our job is tedious, stressful and unrewarding. A nurse I know asserted that all jobs end up feeling like you’re on a tread mill. Even the intricate job of the surgeon, she noted, must on some level, begin to resemble an assembly line.

Working by Studs Turkel, a classic sociological examination of how people feel about their jobs, came to mind. Though originally published in 1972, it reads like today. It’s amazing how the plight of the telephone operator quoted then, sounds like the predicament of today’s data entry clerk. No one back then seemed to really like their job. No one seemed very challenged. Same as today, I fear.

So what are we to do? Maybe we need to become more realistic about what work is. Long ago I decided my job was what I did to earn the money that paid the bills, allowing me to have a good life. The fact that I like my work is perhaps a bonus.

My husband doesn’t like his job. But he follows his bliss through several very demanding and all engrossing hobbies that completely fill his time away from work. He is never happier than when he’s out in the barn working on a restoration project. Or visiting junk yards looking for old parts. Or on one of his perpetual road trips in search of abandoned machinery. His job provides the money to support this bliss.

I’ve always wondered if this labor of love would become drudgery if he had to do it for a living. Would my gardening become a chore if I had to weed and hoe each day to put food on the table? Would writing become a burden if I were forced by economic realities to do it day in and day out?

A recent letter from a friend who works in a book shop (one of my secret dream vocations) hit home. I’ve always thought it would be so great to have a job like that since I love to read and feel so alive in book shops and libraries. Wow, to be able to spend entire days there! To find that hard to locate book for a customer or to turn a child on to reading. But to hear her talk, it’s stressful, either too busy or too slow and sometimes boring. She warns me it’s not as challenging and rewarding as I might think.

The biography, So Far, So Good…, tells the story of Wall Street broker Roy Neuburger, now ninety four years old and still working every day as he has his entire life, trading in stocks and making still another fortune. But his passion as a young man was to be a painter. He tells how he went to art school and found out, as a painter, he “was no damn good.” So what to do about this passion?

He went on to use his money to collect art and build a gallery in Purchase, New York which houses the paintings of many famous artists. He followed his bliss by promoting and helping starving artists. This has paid off royally by the increased value of paintings he owns done by then unknown, now famous artists. But it isn’t about money, says Neuburger. He just loves art.

Perhaps Greg could use the money he makes as an attorney to buy a restaurant so he can dabble in his passion. Maybe Greg’s dad could teach a class in a barber school and share his talent with young people just starting out. His mother could use her time and money to sponsor an ingénue who’s unable to study dance without financial assistance.

Much in the style of the Carlos Castenada books and other new- age writings, we are told the journey rather than the destination is the important thing (all paths lead nowhere, so enjoy the path). So, “follow your bliss” may be just part of the message. Perhaps it has less to do with what kind of work you do, possibly more to do with the real person you are.

 

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