Sometimes, when you’re on the treadmill of life, you’re hustling too much to slow down and ask vital questions like why am I doing this? What is it all moving toward? Is this what I’m here for? Is this what I’m meant to do?
It feels like we have to work so damn hard to keep it all together. We don’t have the energy to create the spaciousness to really contemplate it all. And so we stay stuck in a sort of hypnotic trance of exhausting, unfulfilling work, wobbly, underfed relationships, and unpursued dreams.
It is the farthest place we can be from Joseph Campbell’s famous advice to “follow your bliss.”
At least, I know this happened to me.
When I Was Numb
The crazy thing was that I didn’t even feel so much discontentment. I became sort of numb to what I wanted. But what I want to focus on here is how I woke from it all. I share this in the hope, that if you are anywhere near where I was, this might give you a glimpse of a way out.
I’m the kind of person who married her job. I’m not proud to say it, but for most of my adult life, I slavishly applied myself to whatever I was doing for a living. I made that my whole life. I don’t mean to condemn that kind of
commitment. The problem with it for me was that I was so devoted to something that I didn’t think was that significant.
As an Enneagram type 5 and an INTP, I pride myself on feeling competent. This preference led me to find some professional niches and stick to them. I poured my heart and soul into my work, and I excelled. Yet, as you might suspect, the whole of me was not satisfied with this arrangement.
There was a sense of dis-ease, yes, but when you’ve got your head down, plowing ahead as a workaholic, it’s hard to take perspective. It’s hard to wake up and to realize that life and work have so much more to offer.
The problem was working for a Fortune 100 employer. My younger self would have been appalled to find me working there. I went to a liberal arts college where we romanticized the 60s protest ethos. We lashed out against apartheid and spoke about “evil” corporations that exploited people.
How I Got Stuck on the Treadmill
But five years post-graduation, I was longing to make better money and ended up enrolling in an MBA program. This started my dangerous liaison with corporate America.
I justified my job in financial services to my rebellious self. Credit cards provide a helpful service. I liked my credit cards. They made life easier. The culture at my company seemed pretty good. They genuinely seemed concerned about how employees felt. Hell, I even managed the Employee Satisfaction team.
But there were cracks in that veneer and I woke up. Slowly, then quickly.
The first inkling came at a conference I attended in Italy. It was August, 2001. The speaker, Sally Goerner, talked about a deep-seated unrest. A simmering anger, just below the surface. We were on the brink of change, she insisted. I had no idea what she was talking about. My protest-minded college student self was riveted, but I was mostly baffled.
When the twin towers fell less than a month later, Goerner seemed a prophet. I was rattled. I was clueless about a lot of what was going on in the world. I wanted to start paying attention to what was shaping society.
A few years later, a series of happenings found me poised to walk away from my six-figure income. I paid off my student loan early. This was the main psychological burden that made me feel like I had few choices but to work for a large corporation to make those monthly payments.
Finding the Spark
Then, I discovered the River of Life. It was an exercise at a workshop my company sent me to. Kind of ironic that a company-sponsored workshop ended up being a major impetus to leave that company.
The River of Life involves making an illustration of your life with a river as a metaphor.
The exercise brought something out in stark relief. While I was spending most of my waking time and energy on my job, my positive tributaries always came from other sources that had nothing to do with my work.
What I most deeply treasured were studies, travel, and reading that I did outside of work. I am a big fan of Carl G. Jung and I had found a community of Jungian analysts and others who like to hang out and talk about his ideas. That’s where I met Sally Goerner. This work seemed vital to me. It gave me life and re-invigorated me. It stimulated me intellectually in a way that my regular job never did.
I could suddenly see that unless my life could embrace more of this wisdom, that it would always feel empty.
I was coming into an understanding of Campbell’s advice: “if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you…”
I think there are two key components to what Campbell is saying:
1) You don’t have to have the full picture. Once you start down the path, the way will be shown to you.
2) This isn’t superficial, do-what-you-want kind of advice. It refers to a deep calling. This has to do with why you are here in the first place. Your bliss will point to something profoundly meaningful and significant.
We’re Cooking with Gas Now
The River of Life was the spark. A book called The Gift of a Year poured gasoline on the fire.
The Gift of a Year posits you should take a year to carve out time to do something special for yourself. It might be something as simple as taking a bath every day.
I immediately knew what gift I wanted to give myself. A PhD.
It would take more than a year (ten actually!) But, I did it.
I studied how people come to make meaning of things. I looked at the stories we tell ourselves. And what’s more, I’ve found work that lets me hang out in the realm of ideas.
As a life coach, I get to talk to others about what they are passionate about and how they can bring that passion into their life and work in abundant ways. I get to read and consume fascinating information every day because it informs my coaching practice.
So, thanks to some prescient wake-up calls, I can now say that I’m following my bliss. I’m finding the intersection between bliss and business.
The River of Life Exercise
If you want to open yourself up to profound change, I encourage you to draw out your River of Life. Get the details for how to create your own River of Life here:
I hope the exercise might be an opening to find your bliss. The evidence of it is already out there in your life. This might give you a lens for seeing it.
The Joseph Campbell Foundation expanded on Campbell’s famous advice with the following: “It is a matter of identifying that pursuit which you are truly passionate about and attempting to give yourself absolutely to it. In so doing, you will find your fullest potential and serve your community to the greatest possible extent.”
In my mind, there are few things more important than undertaking this quest to follow your bliss. Since our work is how many of us spend a large chunk of our waking hours, aligning our bliss with our work is critical to leading a purposeful life.
I’m Dr. Kira Swanson and I’m a Life Coach for people who dread Monday. I work with corporate misfits who feel unfulfilled in their work. Together, we tune into what they really want, find new perspectives, and summon the courage to take bold action. Whether it’s striking out on their own, landing in a new job, or thriving right where they are, I help my clients to Love Monday.
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