Last week, I visited the popular website of a spiritual teacher named Mastin Kipp. His message to the world is simple: "Follow your bliss," a catch phrase borrowed from the late Joseph Campbell. Mastin is not alone in heralding this important message. There's Wayne Dyer, Robin Sharma, Cheryl Richardson, Scott Dinsmore... Yes, it seems like everybody is talking about following your passion these days. It's an uplifting message, but with one major caveat. Alright, two.
When I graduated from Harvard in 2007 I followed my bliss. I took risks and moved from Boston to San Diego where I thought I could meet like-minded people and have greater impact. The only problem was I didn't know exactly how to define my "bliss" or how to adapt it to the world in a way that brought value to other people and put food on my table.
What I soon discovered is that if your passion can't be translated into something tangible people are willing to pay for, it isn't worth much! As Joseph Campbell once explained, when you go on your hero's journey to find your jewel, that treasure you carry inside, oftentimes when you bring it back to the world people aren't interested. Society doesn't give a damn! And this is because the world doesn't know there's something missing, that you have something it needs, and so you must get out there and convince people that your treasure, your passion - has value.
Finding and following your passion is therefore only the start of your journey.
It's easy to figure out what you love doing and what makes you come alive. The real test involves marrying your bliss to the banality of day-to-day existence and making it your full time job.
Your passion, after all, is raw energy that needs be tamed. It has to be channeled into a function of society that exists or needs to be created. The fire in your belly needs something physical to latch onto, just as flames need wood to keep on burning. And so you must go into the forest, into the wilderness, to find the "stuff" to stoke your fire.
This process of leaving the tribe and going into the wilderness (metaphorically) is what I call an Initiation.
My own journey is a testament to this process. I "found my bliss" 12 years ago when I realized that I love ancient wisdom, religion and spirituality, and wanted to use it to empower people. Somehow. This calling led me to leave behind a lucrative job opportunity in New York City and study at Brandeis, McGill and Harvard to gain a mastery over the subject, to hone my passion. I wanted to show the world, and myself, that I was serious.
But even after taking risks, working my butt off, juggling part-time jobs and completing two Masters Degrees, no one came knocking at my door. I said, "Hey world, I have this amazing gift, this treasure I want to share with you" but no one answered. No one cared. And it took a year of unemployment to realize that I'd better get a job, any job (!), if I was going to survive in the world.
What was going on here? Why weren't doors magically opening? Why wasn't the universe conspiring to help me now that I was on my way? Now that I was taking bold and deliberate steps to follow my passion?
The truth about following your passion is this:
1) Your passion may not be your "purpose" in life. In other words, what you love doing (singing, bungee jumping, drinking beer, walking dogs, eating chocolate) may not be your wisest career move. There are plenty of talented American Idol contestants who love singing, but will never become professional vocalists.
2) But even if your passion is your purpose, you're still looking at an uphill battle. You are going to have to adapt, tweak, and hone your passion until it has market value. And this involves trial and error, testing, detours, drudgery and dark nights.
I've been working in the non-profit sector for the last seven years. At first I resisted. I thought I had better things to do. But two years into the job I started seeing the light. I began to notice how my charitable work was actually teaching me how to relate my passion to real people in the real world. I learned how to get people excited about an idea, work as part of a team; package a concept, mobilize groups, and engage folks from different socio-economic backgrounds. In other words, I was learning to cultivate my passion, a term Cal Newport, an author on the subject, often uses. Throughout this process I also spent nights and weekends writing about "spiritual stuff", published a book, worked on a documentary, and became a motivational speaker and presenter. So I fed my passion, but also found ways to inject it into my day job.
The moral of the story? Following your passion isn't easy. Expect a lot of detours. Expect going into places you'd rather not, but need to in order to learn how to wield your passion in a way that brings value and opportunity to other people. You have to be initiated into your passion. It has to qualify you. And that is precisely when you know you've found your shining jewel: when you are tested, discouraged, and tempted away from that which you love, but keep pursuing it anyway.
So my advice to you is this: follow your bliss, but understand that before it can blossom into a full time job and a six figure salary, you likely have a lot of learning and living to do. In the words of Cal Newport; 'Don't follow your passion, let it follow you in your quest to become useful to the world.'
Passion plus usefulness is what this is all about. Combine the two and you'll become a hero!