Follow your bliss…backlash

I think you can find criticism for pretty much anything. I recently had someone say he was never going to read anything else from me because I wished for peace for everyone in the world.

Eating healthy? That’s the wrong kind of healthy.

Helping people? Don’t help them too much.

Cute cats? Hey, why are you discriminating against dogs?

So, it shouldn’t be surprising that there is some push-back about this idea of living a life based in passion.

And I get it. People like to argue about things. But I truly believe in this whole follow your bliss thing – even if it is a phrase that seems like it should be cross-stitched. The problem is that the intention behind the idea of pursuing your dream is sometimes misinterpreted.

I don’t mean quit your job and move across the country

Yes, I get it – that is actually exactly what I did. But leaving my career wasn’t the first step for me. First, I realized I was miserable and started exploring what I might find exciting in my life – then I read books about art history and going to law school and working for non-profits. I kept doing the job I had, the job that was paying my mortgage, but I took community college courses, too. Living authentically and with passion is about waking up to your life, not just sleepwalking and missing the whole thing. If it means signing up for a photography class on the weekend or volunteering at a shelter, that’s amazing. If it means spending one evening a week checking in on your lonely neighbor or working on that freelance idea you’ve had for years – spectacular. Your job is merely one aspect of your life.

I don’t mean that if you don’t know what your passion is, you’re doomed

I hear this one a lot. People say that it annoys them to hear “follow your passion” since they don’t know what that is. When I left L.A. I had no earthly clue what was next for me. None. I had no skills beyond a film set. I didn’t have a back up plan or helpful things like a high school diploma. And yes, that was terrifying but I kind of loved it, too, because there was no pigeonhole waiting for me. If you are similarly clueless, I am so excited for you. Because you get to play. You get to try stuff. Here are some of the random things I tried and failed at:

  • I volunteered at a museum and helped little kids glue goggly eyes on a neckties and turn them into snakes. That didn’t last long because of my lack of glue gun skills and my affection for profanity
  • I was a teaching assistant for a college course, but when I realized that was mostly about collating paper and buying tampons for students who needed them, I decided to stop doing that
  • I worked at a radio station but again my use of bad language made me not a great fit
  • I was a tutor for an adult literacy program which I loved but found heartbreakingly devastating
  • I designed websites for non-profits which I also loved mostly because I got to make pretty things while wearing sweatpants
  • I took a certification class to become a mediator and realized that when people yell about getting divorced, I mostly cry

If you don’t know what your talents are, or what you love – there is nothing wrong with you. You just get to go on an adventure with your own soul. Are you mildly interested in heirloom seeds? Greek mythology? Helping people with addiction problems? Great. Step one in Project Passion: go to the library and take out a bunch of books on the topic.

Look at that – you’re already living a passionate and engaged life.

Go, you.

I don’t mean that you should plummet your family into poverty while you pursue your dream of being an Ultimate Fighting Champion

I expect you to be a reasonable human being here, and really look at how your passion might affect you or those you love. Some dreams should just be dreams. Might you be hurting someone? Then maybe it’s time to look at ways to embrace your passion in a way that is less all-encompassing, or maybe it’s a chance to keep yourself open for something else you might love.

I don’t mean that it’s easy

Of course it’s not easy. Why the hell would I bother talking about it so much if it was easy? Living authentically might be one of the harder things we ever do in our lives. It’s scary and vulnerable and people criticize you. It’s painful getting out of your comfort zone and sacrifices are inevitable. Sometimes it downright sucks. But the inner peace that comes from feeling like you are living a life that reflects who you are – that is entirely worth it.

I’m actually not telling you that you should do anything

I’m simply saying that my life got a whole lot better when I stopped pretending to be someone else and started focusing on what I thought success looked like. If you’re happy with your life, I’m thrilled for you. Don’t let anyone tell you how you are supposed to live. But I like talking about passion because I never thought I deserved it. I thought it was more important to keep other people happy. I thought I was too old (at twenty-two!) to take on something new. I felt the need to live out of momentum and not rock the boat. I assumed I was incapable of doing anything other than acting, so I was destined to be dark and tortured. But really, I was just scared and didn’t think I deserved something that felt better to me.

If you feel like you need permission to live passionately: here it is. Permission granted.

You deserve to feel that puppy-love spark about your life. And if you don’t know what would offer that, you deserve to give yourself a little time – ten minutes a day – if that’s all you have, to listen to your heart and explore the world and see what warms your soul. Because when you are happier and more fulfilled – you are able to give more to the world. And I don’t don’t know if you’ve looked around lately, but the world really needs it.

For me – it all started with the tinniest little whisper from deep within my core:

I like books.

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20 Replies to “Follow your bliss…backlash”

  1. I think I run into opposition from inside me. I wasn’t really raised to “follow my bliss”. So inside me somewhere is that voice – “you should be working harder” “you are being selfish” and of course the ever popular “what, you think you can do that?” Some imagined laughter follows that last one. I am lucky to be at a point in my life where I can do just that. My choices and lack of schedule do not affect anyone else, the bills are getting paid. So I need to get off my own back and let me do it. whatever it is. Sometimes it is taking pictures (most of the time). Sometimes it is creating art. Often it is writing. And, now, it is mostly for me, not for anyone else. When it starts being for others, it seems like it gets oddly stressful and the joy disappears. I wish I had taken time before, ages ago and scheduled more of these periods for my self. (you have to put your own oxygen mask on first on the plane right?)

  2. This is fantastic. I think, sometimes, when we hear backlash, it’s their own insecurity coming out. They’ve already decided they can’t have or do what their heart desires and jealousy comes out in the form of an argument. I get it. I’ve done this before. I start to criticize someone for “following their dream” and realize it’s because I had given up on mine. I think we all do it, but we need to stop and think before we argue. What are we really feeling inside? Why do we feel so angry for someone being so positive?
    For years I did the same as you – I felt I had to make others happy before worrying about myself. It’s left a pretty big hole for me and has led me to figure out who the heck I am.
    Thanks for this post. It keeps me motivated! Oh and I love all the different “things” you tried to do. Ha! I too love books and I volunteer at a public library and love it.

    1. So true. As a musician who performs on the streets, I see it sometimes. I do my best not to judge or reach conclusions too fast, but when I see someone clearly annoyed by me doing something that clearly brings me joy (and other people as well), the first thing that comes to my mind is the word “frustration”.

      1. Just remember, you can only be offended if you let them. Easier said than done sometimes but keep it in mind. 🙂

      2. Also true! Specially because if you’re a musician and you never heard anybody telling you to “get a job”, you’re probably playing too safe 🙂 peace

  3. There will always be critics because it is so easy to be one; there are no special skills or insights required. This particular post…clarifying your thoughts…words…passions…and how to achieve all of that, was a marvelous way of giving clarification to things already stated. One of the most important things I learned in twenty-five years of teaching was that students don’t always get it the first, second, or even the third time. That’s when it’s necessary to find other ways…other words to explain a concept. This post, Lisa, was a superb example of that. Keep writing…keep sharing…the world needs you. I love books, too!

  4. Another way to approach the “what” to do is to explore “how”. Do you like to work alone or in an office? Do you like a team environment or to be a solo contributor? Do you like routine or prefer project work? Like to travel or hate road trips and air travel? Once the “how” comes into focus, the job opportunities may come into closer focus. And, never underestimate the power of avocations and hobbies to deliver your bliss. As I asked a colleague once, do you live to work or work to live.

  5. This is so what I needed to support my conversation with my 17year old.. Thank you
    Keep writing, our experiences are all the same as we are woven from the same cloth.. But it takes the brave to share and the eloquent to write..

  6. I have a large flag in my yard that says Follow Your Joy…..I get so many positive comments on it. I had a neighbor stop one night and she had had a particularly bad day and on the way up the hill remembered my sunny yellow home with its follow your joy flag and it made her smile and decided to follow her joy and had the best night. Gratified!

  7. This is brilliant. So many of your posts are like mantras to me. They are balanced, insightful and carefully and always seem to come when I need them most! Thanks, Lisa. I hope you are well 🙂

  8. What’s sad is that finding your passion isn’t the norm. A few years ago, when I had nothing going for me, I expressed to my roommate plans to audition for a local production of Rent, and instead of saying “Rock on! Break a leg!” she said, “What for? You’re not in college anymore.” Apparently having hobbies is unnatural to some people. Even if you can’t make a living from your passions, and it’s just volunteer, it’s what keeps things interesting. I’m currently a worship leader at my church, and on the board of the community choir where my parents met. I love to sing, so getting to do it regularly is very motivating. I don’t make money from it, but I definitely grow from it.

  9. Thank you so much for writing that, Lisa. I read all of your pieces avidly. It’s so hard to think you might have a ‘backlash’ for expressing your incredibly kind, gentle and thoughtful words. All I feel from them is love and feel shocked that some might feel anything other than that.

    Since my total breakdown two years ago (from nursing), I am exactly in the place you describe. I have no idea what’s to become of me, no idea if I can be helpful to anyone again, no defence or protection left, no idea if or what work I will be capable of again. And YET, two years on, still agoraphobic, still panicked and terrified, you gave me hope. And comfort – that I’m not the only person to feel this way. As a nurse, I knew BUT in my terror, I needed to hear it for myself. You told me. And I am sooooo grateful. Never take heed of the negative comments. The commenters have not been lucky enough to have embraced your words and let their ‘kindness’ potential grow. Thank you, Lisa, so much. I am always here, listening, so speak your words and let the kindness spill out.


    Helen (UK)

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