Thursday, February 13, 2014

Follow your bliss? What if it doesn't follow you back?

Over at the Chronicle, Julie Miller Vick and Jennifer Furlong say something that has long needed to be said: "You don't have to love your job."  This isn't another post by a teacher moaning about hating teaching but a statement that having a job is important, and in many cases, distinct from loving a job.

Sometimes the two go together, and that's fortunate.

But since I am not an optimist by nature, hearing people quote Joseph Campbell's "Follow your bliss," translated into "Do what you love and the money will follow," always seemed beyond daft to me.  It also seemed like advice that privileged people would give to other, younger privileged people, which is the unspoken codicil to this particular phrase.

"What if it doesn't?" was always my immediate question.  Since I didn't want to (choose your own silly 1960s cliche here) harsh someone's mellow or surround them with a cloud of negativity or bring them down or kill their buzz, I usually wouldn't say it.

One time, I did. It's long enough ago that this student has faded into generic student-dom, so here is what happened.

I was talking with a student who was, as the Academic Excellence office would say, not making good choices for a path to success. Translation: she was smart enough to do the work, though not a standout, but she rarely did the work. As a result, her grades were low to middling.

She announced to me that she would get a Ph.D. and be a professor in English.

I tried to explain about the scarcity of jobs, the competitive nature of graduate programs, the hard work and determination needed to keep up with a program, the debt load, and all the rest.  "Are you sure that is what you want to do?" I asked.  "Aren't there other possibilities that would be more--" and I can't recall the word I used, but it was some way of saying "realistic" that wouldn't be insulting.

She shrugged. "No. I guess I'll just have to follow my bliss and it will work out."

What can you say after that? 

This is the power of positive thinking writ large. "Your only limits are your imagination." "If you dream it, you can do it." Remember The Secret?

What Vick and Furlong are doing is making it all right to say "But what if it doesn't follow you back?"


sophylou said...

So many things I wish I could say in response to this, but, YES. I wish there were more space for being able to work without the pressure of being expected to LOVE what you're doing. Or maybe more specifically, to have parts that you don't love but know you have to do.

Anonymous said...

Ack. Everything just changed!

And your captcha is cute valentines day stuff. Aww.

Arbitrista said...

I became a lot happier when I de-coupled my sense of self-worth and personal accomplishment from what I do for money. Ultimately that's all a job is - a way to make money. From my perspective, making it any more than that is just a means for dehumanizing yourself, or corrupting the thing that you (once) loved.

undine said...

sophylou--exactly. Or sometimes you love it but you'd rather take a nap. Not that this ever happens to me :).

nicoleandmaggie--I was trying out templates and all of a sudden the old one vanished & I couldn't go back! But this one will work.

Arbitrista--it's hard sometimes to decouple the two, but if you don't have at least some distance, any setback can make you doubt yourself.