This morning, I asked my student to reflect on the following:
“The privilege of a lifetime is to be who you are…follow your bliss. The heroic life is the individual adventure. There is no security in following the call to adventure.” (Joseph Campbell)
I figured that since I am trying to keep up my average of words per day, I would complete my own assignment. (I already hit 1,000 working on my novel today, but a bit more never hurt anyone.)
I’m going to break this down sentence by sentence and see what comes pouring out through the cracks.
The privilege of a lifetime is to be who you are…follow your bliss.
I heard once that up until about puberty and a few years after, you spend your life trying to fit in, blend with others, be like everyone else. In high school and the years after is when people become desperate to delineate what separates them from the rest of the world, to be an individual. But how far do people really go to do that? So many people spend their lives doing things that make them unhappy or at the very least, bored. They spend their lives with people who make them unhappy. They follow the status quo because they feel some sort of obligation to do so or need security in some way.
It took me a long time in my life to come to terms with who I am, and in a lot of ways, I’m still on that path. It has taken a lot of failings in order for me to get to where I am now. I wrote not long ago in a letter to someone that I feel like years ago, I was perched on the edge of a chasm. I could see where I wanted to be on the other side of it, but I had to make choices to decide how to get there. The first route was the tried and true slow descent down one side and up the other, maybe on a burro. I could plod doggedly down and up and eventually get to the other side, but I knew that if I took that route, I might end up miles down from where I was aiming.
The other route was the most direct geometrically. And it stretched out directly in front of me, a rickety rope bridge with punky boards full of dry rot and tattered ropes holding it together. I gritted my teeth and stepped out onto the bridge, with nothing but those flimsy boards between me and a long drop with a sudden stop. Looking down at the well-trodden safer path below, I could see people’s mouths agape as they watched me take my fumbling steps out on that bridge. Some even yelled up at me, “You’re crazy! You’re going to fall!”
I haven’t fallen yet. Granted, there have been a few close calls. A couple of those boards were rotted through and disintegrated beneath my feet like crumbling clay. Occasionally, circling vultures would swoop down and attack, seeing I was vulnerable. But each time, I clung to the most solid things I could find and held on tight. I’ve made a large number of big decisions in the last few years, and they have all propelled me forward. And the farther forward I go, the closer I get to the other side. I can’t see the other side from where I am; I have to focus too much on putting one foot in front of the other and staying alive to get there, but I know it’s there. I can sense solid ground in the distance, getting closer every day. I don’t know how many steps remain before I get there, but I know there is even more adventure awaiting me after my feet touch the earth again. And the only way I’ll get there is if I keep following my bliss. This journey truly has been amazing, and making the choices I have made really are the privilege of my lifetime.
The heroic life is living the individual adventure.
I feel like it would be way too arrogant to call my life heroic. I could say resilient or bold and maybe go as far as intrepid, but regardless, I feel that my life has been full of adventure. In spite of all the moves (or maybe because of them), I’ve managed to hold onto some semblance of cohesion within myself. Sometimes I feel stuck within the confines of what society deems normal, namely the need for money (ew), but I have still managed to get where I needed to go, regardless of how rough the road got. For that I am both proud and thankful. Proud that I haven’t completely had a nervous breakdown yet (although I’ve gotten close this year…sorry, John) and thankful for the people who have been there along the way to hold out their hands and help me along. I wouldn’t be here without them.
I’m certainly not done with this adventure yet. In fact, I might be setting out on another leg of it shortly, depending on what I decide in the next 24 hours. There is a big wide world out there, and I haven’t seen enough of it yet.
When I think about it, I often tell my friends that they are heroic for following their bliss and doing their thing, so perhaps I ought to do myself the same courtesy and bestow the label upon myself as well. I do have a tendency to be much harder on myself than others are. I should be more mindful of that and stop Emmie-bashing.
There is no security in following the call to adventure.
This one rings so true — I think about the people I know who are pursuing the things they truly love, and very few are actually making any money. Of course, money isn’t the only way to measure security, but I think that is sort of what Joseph Campbell was referring to. That and the fact that the term “starving artist” did not evolve without some sort of precedent. I’m okay with being poor. I’ve never really had any money, so I actually tend to just give it away when I do have it.
Anyway, all in all, I think it’s clear that I have to do some things for myself. Dolly Parton said to find out who you are and do it on purpose. I’m not one who usually looks to Dollywood for wisdom, but I won’t turn it away when I come across it. I know a lot about who I am, but I need to make some purposeful strides into really letting that person shine through.
On that note, kiddies, sleep tight. Bite the bedbugs and smile at your neighbor.