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Some thoughts on the real world
August 27, 2013 7:32 AM   Subscribe

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it's to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth. You'll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you're doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you'll hear about them.

To invent your own life's meaning is not easy, but it's still allowed, and I think you'll be happier for the trouble.
posted by procrastination (125 comments total) 96 users marked this as a favorite

 
On my list...
posted by sammyo at 7:40 AM on August 27, 2013


I prefer the term "actual world" for the one where I have to write code in exchange for bio-survival tickets; it is less tendentious.
posted by thelonius at 7:50 AM on August 27, 2013 [14 favorites]


Thoreau said,

"the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

That's one of those dumb cocktail quotations that will strike fear in your heart as you get older.


QFT.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:51 AM on August 27, 2013 [17 favorites]


Follow your bliss
posted by JohnR at 7:55 AM on August 27, 2013


(NB: I am currently unemployed and single so this may be a bit biased)

I've seen a great number of such Zen Pencils strips, but one thing I've also noticed about most of them is that the quotes from people who advocate "taking time out of the rat race to pursue the life you want" are all from people who are married or partnered, to someone who can be the breadwinner - which is a huge, huge advantage when it comes to being able to Devote Your Life To Your Craft. Not that it is impossible for the single folk to make it - but that source of emotional and financial support is enormous, and I see it only rarely acknowledged.

Probably the one and only time I've ever seen any artist acknowledge that was Stephen King mentioning it in his book On Writing, when he mentions that if he hadn't been married to someone who encouraged him in his work and was also there to pick up financial slack, he'd probably still be a teacher - writing, still, but the things he wrote would be much fewer and further between, and they'd end up being something he'd work on on the weekends when he had the energy after all the other crap he had to do. Maybe he'd get around to submitting one to a publisher, finally, but probably not.

Not to denigrate from Bill Waterson, or what he said, for it is true. It's just that in addition to seeing him depicted as a stay-at-home dad working on Calvin and Hobbes in this strip, I'm also seeing the woman who's kissing him goodbye and waving as she goes off to work - and I'm wondering why she doesn't get thanked in quotes like these more often, and hoping that the work she is going off to is also a way she's using to invent her life's meaning as opposed to being the job she has taken on because someone has to be the breadwinner. I'm also seeing the distinct lack of such a person in my own life, and wishing the people who advocated "creating my own life" would acknowledge that particular obstacle a hell of a lot more often.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:56 AM on August 27, 2013 [181 favorites]


And on the other hand, the question of whether the examined life should always be commensurate with the singular life needs consideration. "The mass of men" may lead lives of evident conformity to tradition, but the reason there is room for philosophy here at all suggests one should not presume the absence of reflexivity in the face of typicality.

One can achieve great feats of self-authorship given the contemporary moment of material abundance and huge social inequality, for very few enjoy even modest freedom to choose a particular future for themselves; to stand out from the crowd, you must first presume a crowd -- living lives of quiet desperation.
posted by spitbull at 7:58 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Okay, so, the problem with most feel-good, feed your "soul" stories like either the zenpencil strip or Watterson's Kenyon speech it's based on, is they tend to ignore factors of privilege and luck that allow some even to be in the position to "invent their own life." It's a first world problem: most people are just struggling to provide themselves and their families food and shelter, can't make the "big gamble" (and in these stories the audience gets the after-the-fact anecdote of the oppressed artist who threw it all away on his dream and it worked out wonderfully (though note his wife had to keep going to work to make it happen), but which luck and success simply doesn't happen for most people who make such big gambles on an art, music, chef, etc., career.

The self-made genius myth in our culture, like that of the self-made million/billionaire, refuses to admit the role random chance and luck plays in the success of the winners.

I mean, sure, some folks need to make a gamble or we won't have as many great novels and paintings and bands. But let's be real -- most folks never get access to either one of these possibilities... unlike the rich Kenyon (or other private school) kids at that commencement speech who at some point may get to face the moralistically presented choice of selling out for a stable life ("boo!") or risking it all to follow their bliss ("yay!"). In the end it just feels naive or self-congratulatory.
posted by aught at 8:01 AM on August 27, 2013 [21 favorites]


You should be able to take more risks being so unattached.

But I don't know if the comic strip is the actual case for Bill Watterson or just the interpretation of the strip.

You could make an alternate strip where it's the wife in the foreground slaving away with the husband laughing and playing in the background.
posted by Napierzaza at 8:01 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


You should be able to take more risks being so unattached.

And for ten years I did. For ten years I balanced work as a stage manager and work at a day job, because stage management pays diddly-shit unless you're on Broadway. For ten years I busted my ass and gambled on risky stuff, trying to get that career up.

But after ten years of working two full-time jobs, basically, I was exhausted. And then I looked around and noticed that of all the other women I knew who were also stage managers were also all married, to guys who could pick up the slack financially while they worked on gigs when they got them - whereas I had to keep working two jobs. So they got breaks, while I was burning out. And that was affecting my work.

So...yeah.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:09 AM on August 27, 2013 [31 favorites]


Okay, so, the problem with most feel-good, feed your "soul" stories like either the zenpencil strip or Watterson's Kenyon speech it's based on, is they tend to ignore factors of privilege and luck that allow some even to be in the position to "invent their own life."

It took me a long time to realize this. I now prefer Cal Newport's advice on the subject, although even that carries a mostly unspoken luck undercurrent: you have to be smart enough to even be able to become "so good they can't ignore you" in the first place.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:11 AM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


The wealthy continue to be mystified as to why the working classes always seem so stressed out. It's not that hard, people. Just follow your bliss and everything will be fine. Why don't they get it? What's wrong with them?
posted by Naberius at 8:13 AM on August 27, 2013 [34 favorites]


posted by procrastination

#giggles#
posted by litleozy at 8:13 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, you don't need a million dollars to do nothing, man. Take a look at my cousin: he's broke, don't do shit.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:14 AM on August 27, 2013 [22 favorites]


The idea that all you need is to be passionate about something is really beloved by people like lousy bands. They have passion! So never mind that they can't keep their guitars in tune, or play in time with the drummer, or do a set without 5 minutes of aimless dead time between songs.
posted by thelonius at 8:14 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I consciously elected not to go into law or the ad business, two fields I seriously considered, because I wanted to work with learning and content. In many ways I live the life I wished for as a young person - I have a fascinating job, am always learning, get opportunities to travel, get rewarded for being creative. I am doing the kind of work I wanted to do. I've succeeded at finding a natural work/values fit.

And yet I think it's really misleading to accept that such a choice will solve all your problems. I've struggled with money because wages are lower in my field than in the private sector. I've been worn out and wrung out by the demands of workplaces that expect your heart-and-soul deep personal motivation to translate comfortably into 60- and 70-hour weeks, because don't you love your work enough? I've been frustrated by the dinosaurlike demands of the governance and leadership structure of organizations. There are still problems in my work life, even though it's a "Follow your bliss" kind of work.

Though I still counsel people to pick work they love, because you spend a lot of time there, and I wouldn't change my own path, I think it's a mistake to reason from exceptional people and to believe that total contentment will result from the right labor choice. Those who have exceptional talent and exceptional persistence and something timely to offer the world that the world will pay for are just not in the regular run of humanity. They can be inspiring figures but they are not pragmatic exemplars of a future that is available to anyone.

Making a living always, always entails sacrifice of something.
posted by Miko at 8:15 AM on August 27, 2013 [18 favorites]


I've seen a great number of such Zen Pencils strips, but one thing I've also noticed about most of them is that the quotes from people who advocate "taking time out of the rat race to pursue the life you want" are all from people who are married or partnered, to someone who can be the breadwinner - which is a huge, huge advantage when it comes to being able to Devote Your Life To Your Craft....

...in addition to seeing him depicted as a stay-at-home dad working on Calvin and Hobbes in this strip, I'm also seeing the woman who's kissing him goodbye and waving as she goes off to work - and I'm wondering why she doesn't get thanked in quotes like these more often....

posted by EmpressCallipygos


Thanks, Empress, for posting that. I saw this on tumblr the other day, and I had the same thoughts as you.

It's also very hard for me to take such "ditch the rat race, follow your dreams!" statements seriously, because so many times those come from very wealthy people (I'm looking at you, Gwyneth Paltrow and Oprah Winfrey) who seem oblivious to the fact thatmost of us don't have access to the piles of money that would be required to do such things.
posted by magstheaxe at 8:17 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


White collar conservative flashin' down the street
Pointin' their plastic finger at me,
They're hopin' soon my kind will drop and die but uh
I'm gonna wave my freak flag high!
posted by klarck at 8:19 AM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Social progress requires that a significant number of workers use whatever resources they have to pursue intellectual development rather than personal enjoyment.
posted by No Robots at 8:19 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, um, I'm having a hard time understanding why a commencement speech from Kenyon college, hosted on the MIT website, is suggesting I work less and do what I want in order to be happy. My boss who went to MIT got the memo, but he's not handing it to me.
posted by Halogenhat at 8:20 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I realize I've been speaking about financial support a partner can give, but actually it's the emotional support I miss even more, I think. Yeah, being unattached can mean I can take more risks, but it also means that I have less of a support system at call to draw strength from to take those risks. That's just as big a deal.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:20 AM on August 27, 2013 [16 favorites]


I just watched Tina Turner on the OWN network, who said at 73, "I've finally reached the point where I want nothing."

She said that from her second honeymoon location in a row, in a castle in Europe, while wearing what had to be a $10,000 suit and talking to Oprah Winfrey about retiring in Switzerland.

It's easy to want nothing when you have everything. It's also easy to follow your bliss when you have someone else paying the bills.
posted by xingcat at 8:21 AM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've been worn out and wrung out by the demands of workplaces that expect your heart-and-soul deep personal motivation to translate comfortably into 60- and 70-hour weeks, because don't you love your work enough?

Yes. Relatedly, it's worth noting that even after Watterson had achieved his dream of success with his comic art, he was still having screaming matches with executives about control of the money side of his bliss.
posted by aught at 8:21 AM on August 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


It also helps if you live in a culture that supports and values the arts. The existence of government grants for artists can make an enormous difference in the lives of individual creative people, particularly to emerging artists / musicians at the beginning of their careers. It's something I think Canada does especially well, with the Canada Council for the Arts and various provincial arts councils that provide both funding and support for professional development. The CBC's mandate of promoting local music and culture also provides an important incubator for various creative folks to build an audience.
posted by oulipian at 8:25 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was following my 19 year old bliss when HIV came and changed everything. 24 years later, I followed HIV to my present location - perhaps a passion, but certainly no bliss.

Someday, when I am retired, which my university career/pension will (hopefully) support, I expect I will follow some of that bliss.

I think about what was "supposed to be" a lot. It's been a really weird life.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:28 AM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


EC you are exactly right. Money is the giant elephant in the room when we discuss careers and "dreams."

And when you say this, most people think you mean "So shut up dreamers and get a real job," but that's not it at all. What I mean when I point out that some of my dreams could not be pursued for financial reasons is that we need to ask why even fairly modest dreams, like working at nonprofits, or in the arts, are increasingly out of reach for more and more people (unless of course they marry support or have it from family).

I am the breadwinner, and I don't feel slighted only because my dream (being a book editor, originally) turned out to be something of a doomed profession that probably wouldn't have panned out as a fulltime career even if I'd had support, especially since I didn't particularly like living in New York. Given that, I'm happy that the work I'd be doing anyway to feed myself also helps support my spouse's dreams (though I do miss the money we would have if he was doing conventional work, and the riskier careers I might pursue if money and insurance weren't such an obstacle.)

Working hard on things you love should be an option for more people.
posted by emjaybee at 8:28 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


What EC said. Perhaps inspiring, but not so much practical advice.

Shorter, more cynical version: marry rich or someone who likes to work a job that pays.

Coincidentally (or serendipitously), it's my last week of work. I'm going to raise two wonderful children and run our household while my wife continues to work full-time.

For me, the final straw was a cheesy bumper sticker that said "Don't Postpone Your Joy until you have learned all of your lessons. Joy is your lesson, etc" and realized that what I wanted to do more than anything in the world was raise my kids and that they would be grown up and gone soon enough.

But if I were not married to an amazing woman who will provide the bulk of the financial support (I am freelancing, fwiw, if you need a writer/editor for almost any sort of publication, grant application, etc ...), there's no way I could quit my full-time, 9-6 job. At least not with children.

As usual, I suppose your choices are freedom or family. ;)
posted by mrgrimm at 8:30 AM on August 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


Naberius: "The wealthy continue to be mystified as to why the working classes always seem so stressed out. It's not that hard, people. Just follow your bliss and everything will be fine. Why don't they get it? What's wrong with them?"

The point of the advice is not so much about "following the bliss" (whatever that means) and doing what you want.

Its more about "its ok to stop climbing and rest a while. Where you decide to stop is very much your personal decision. Don't let the society make it for you."

if you decide you want $40 Bn in your bank ..then keep striving but dont blame society if you feel overworked .. because you made that choice.

If someone is happy with $40 ... dont look down on them.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 8:30 AM on August 27, 2013 [10 favorites]


This is precisely why I have been murdering people and stealing their identities and then trading for another when bored since college. I follow your bliss.
posted by planetesimal at 8:32 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I like Hobbes' take on dreaming big.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:35 AM on August 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


No Robots: "Social progress requires that a significant number of workers use whatever resources they have to pursue intellectual development rather than personal enjoyment."

There is the significant question that everyone needs to be solve. Working hard leads to social progress and hence society encourages everyone to work as hard as possible. The problem starts when society cannot find the work where a person can be happy while working hard.

A social system which can achieve the perfect scenario where everyone is working as hard as possible at the things which make them happy is hard to create.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 8:36 AM on August 27, 2013


There's a saying, sometimes attributed to Basho, along the lines of "before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water."

I think if there's one thing I'd impart on anyone that asks me about such matters as passions and dreams and hopes, it is just how much better life can be if you find reward and joy in the chopping and the carrying, rather than spend your life trying to find the rarer tree or cleaner stream.
posted by griphus at 8:37 AM on August 27, 2013 [43 favorites]


I think about what was "supposed to be" a lot.

I find that life goes better for me the less I do that. I try to only think of what I am doing now, and what I can do in the future.
posted by thelonius at 8:38 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Working hard leads to social progress and hence society encourages everyone to work as hard as possible.

I do not believe that the goal should be to "work hard," if by that you mean continuing to engage within the current economic system. The goal of socialism is to overthrow the wage system entirely.
posted by No Robots at 8:44 AM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


My boss recently suggested I didn't need much money to live happily.

It's nice that if I become an enlightened ascetic he saves money.
posted by squinty at 8:45 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I find that life goes better for me the less I [think about what was supposed to be]. I try to only think of what I am doing now, and what I can do in the future.

Frankly, it's easier to avoid thinking about "what was supposed to be" if there weren't always all these rose-colored-glass views chiding you to think about what is "supposed to be".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:46 AM on August 27, 2013


Working hard leads to social progress...

That is hardly a given. I know far too many people who work insanely hard and aren't enjoying any sort of social progress. More like social stasis, at best.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:46 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I spent 20 years working my ass off to get to a place where I felt like I'd be financially ahead enough to follow my passion. At year 20, i was just more in debt than ever and I realized there is no convenient time to get off that train. Student loans, mortgage, kids on the way -- it's no worse time to say "fuck you" to the world than my first year out of college. In fact, now that I'm responsible for bringing two kids up, it's more important than ever to act with deep mistrust of the rat race. I'm sorry I wasted so much of my life.

But yeah, living according to a set of internally defined values is a luxury for the rich. You couldn't possibly live with less for even a short period of time while you reorganize your life around you. I see that you are 100% trapped and have no further choices to make in life. Bummer for you to live so close to starving. Why don't you eat the computer your posting from?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:49 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


If someone is happy with $40 ... dont look down on them.

Who's got $40 to their name and is happy with that?

Let's see a show of hands.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:50 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have a serious comment and a silly comment. The serious comment is that in the U.S., many of us with chronic illnesses have the choice of doing work that is at best unfulfilling or going without health care. Sure, there's a lot you can do to make the dreary workday go by more cheerfully, but there are limits. And there's the constant knowledge that that unfulfilling job could go away at any moment and the desperate scramble to stay alive while you try to find another will begin again.


And on to the silly comment!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:55 AM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Follow your bills.
posted by univac at 9:00 AM on August 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


Steely-eyed Missile Man: "Who's got $40 to their name and is happy with that?

Let's see a show of hands.
"

well, if you could come to India and lots of other places....
posted by TheLittlePrince at 9:02 AM on August 27, 2013


Thorzdad: "Working hard leads to social progress...

That is hardly a given. I know far too many people who work insanely hard and aren't enjoying any sort of social progress.
"

I meant social progress in a more "social" sense. The society progresses ... but, unfortunately(or by design, may be), most of the fruits of that progress are limited to a small section
posted by TheLittlePrince at 9:04 AM on August 27, 2013


Currently working on an art piece that's a decaying animal skull dripping with blood in the foreground, and the background is "Follow your bliss" in large block letters.
posted by hellojed at 9:09 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I often think many more Americans would be able to focus on pursuing their creative goals and dreams if affordable health care weren't tied into the job one has. I like working. I like having a job some of the time. What I'd really like to do, though, is work part-time so I can focus more outside of my job on producing the creative stuff I want to make. But then, not only would I probably make a lot less money - which isn't that big a deal to me as I'm frugal and have no children - but I'd no longer be able to afford health insurance (while probably not being impoverished enough to qualify for Medicaid), so if I needed medical care I'd go broke pretty quickly.

We are trapped in a system where, if we're not lucky enough to be partnered with someone who is content to make enough money and earn health insurance for both of us, and if we don't have rich parents supporting us financially, we're forced to expend most of our usable time and energy and youth working often crappy jobs just to be able to afford a doctor in case we need one. I find this rather ludicrous and really wish being able to afford health care had nothing to do with the job one has.
posted by wondermouse at 9:09 AM on August 27, 2013 [17 favorites]


well, if you could come to India and lots of other places....

Or I could not. Still, is the reason India's economy has expanded so much in the past few decades because everyone there is happy with their $40? Probably not.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:10 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a single father who has to take his daughter to the doctor in an hour, I am glad I have a job that helps me to pay for that (and lets me take the morning off to do it).

It is comparatively easy to do whatever you like when nobody else is depending on you for their welfare.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:13 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


TheLittlePrince> Yeah, I'll cop to an oversimplified reaction to this. I actually agree completely with Watterston that there's something darkly twisted about the corporate system's demand for the hearts and minds of everyone working within it. It's like some kind of codependent relationship with an abusive spouse and I find it really reprehensible.

So the whole argument that it's okay if your purpose in life is not to claw your way as high as you possibly can up this pyramid that a bunch of other people designed (and collect a toll from all the climbers, by the way) resonates for me.

On the other hand, I'm really not a big fan of advising people to just ditch it all and follow their dreams. I did that, and it pretty much destroyed my life.

I went out to Vancouver not quite 10 years ago to (finally) take a run at the film industry and see what I could really do if I really dedicated myself to my dream. My very understanding wife came with me. It turns out what I could really do was not bad at all. I did a lot better than a lot of people who tried what I tried. I was getting paid basically in the praise of people whose work I respect, and that was nice. But it doesn't mean I was making money.

Eventually my wife decided she'd had about enough of that, and my whole life flamed out and crashed. Hard. (I haven't missed the irony that this was not all that long after my second most popular MeFi comment ever, and feel the need to point out that this was in no way the fault of gay people getting married.)

That was five years ago, and I'm finally rebuilding a life for myself. I'm remarrying in October (thank you very much) and life looks worthwhile again. But the reason I've been able to recover into a mostly happy life is because I came home from Vancouver and got myself a bullshit job (previously on MetaFilter).

So yeah, I spent a LONG time trying to follow my bliss. Even before, when I was working, it wasn't a career in any meaningful sense. It was just a job to pay the bills while I worked on the real life I was going to have when I caught up with my bliss. And I've been really lucky in my pursuit of that bliss compared to most people. But I still didn't get a whole hell of a lot to show for it at the end of the day besides a really weird resume, a shattering divorce, and a job that is way too junior for someone of my chronological age.

I'm no longer a big proponent of the believe in yourself and follow your dreams ethos.

What that makes me ask next is, what's the balancing point between sacrificing yourself to soulless corporate evil and wasting your life chasing butterflies while other people hold the bags for you? And I don't really know that yet, but I'm pretty sure Bill Watterston has a pretty slanted view of where that balance point can realistically be placed.
posted by Naberius at 9:15 AM on August 27, 2013 [17 favorites]


Maybe I'm an anamoly but my husband and I chose to leave the rat race city for a place where quality of life was better. And I wouldn't change a thing. I go back to that city and am immediately relieved I don't live there.

I get that not everyone can just move like that. But we also just sat down and asked ourselves what was important and how we could achieve that. We may have been able to achieve some of that in our old place if we put our minds to it. Point is to be aware of your situation and what your options really are (not just what you think they are - research!).

I agree that this sort of thing is not for the young. For us it was in our late 20's, though 9/11 may have forced the issue sooner rather than later. Life experience helps in figuring out what you really want (and many of us still are figuring that out at 40, so it isn't a static thing). Oh, and not having kids young probably helps too. (also, do your kids really need the best schools in the country, and to do so you're barely seeing them b/c you have to work so much? really?)

To follow up on my situation - are there the same job opportunities here as in my old city? Not even close. But we knew that going in and accounted for lower income jobs in our budget. Again, research and planning.

I know we've been "lucky", but we also worked hard to figure it out. It may not be an option for everyone, but I do think it should be something everyone considers. (I'm not the kind of person who accepts the status quo and believes everyone should question it on a regular basis.)
posted by evening at 9:17 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


One more thing. I'd also like to say that I think a successful life is not just about "following your dreams" stuff. I think that is what the post's quote is about at least in part.

Success does not have to mean climbing the career ladder. Or owning a home in a nice neighborhood. Or whatever. It can mean raising kids who will become great people, whether that's done because you stayed home with them or because you worked a crappy job to provide for the family.

A big part in life, IMO, is HOW you live your life. Are you a good driver (or do you think you're more important than everyone else and block the intersection)? Are you kind to strangers? Do you take out your frustrations on other people? etc. For me that is what is important (esp as they are indicators of too much stress), and value more than anything else (you can be living your dream life but if you are a douche then that's really all that matters to other people!).

Getting out of the rat race is more than just job stuff - it is mentality too.
posted by evening at 9:24 AM on August 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Naberius: "What that makes me ask next is, what's the balancing point between sacrificing yourself to soulless corporate evil and wasting your life chasing butterflies while other people hold the bags for you? And I don't really know that yet"

You are completely right with that question and I have a fear that we all have to solve it individually because everyone has very different circumstances.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 9:25 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thank you for posting that. My day just became awesome!
posted by caddis at 9:27 AM on August 27, 2013


Steely-eyed Missile Man: "well, if you could come to India and lots of other places....

Or I could not. Still, is the reason India's economy has expanded so much in the past few decades because everyone there is happy with their $40? Probably not.
"

We are talking about two different things here. By the way, the $40 is a rhetorical number to compare against $40 Bn, not a carefully estimated minimum amount required for being happy.

Your question is about whether it is possible to be happy with $40. This is a legitimate question but the answers will differ depending on individual and context.

and I was saying that we shouldn't be looking down on someone who is happy with $40.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 9:30 AM on August 27, 2013


I agree with the general trend here - for the vast majority of people these things are impossible. I was extremely lucky to get a windfall from one project and be able to take some time off, but then I was extremely lucky to be in a business where such windfalls can even occur, and I thank my lucky stars(*) every day.

That said, we're a very rich society in the United States, and with a pretty large class of "permanently" unemployed (and getting larger). If the wealth were better distributed, there's absolutely no reason that someone shouldn't be able to support themselves working 30 hours a week.

(* - my big issue as an atheist is always "whom to thank.")
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:30 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


evening: "I get that not everyone can just move like that. But we also just sat down and asked ourselves what was important and how we could achieve that. We may have been able to achieve some of that in our old place if we put our minds to it. Point is to be aware of your situation and what your options really are (not just what you think they are - research!).
"

This ... so much. Following your own bliss needs more thought and planning than living out your everyday life.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 9:32 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why don't you eat the computer your posting from?

I live in a self storage locker and deliver pizzas for the Mafia, the computer is the only thing I own.
posted by bongo_x at 9:33 AM on August 27, 2013 [10 favorites]


I was saying that we shouldn't be looking down on someone who is happy with $40.

I get that, and it's a noble sentiment, but my point is that such people are rare to the point of basically not existing, and that sort of "message" from people who have so much can often just be a not-that-stealthy way of saying, "You should be happy with what you have, prole." I am, for the record, not saying that you are pushing said message.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:47 AM on August 27, 2013


A rare achievement indeed! /sarcasm

Many, if not most, of us have to eat our souls to fill our stomachs. I work because I have to, not because I want to. I can't get paid to do the things I enjoy so work will never be satisfying to me, and it's absolutely maddening that in order for me to land a job I have to demonstrate "passion" and act like where I'm applying to is my dream job (as if I have one). If the whole damn economy wasn't based on currency I wouldn't be dragging myself along the job ladder.

Grrr, these articles make me want to kick puppies.
posted by never nice at 10:04 AM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I find this rather ludicrous and really wish being able to afford health care to live had nothing to do with the job one has.
posted by Anima Mundi at 10:11 AM on August 27, 2013


my dream job (as if I have one)

The whole idea of a "dream job" has always rubbed me the wrong way. Do you know what my dream is? To not have my survival subject to the whims of a boss and see the vast majority of the value I create in my work siphoned off to others higher on the corporate ladder. Because that's what the word "job" means to me.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:15 AM on August 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


The way I interpret "Do what you love to be successful" is

"It's damn hard to be successful at something you hate"

There is no guarantee that following your passion will lead to success, or even happiness. But if you hate what you do, it's tough to be successful at it. It's possible, but against the odds.

When viewed this way, things make much more sense. You prioritize your needs and desires and take care of those that you can. Hopefully with enough spare resources to chip away at moving yourself towards the things you want.

To me, the sage advice should be - "Don't stop chipping away", because, at least for me, it's the act of chipping away that keeps you sane.
posted by forforf at 10:17 AM on August 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


I can't get paid to do the things I enjoy so work will never be satisfying to me...

Did you decide that, or do you just assume that's how it works?

Certainly there are jobs that no one will ever enjoy or find satisfaction in, but I've found that there's an inherent satisfaction (sometimes very small and difficult to find) to be had in a job well done. I cleaned toilets and the job sucked, but the fact that that the toilet was as clean as I could get it got me through it. Now I make spreadsheets and my spreadsheets are nice and I get a genuine feeling of satisfaction from that. I can honestly say that I have never enjoyed cleaning toilets or maintaining spreadsheets. I know this sounds like some sort of Protestant Work Ethic/hard-work-is-its-own-reward bullshit, but it has worked for me.

Of course, that sort of satisfaction doesn't always overcome the shittiness of a job, or make it worthwhile, but there are happy spaces to be found in satisfaction when joy is unavailable.
posted by griphus at 10:20 AM on August 27, 2013


but my point is that such people are rare to the point of basically not existing

I would take this more personally if I didn't have $40 burning a hole in my pocket!
posted by Lorin at 10:24 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


lupus_yonderboy: there's absolutely no reason that someone shouldn't be able to support themselves working 30 hours a week.

This is an important point. Clearly, a lot of the shitty jobs need to be done and someone needs to do them, and being able to follow a dream or whatever is something that some will be able to do and some won't. Some won't be able to because they give in and don't try to follow their passions. Still others will try to follow their passions and crash and burn. And through it all the trash needs to be picked up, etc.

But if we were truly humane as a society we would spread the wealth that we collectively create so that everyone gets at least a piece of the healthcare (life), life choices (liberty), and downtime to do whatever the hell they want (pursuit of happiness) that our country can certainly afford.

When you start to look closely at these questions, I think you see that they're not just about whether one has the courage as an individual to take some risks and try to do what they want to do, but rather there are larger issues of class and economic power.

It's complicated.
posted by univac at 10:26 AM on August 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


I know this sounds like some sort of Protestant Work Ethic/hard-work-is-its-own-reward bullshit

Sounds more like Stockholm syndrome, actually.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:27 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


"the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

That's one of those dumb cocktail quotations that will strike fear in your heart as you get older.


My life of desperation is getting less and less quiet by the day. So, there's that, at least.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:29 AM on August 27, 2013


I'm gonna wave my freak flag high!

*between the hours of 5 & 10 PM Mon. thru Fri. & 10 AM to 2 AM Saturdays only.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:32 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


But if we were truly humane as a society we would spread the wealth that we collectively create so that everyone gets at least a piece of the healthcare (life), life choices (liberty), and downtime to do whatever the hell they want (pursuit of happiness) that our country can certainly afford.

Seriously. I can only afford to be glib about having $40 to my name because of the Canadian social safety net. I'm well aware that being happy with that is in itself a tremendous privilege.
posted by Lorin at 10:35 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Griphus, it's a bit unfair to tell someone "we'll, what about finding joy In the work you can do" if on the one hand there is something they really wanted to do but it just didn't work out and they couldn't afford to keep doing it (and I'm talking go-bankrupt-if-they-don't-stop), and on the other hand there are all these platitudes about how a life spent pursuing your dreams is so much more valuable and the people who don't are just deluded or sellouts.

Because maybe watterson didn't say that but a lot of others do, and it gets to be a bitter pill. I hear what others are saying about being happy if all you have is $40, and not looking down on someone who is - and I'm not. I'm just pointing out that there is probably someone behind them with more than $40 paying their bills, and THAT person deserves some credit - because not everyone has that kind of person, so we're stuck needing more than that. And not necessarily all that much either.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:36 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


The idea that all you need is to be passionate about something is really beloved by people like lousy bands. They have passion! So never mind that they can't keep their guitars in tune, or play in time with the drummer, or do a set without 5 minutes of aimless dead time between songs.
Failed writers, meanwhile, bark bitter laughter at the idea before going back to fictionalizing all their neuroses and phobias in lurid nightmare prose (in between bouts of cursing at their ancient, increasingly freeze-prone computer).

Not that I'd know anything about that.
posted by byanyothername at 10:38 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Griphus, it's a bit unfair to tell someone "we'll, what about finding joy In the work you can do"...

Well, yeah, that's why I drew a big dividing line between "satisfaction" and "joy." The person I was replying to said there was no satisfaction to be found in a job one doesn't enjoy, and I disagree with that. The satisfaction might not make the job enjoyable but even a little is better than the utter lack thereof. Seeking it out is a worthwhile pursuit if your station in life isn't going to be changing any time soon.
posted by griphus at 10:41 AM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ah, missed the satisfaction/joy distinction. Mind, I do still think the "follow your bliss" platitudes rub salt in a wound, but you're right about your point, which was different.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:55 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think if there's one thing I'd impart on anyone that asks me about such matters as passions and dreams and hopes, it is just how much better life can be if you find reward and joy in the chopping and the carrying, rather than spend your life trying to find the rarer tree or cleaner stream.

This is an incorrect interpretation of Basho's quote. Here wood chopping is a metaphor but it does not refer to any particular set of jobs or activities. The internal world, which includes passions, dreams, and hopes, are part of the wood chopping symbol, they are not in opposition to it. The metaphor does not by itself distinguish between classes of thought and action; to infer that it says anything normative about rewards and better environment is incomplete and becomes a projection (of certain Western values/notions, and so on). Basho was not talking about anything like this.

It took me a long time to realize this. I now prefer Cal Newport's advice on the subject, although even that carries a mostly unspoken luck undercurrent: you have to be smart enough to even be able to become "so good they can't ignore you" in the first place.

Cal Newport does not resonate with me at all. Even in just the title of his book, the choice of words triggers my "newspeak" detector. There was an article he wrote a while ago, and I didn't like that either. If I would make a general accusation I'd say his writing lacks self-awareness/self-critique, and he isn't intellectually sensitive enough against that which he opposes, which leads to him mischaracterizing the very issues (i.e. passion) that he ostensibly is trying to rethink.
posted by polymodus at 11:08 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


And if you have no idea what your singular 'dream', 'passion', or 'bliss' is, good fucking luck, bub.
posted by averageamateur at 11:17 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I would make a general accusation I'd say his writing lacks self-awareness/self-critique

I agree somewhat. I still think the advice "pick something useful and get really good at it" is marginally better than "follow your bliss" in terms of possibility to generate good outcomes, but it has problems for sure (one of which I outlined in the comment of mine you quoted).

And if you have no idea what your singular 'dream', 'passion', or 'bliss' is, good fucking luck, bub.

This also goes for someone who has such an idea but is unable to shoehorn it into the "make money or die" paradigm.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:23 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Bill Watterson is one of my heroes, and I'm really baffled by some of the responses here. It seems to me that the speech is about exactly this conundrum: that in college, you get told to follow your bliss ("Paint Michelangelo on the ceiling! Devote yourself to your art and everything will work out and we're so proud of you and here's a prize!") and when you get out into the real world, you discover that the world is diametrically opposed to your bliss and is going to do everything it fucking can to stomp it out.

Watterson was told he was talented all his life, met some early success in school, got a great job right out of college, and then immediately got fired and wound up collecting unemployment and taking a soul-crushing, minimum-wage job that paid him so poorly that he had to move back in with his parents. Certainly there is some privilege in that story (he had parents with a home he could move into, he had a college education) but in its basic outlines it seems pretty similar to that of a lot of people in this economy and it's not exactly a happy story. Compared to the bullshit economics underpinning the lives of a lot of writers & artists I know - secret trust funds, married to someone who will support them (which seems like something made up by the comic illustrator - I do not believe Watterson was married during this time) - it doesn't seem like he was exactly bathing in unfair advantages.

Regardless, what he did was not to coast on what he had, but to acknowledge that the world was under no obligation to financially reward him or even notice him. He worked on his craft for five years on his own time because it mattered to him, and got nothing at all from it in exchange. I think that is the most important lesson you can teach creatively ambitious young people coming out of school: you had better care about this a lot, and have a delusional amount of faith in yourself, because for a very very long time, and maybe forever, the only person who is going to give a shit about your dreams is you.

And then (this is not really covered in the speech) as soon as he was making minimum wage from his art, he quit his job so he could devote himself to it full time, even though everyone told him not to, that economically he was going to crash and burn. He made an ambitious leap. And yes, if his life had been worse, he might not have had even that chance, and if he hadn't been lucky, he might have lost everything, but isn't that what it means to take a risk - that success is not guaranteed?

I don't know if it's presumptuous of me to find Naberius's story inspiring, but I do - I admire someone who took a risk for something they wanted and failed, and then moved on from that failure, a lot more than I do people who always make the safest choices. I think that even in "this economy" this ought to be what we teach our kids: not that they should dreamily float along in pursuit of their bliss and assume the world will reward them for it, but when they want something really badly, they should fight as hard for it as they fucking can, and if they fail, they should pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and keep going. The world is the enemy of your ambitions, not a kind teacher who will pat you on the head and give you a sticker for trying. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 11:25 AM on August 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


For Zeitgeist's sake. That RL Stevenson essay, the Bukowski letter, Jenni Diski yesterday and now this. And that guy with the "follow your bliss is a fallacy" book.

I must admit at first I was all "Why u hate patronage and rat race criticism Mefi" but do now see the finer point about artists sounding smug when they dispense with this kind of advice. It seems pretty much a given you need extra support and luck as well as single mindedness, and that should be made much more explicit in these type of articles.

While I agree we don't need bullshit, it does kind of pain me these kind of article are shouted down so bitterly here. I don't understand, don't we need counterpoint to all the peer pressure to be materialistic? What would be more acceptable?

Just some Aesop Rock lyrics that have been going through my head recently
posted by yoHighness at 11:36 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I, too, find the "follow your dreams" stuff annoying, but I'm self-employed and while not at all rich by anyone's standard, am still very fortunate. But...

...one of the reasons I'm self-employed is that I, too, hate the "you must give 110% to the company" BS that most jobs seems to require. It's not enough to show up and do a good job; no, you have to live-and-breathe the team stuff. It should be more than enough to show up and do a competent job.
posted by maxwelton at 11:48 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I do still think the "follow your bliss" platitudes rub salt in a wound

This. Unfortunately, the kind of person who goes their own way and fails utterly to get even poverty level sustenance out of it tends not to get invited to give college commencements.

So I cringe a bit when I see this sort of advice given to impressionable college students. On the one hand, sure, you're young enough to be able to roll with a few punches while getting the chops for your dream up to speed. But do you have a Plan B? At what point will you abandon Plan A?

And are you self aware enough to know if you have the talent, or if this dream is just a bunch of fun that beats working in an office? (We laughed, we cried, we made five hundred dollars sort of thing.) Of the people I've known who have done follow the bliss thing, only one or two have actually managed to the dream into serious careers, and regardless of talent, luck played a large role.

I've known more who saw the gigs dry up or the products met with indifference who had to face reality and get a real job - not always easy to do if you've spent too much time being blissful. Ask the latter sorts in early middle age if they are happy with their choice and they can get kind of wistful, and depending on the day and the state of their finances, annoyed that they bought a bill of goods.

I have no advice other than to remind the the crowd - you may be good, but odds are Powerball long that you're another Bill Watterson. And even if you are, there is no guarantee that your work will be in synch with the times.

While I agree we don't need bullshit, it does kind of pain me these kind of article are shouted down so bitterly here. I don't understand, don't we need counterpoint to all the peer pressure to be materialistic?

Given the kind of material success that Watterson has enjoyed, he can come off as a bit pie-in-the-sky here. I expect there are plenty of talented also-rans on the blue.

Not that I begrudge him his success for a second - I don't. But there are a lot of people out there for whom the point he is countering is not to be crassly "materialistic- they are people struggling to pay the mortgage, the food bills, the insurance, and if there's anything left over maybe a few bucks for retirement. Most people have no hope climbing any corporate ladder, never mind the bliss ladder. It is enough for them to make it to the next paycheck.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:50 AM on August 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Find The Thing You're Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life.

"I can’t stress this enough: Do what you love…in between work commitments, and family commitments, and commitments that tend to pop up and take immediate precedence over doing the thing you love. Because the bottom line is that life is short, and you owe it to yourself to spend the majority of it giving yourself wholly and completely to something you absolutely hate, and 20 minutes here and there doing what you feel you were put on this earth to do."
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:51 AM on August 27, 2013 [18 favorites]


A problem with following your bliss is that there are a whole lot of migrant agricultural workers, child-laborers, and sweatshop-workers propping that up as an option for some people, and those workers may never have a chance to follow theirs. It's hard to tell a seven year-old seamstress to give up the ol' rat race, walk out of that sock factory, and just do what she loves.
posted by Cookiebastard at 12:50 PM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Most people have no hope climbing any corporate ladder, never mind the bliss ladder. It is enough for them to make it to the next paycheck.

I get it a lot more. Up to now I thought these articles were in league with ones say arguing for basic income, which (often said here) would unshackle a lot of creativity. Beginning to see more how these could look like adding insult to injury.
posted by yoHighness at 12:57 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


The next Calvin and Hobbes just died inside the mind of a young comic artist after reading this thread.
posted by rocket88 at 1:44 PM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


While I agree we don't need bullshit, it does kind of pain me these kind of article are shouted down so bitterly here. I don't understand, don't we need counterpoint to all the peer pressure to be materialistic?

For a lot of people it's not about them being materialistic, it's about them trying to make enough money to pay the fucking rent.

And again, for the nth time, I'm not critical of Watterson's being willing to move back in with his parents and slave at his work for five years and then having it pay off, and then being the stay-at-home dad while he kept working on it. I'm critical of what looks like an oversight on his part that him having parents he could move back in with, and having a wife with a good enough job to support him while he worked from home, was an enormous part of why he was able to succeed.

And I want to see a lot more of these kinds of essays acknowledge that - along with the observation that "a person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth", I want to see an acknowledgement that "thank God my wife disagreed, and was able to support us both in a job that she loves, and I couldn't be more grateful because I wouldn't have been able to have this without her". I wanted to have seen Tim Kreider acknowledge, during his essay in praise of idleness, that his own parents were supporting his idle lifestyle for a good while to let him get on his feet. I want to know the name of the relative who left Virginia Woolf a lifetime allowance of several pounds a month so she could continue her work.

I want to see a lot more people say things like Stephen King did, in this passage from his On Writing:
My wife made a crucial difference during those two years I spent teaching at Hampden (and washing sheets at New Franklin Laundry during summer vacation). If she had suggested that the time I spent writing stories on the front porch of our rented house or in the laundry room of our rented trailer was wasted time, I think a lot of the heart would have gone out of me. Tabby never voiced a single doubt, however. Her support was a constant, one of the few good things I could take as a given. And whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a wife or husband, I smile and think, There's someone who knows.....Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. they don't have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.
Having financial or even just emotional support is a huge advantage all these people have had, and the existance of that support doesn't get acknowledged anywhere near enough. I just want to see that acknowledgement happen more often.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:47 PM on August 27, 2013 [14 favorites]


The next Calvin and Hobbes just died inside the mind of a young comic artist after reading this thread.

Jesus, yeah. I did not come in here expecting such a bile-spew.
posted by Jick at 1:57 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


The next Calvin and Hobbes just died inside the mind of a young comic artist after reading this thread.

Going by the odds, then (number of people who made a serious attempt to be a successful cartoonist vs. number of people who made Calvin and Hobbes) we have also saved thousands of people from years of failure, discouragement, disillusionment, and despair.

The Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story is deeply engrained in American culture. It's responsible for a lot of the great things it's accomplished, and also responsible for a lot of the crappy things. I can draw a straight line from "follow your bliss" to an attitude of looking down on people who failed to achieve their bliss, even on their own terms, because they must not have tried hard enough. I'm not accusing anyone here of that attitude, but you can't deny that American culture in some ways regards everyone as responsible for their own misfortune.

Ultimately both "follow your bliss" and "find satisfaction where you can" are useful ideologies to consider. Neither one is Truth, but you may find one more applicable than another at various times. If you see more people shifting towards the second, it's because that's the model that fits more people's situations these days. A little critical evaluation from time to time is fine. Don't worry, we'll still have exceptional people.
posted by echo target at 2:08 PM on August 27, 2013 [13 favorites]


If prosperity and security is the American Dream, then throwing everything up and starting over and doing what you really want to do is the American Daydream.

Like most daydreams, it won't look at all like what you imagine when it unfolds (or doesn't unfold) in real life. It can be awesome. It can be pretty good. It can also be a trainwreck. It is far harder to be a raving success than a roaring failure. After the initial unbelievable relief and giddiness of quitting my job/career, selling my house, and moving away, reality sets in. I was optimally suited to do it (savings, plans, backup plans, no kids, no spouse, ability to improvise, cultural and social privilege, emotional support, a fair amount of luck, specific skills and knowledge, someplace to live with an excellent rent, etc) and it was tough. It still is. I had been fed up, deeply unhappy, and I realized I had spent the best part of 15 years working constantly and intensely at a series of ("good", even "impressive") jobs where the odds were tremendously stacked against me doing truly excellent work or feeling satisfied with the work/process or being creatively fulfilled (and this was really important to me). I was completely miserable to the point where the value of being "secure" evaporated. I wasn't enjoying life at all, and it didn't feel like I was actually living.

Making the decision to do it was hard (but nothing compared to making it work) - I had gotten so used to chasing/keeping/having the American Dream that the idea of giving up that patched-up illusion of a social contract that if you work hard and do good work, you'll be OK forever [at the company you work for] was genuinely scary. And I had seen how that social contract has failed my grandfather, changed the professional arc of my mother, and had already chewed up several of my friends, but that ideal had been so strongly engrained in me that it was hard to give up as an underlying expectation/fact even when my own experience ran smack up against it. That ideal underpins the American Daydream, too, by the way: Merit will win out in the end! You will get what you deserve for your awesomeness. Success will be yours! Sadly, experience has taught me that merit and being awesome do not always float you to the top.

Pursuing a happier life in this way has been a mixed bag for me, and making and/or selling what are essentially luxury items in this economy is predictably tough. I knew I might have to free-lance/consult to help support myself, and I do - more than I expected or wanted; finding that balance between work that pays now and my creative life has sometimes can be tough and disruptive. Having that safety net of skills and abilities and the ability to free-lance or consult gives me a certain freedom to pursue what I want to do, or stockpile some money for an airplane ticket or a time not free-lancing/consulting, but it also interrupts my creative flow. On the other hand, I am demonstrably happier today than I was five years ago, and while I'm not a raving success, I'm not a roaring failure. So I press on.
posted by julen at 2:15 PM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


White collar conservative flashin' down the street
Pointin' their plastic finger at me,
They're hopin' soon my kind will drop and die but uh
I'm gonna wave my freak flag high!


You missed the last bit:

I'm the one that's gonna have to die
When it's time for me to die
So let me live my life
Like I want to
posted by Sebmojo at 2:16 PM on August 27, 2013


xingcat: "I just watched Tina Turner on the OWN network, who said at 73, "I've finally reached the point where I want nothing."...It's easy to want nothing when you have everything. It's also easy to follow your bliss when you have someone else paying the bills."

Google "Ike Turner".
posted by notsnot at 2:19 PM on August 27, 2013


The next Calvin and Hobbes just died inside the mind of a young comic artist after reading this thread.

This entire thread is founded on the fact that the original Calvin and Hobbes artist was not discouraged by the sorts of things to be found in this thread, the negative nancying and sound advice both.

If a young artist comes in here, reads the conversation, gets discouraged and throws up their hands and gives up, then they're as much the next Calvin and Hobbes artist as I am the next great American novelist.

And if a young artist reads the conversation and re-evaluates their life and direction, and then makes the honest and brave decision to give up art as a vocation and seek fulfillment elsewhere, then that's one more person who has now put more thought into why they're here than many people ever do.
posted by griphus at 2:23 PM on August 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


I know people who make a living doing what they love. A comfortable life, some of them, and a "Hey, rent!" life, others. Just like most things in life, it depends a lot on circumstances, on being in the right place at the right time to take the right opportunity and then work hard to develop it. As many have wisely pointed out, often it depends on lucking into the right life partner. Sometimes it means being born with the right genes, or in the culture where your talent is in demand. It's absolutely not something everybody will be able to do, but it's certainly not something every single person need peremptorily rule out at birth, either.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:38 PM on August 27, 2013


I did not come in here expecting such a bile-spew.

Okay, then, lemme ask you something.

Before I realized how much luck and a support network also factored into whether someone could make a living doing what they loved like this, I would read things like this, then look at how I tried and failed to sustain a theater career - chiefly, in part, to not having had that support network which would have enabled me to stick with it longer - and I felt like shit for "not being good enough," because I hadn't yet figured out how much luck and support play into it. And the reason I didn't know that is because they don't get mentioned or acknowledged enough.

So, I'm assuming since you've typified my pointing that out as "bile-spew," that you'd rather I continued to go on feeling like shit over things that weren't under my control. And thanks all the same, but I'd really rather not continue to have me or anyone else feel like shit.

If that's bile that I just said, I'm happy to spew it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:52 PM on August 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


I want to know the name of the relative who left Virginia Woolf a lifetime allowance of several pounds a month so she could continue her work.
The Woolfs paid their help the meager wages typical of the era, a shockingly small proportion of their income: according to Light, they gave their servants £40 a year when they earned £4,000...

Woolf's diaries and letters are sprinkled with careless snobbish comments about servants, and her and Vanessa's dislike of having servants shades easily into disdain for the servants themselves. They make everything "pompous and heavy-footed," Virginia writes to her sister, who in another letter complains that her "brains are becoming soft...by constant contact with the lower classes" during a vacation when her family and their servants were living in close quarters. "I am sick of the timid spiteful servant mind."
Compare, of course, the £40 a year they spent on servant pay to the famous amount she said a woman must have yearly to herself in order to write (£500).
posted by junco at 3:04 PM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Tut, tut, everyone; cheer up! Things are looking better: This just in. No excuses now; go live your bliss!
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 3:10 PM on August 27, 2013


Note that £500 pounds in 1929 is worth about £27,000 today, although it's hard to compare directly since costs for many things (notably domestic servants) have changed drastically.
posted by junco at 3:10 PM on August 27, 2013


I've realized the thing about commencement speeches is that they are always going to be flawed. It's basically asking "if you could give a piece of advice to every person in the world, what would it be?" Other than Vonnegut's overly quoted and now trite "You've got to be kind", I don't think there's much you can say to any reasonably diverse class of people that would have any ring of truth to it. If I were to give a commencement speech to my 18 year old self, I'd say "Go to classes, for the love of god." But that would have no relevance to the already-hard workers. Maybe to them I'd say "skip some classes!"

I personally love Calvin and Hobbes, but I think Watterson has always lived on the edge of being too smug. If you read some of his critiques of other cartoonists selling out, it's always smelled holier-than-thou, as if he's the only cartoonist that had any dignity. People have different value systems than him. That doesn't make Jon Davis a bad person, it just meant he had different priorities.

It's a case of familiarity breeding contempt. I doubt if you asked Watterson whether a bus driver or factory worker was following their bliss, he'd probably respond that they're working a job that allows them to live their life. Other cartoonists/other people working with him at that ad agency may have made that same decision, but because he was in a similar position, he feels they should have made different choices.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 3:26 PM on August 27, 2013


We're not really taught how to recreate constructively. We need to do more than find diversions; we need to restore and expand ourselves. Our idea of relaxing is all too often to plop down in front of the television set and let its pandering idiocy liquefy our brains. Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating; the mind is like a car battery-it recharges by running.

This, from the original speech, is a damned important point, and one that's way more applicable to modern society than the quote the comic was drawn about.

This thread is a bit too bilious for my liking, but I respect and like the people who're complaining about this, and understand that everybody's got shit to deal with.
posted by Rory Marinich at 3:50 PM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


This, from the original speech, is a damned important point, and one that's way more applicable to modern society than the quote the comic was drawn about.

Totally agree.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:54 PM on August 27, 2013


Much as I got sick of hearing about the Maslow pyramid in school, it's not wrong. We can't worry about following our fucking bliss without making sure we have food, water, housing, support, safety and security first. These days, we can't shoot for the top of the pyramid without risking those things and possibly losing them.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:43 PM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


We can't worry about following our fucking bliss without making sure we have food, water, housing, support, safety and security first.

So the "starving artist" is a mythical creature?
posted by John Cohen at 9:14 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I was going to say pretty much exactly that- it's kinda the beauty of metafilter that I usually don't have to- but it's pretty late in the thread. On the other hand, I believe we're scheduled to have this discussion again in a week or less, so I suppose it can wait.

But seriously, We can't worry about following our fucking bliss without making sure we have food, water, housing, support, safety and security first.

has never been true. And we can't shoot for the top of the pyramid without risking those things and possibly losing them probably always has been, for art-attempting values of 'top of the pyramid'.

Has there always been a certain amount of bullshit/mythology about 'starving artists' who actually weren't starving because their parents/girlfriend/whomever paid the rent and such? Sure. But it still sounds to me like a better model than 'follow your bliss and it will pay your bills.' Because if you're prepared to do without security/safety/support, you're going to be a lot less pissed when those things don't happen. And if you're not, then, well, shit, maybe you should keep your day job? If you can find one?

n.b. I need a goddamned job, like yesterday. And I am not happy about that no not one bit and/but that certainly doesn't make me angry at people who say that jobs are bullshit compared to blissfollowing, because I believe that too. And furthermore, I think the reason that these threads will continue to happen, and be contentious, is that soon enough there won't be enough of those bullshit jobs to go around, and we will need some kind of basic guaranteed income to keep us from straight-up eating the rich. But that probably should go in another equally-contentious thread.
posted by hap_hazard at 11:08 PM on August 27, 2013


I like what Terry Pratchett wrote about the general privilege of living above the baseline on Maslow's hierarchy:
"Take it from me, whenever you see a bunch of buggers puttering around talking about truth and beauty and the best way of attacking Ethics, you can bet your sandals it's all because dozens of other poor buggers are doing all the real work around the place."
And I like the late David Rakoff's take on divining a balance between living purposefully/creatively and eating a meal or two a day:
Lying flat against the tile of my kitchen floor, listening to someone else have sex is essentially my 20s in a nutshell. I was robbed in that neighborhood twice. And there were days when it hardly seemed worth it to live in a horrible part of town just so that I could go daily to a stupid, soul-crushing, low-paying job, especially since, as deeply as I yearned to be creative, for years and years I was too scared to even try. So I did nothing. But here’s something that I did do. I paid my fucking rent.
There are a lot of excellent meditations in Half Empty on what it means to live a life of creative fulfillment, and I think they deserve to be shared with college kids just as much as exhortations to forge one's own set of values. Following one's bliss may seem like a singular pursuit -- and may seem easy when you're unencumbered by partners or babies -- but it almost always requires being part of a greater community. Deciding what you're willing to give and take to other people and what that says about you is an important piece of self-knowledge any adult should have.
posted by sobell at 12:26 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I tried to do this while partnered, I failed. When I tried to do it while unpartnered, I succeeded. So having a partner ain't necessarily all that. In fact, hanging your arse out on the line without having the support and financial backing of a partner is a really great way to keep you seriously focused on getting there. Because you have to.
posted by Decani at 5:27 AM on August 28, 2013


The next Calvin and Hobbes just died inside the mind of a young comic artist after reading this thread.

Hundreds of artists have the next potential Calvin and Hobbes inside their minds, but all this thread is saying is that turning them into an actual Calvin and Hobbes needs a means of support, whether it's a spouse, parent, fairy godmother or sufficiently large pile of cash. And if the young comic artist doesn't have that, all they should take away from this thread is that they're missing a crucial piece of the puzzle that led to the first Calvin and Hobbes, and had better work on that if they can.
posted by rory at 6:46 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tangentially but not really, the next time someone suggests how great their wealthy nation is because it produces so many more successful writers, musicians, artists and Olympic gold medallists per head of population than Developing Country X, point them to this thread.

Support comes in all forms...

It wasn't him, Charley, it was you. Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, "Kid, this ain't your night. We're going for the price on Wilson." You remember that? "This ain't your night"! My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn't have to take them dives for the short-end money.

Charley: Oh I had some bets down for you. You saw some money.

Terry: You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it. It was you, Charley.

posted by rory at 6:58 AM on August 28, 2013


There is no one model that is guaranteed to work or fail for every single person.

"Following your bliss always works" is wrong. "Following your bliss never works" is also wrong.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:02 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have taught creative writing in the distant past, and many of my friends still do. It has come up in conversation a number of time that it might be close to criminally irresponsible to encourage a lot of undergraduates in their poetry or short story writing ambitions. Something akin to encouraging them to spend all their time and money playing the lottery, in terms of their chance for meaningful success, even granting that they have above-average talent.

I also had a poetry creative writing professor once, a curmudeonly type, who routinely told students, if you can be happy not writing and pursuing some other avenue in life, do it. (I think maybe I remember Rilke saying the same thing in one of his non-poetry books.)
posted by aught at 7:08 AM on August 28, 2013


There is no one model that is guaranteed to work or fail for every single person.

"Following your bliss always works" is wrong. "Following your bliss never works" is also wrong.


Sigh. These things don't have equal risk profiles, and I would say that "following your bliss never works" is vastly more right than "following your bliss always works". I even hate the framing, because "follow your bliss" assumes that you have a definable career path "bliss" in the first place. Let's face it: the people who have an all-consuming passion for something definable are going to do that definable thing probably no matter what, unless something actively forces them to stop pursuing it. For those people, "follow your bliss" is useless advice because they are going to do it no matter what anyone says. Most of them will fail. Some few will succeed. For everyone else, it is dangerous advice, because they may mistake something they like to do with their "bliss" and feel like failures if they don't pursue it beyond all reason. These people are almost certainly going to fail unless extraordinarily lucky because they won't have the drive of the genuine blissers (ew, I can't believe I typed that). Follow your bliss as life advice is at best useless, probably merely irresponsible, at worst destructive.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:20 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I sometimes wonder if schools are failing to teach the concept of a cost/benefit analysis, or if they are in fact actively trying to suppress the idea.

...because, really, cost/benefit. Live it, love it.
posted by aramaic at 7:49 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


For everyone else, it is dangerous advice, because they may mistake something they like to do with their "bliss" and feel like failures if they don't pursue it beyond all reason.

THAT. I feel like my initial message was misconstrued, because it feels like people are saying I'm discouraging people from following their bliss and I am so not. In fact, I do indeed believe it is important to find something you can care about and pursue it.

What I am critical of, though, is the blind spot that most Pinterest/Zen Pencils/inspirational-quotes-on-Facebook have about how following your bliss isn't enough for success, and in fact was never meant to be the sole tool you need for success. Even Joseph Campbell said it wasn't - in some cases, he said, following your bliss could lead to failure.

The practical reality is, there is a point at which following your bliss meets the fact that you have basic life needs. Some are able to balance those two by minimizing their needs drastically; some are able to balance those two with a sheer stroke of luck; some are able to balance them by having a huge savings built up; some are able to balance them by having a supportive parent, friend, or spouse. And some have to balance them by taking day jobs. But the Pinterespirational (sic) quotes all speak solely of owning one's bliss as if it were the only factor you ought to worry about, and that taking any other approach to it short of "quitting your day job and devoting yourself solely to your craft" meant you were selling out - and usually the people who are able to do that are the ones who have the spouse or the family or whatever.

It's like - suppose a long-distance runner said that the key to having a successful running career was to "work on developing your left leg, because an awesome left leg can really take you far." I just wanna see it acknowledged that having the right leg in good shape is also necessary.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:55 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's like - suppose a long-distance runner said that the key to having a successful running career was to "work on developing your left leg, because an awesome left leg can really take you far." I just wanna see it acknowledged that having the right leg in good shape is also necessary.

Then I did misconstrue, because the right leg seems to me like a given, that nobody would actually need to be told about.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:40 AM on August 28, 2013


Then I did misconstrue, because the right leg seems to me like a given, that nobody would actually need to be told about.

Just like "being able to pay your rent" seems like a given, but it doesn't always feel like the people who advocate "quitting the rat race" are aware of that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:52 AM on August 28, 2013


Following your bliss doesn't have to start with jumping off a cliff. The advice could be more reasonably taken as a gentle push to start doing more and more of what you love in whatever down time you have...not at the expense of your rent-paying job but at the expense of your TV watching time, for example, or your idle commuting time. Maybe seek out like-minded individuals who can encourage and support you. Only when you reach a certain proficiency and/or financial stability is it advisable to quit your crummy job and take the success/failure crapshoot.
It seems as though many of the dissenters in this thread are saying that failure can make you feel bad, therefore the best advice is to not even try.
posted by rocket88 at 9:07 AM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Many of the "dissenters" (see how orthodox "follow your bliss" has become?) are saying that failure can make your life go off the rails. It never fails to amaze me that (other than in explicitly healthcare-related threads) citizens of other developed nations treat their safety nets as practically invisible. We don't get that shit in America, dude. If we had universal healthcare, I probably would have quit my job a long time ago, not to follow any bliss but just to give myself a little mental space and breathing room to retrain into something more interesting/remunerative.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:30 AM on August 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Which, I should say, I am still doing, but more slowly than I would like.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:33 AM on August 28, 2013


I get that, and it was an implied part of the "financial security" part of my argument.
(And yes, I probably do take my universal health care for granted, sometimes.)
posted by rocket88 at 9:46 AM on August 28, 2013


The next Calvin and Hobbes just died inside the mind of a young comic artist after reading this thread.

The world needs ditch-diggers too.
posted by Cookiebastard at 11:48 AM on August 28, 2013


Just like "being able to pay your rent" seems like a given, but it doesn't always feel like the people who advocate "quitting the rat race" are aware of that.

It really isn't a given -- the mythology of the "risk taker who made it big" often anecdotally includes the "slept on couches and maxed credit cards out for years while..." [insert synopsis of desperate struggle to break into field, before genius was recognized, here], which is kind of the NY / LA version of the suburban risk-taker's anecdotal "loving working wife supported him while he worked on XYZ..."
posted by aught at 1:55 PM on August 28, 2013


The world needs ditch-diggers too.

Shouldn't ditch-diggers have an opportunity to develop their other talents, to lead full and complete lives, to be human in the fullest possible sense?
posted by No Robots at 2:32 PM on August 28, 2013


Shouldn't ditch-diggers have an opportunity to develop their other talents, to lead full and complete lives, to be human in the fullest possible sense?

Oh yes. But if reading this thread kills that in them, they ought to consider a backup plan involving lots of shovel practice.
posted by Cookiebastard at 3:02 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had a discussion today about how artists with a mix of talent and business savvy seem to do well.

It occurred to me details on the hustle are also what's missing in these articles. How musicians get introduced to people who have restaurants and bars (as mentioned upthread). Stuff like definining the work, establishing price, running costs, rate setting, taxes, plans, budgets, profile building. I guess these aren't super blissful activities.
posted by yoHighness at 3:07 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


"slept on couches and maxed credit cards out for years while..."

Um, you recognize this is a support network, in action?
posted by maxwelton at 4:14 PM on August 28, 2013


I don't think he said "follow your bliss".

What I took away from this talk was finding the joy that comes in work done for yourself, and finding ways to center your life around those things we do because of an internal push to create, rather than centering your life around the your source of income--even though income is a necessity of survival.

Personally, I find that joy in sewing and felting & fencing & directing amateur political musicals ...none of this is paid work. But it is still deeply, deeply, rewarding for me. And I think it is rewarding because it comes from that impulse Watterson describes to create for my own enjoyment.

I hear that this is not the same for others, and certainly there is a point when you are so exhausted and broke that there is no space at all for creative impulses because you are in survival mode, and that is a place our society should not allow people to live. I believe the space for creativity and recreation is a right just as sure as the right to clean water and food and education.

Nonetheless, I am not sure doing these things I enjoy for pay would increase their enjoyment for me. But I suppose finding that same feeling in some of the things I must do at my work would increase my enjoyment of my paid work?
posted by chapps at 8:47 PM on August 28, 2013


Um, you recognize this is a support network, in action?

Of course, and like support networks that involve trust funds or spouses with good jobs, it's not one everyone with a creative impulse has access to, and speeches that take them for granted and make it seem like you are not your own person unless you make the leap into the void still feel at best naïve and at worse a bit cruel.

Okay, I believe I've ground this axe to a nubbin so I'm putting it down. Let me just note I am glad Watterson's wife supported him to create Calvin and Hobbes because I loved the strip, and I was doubly impressed when he gave it up before it jumped the shark.
posted by aught at 8:49 AM on August 29, 2013


Of course, and like support networks that involve trust funds or spouses with good jobs, it's not one everyone with a creative impulse has access to, and speeches that take them for granted and make it seem like you are not your own person unless you make the leap into the void still feel at best naïve and at worse a bit cruel.

That's....exactly what I've been trying to say.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:52 AM on August 29, 2013


Oh, how I wish I'd gotten to this thread earlier. I read a short blurb about the artist who made this piece, how he used his own life story as the picture to match Watterson's words. In the strip, he has two kids that he takes care of. In real life, he takes care of two dogs. That's some powerful wishful thinking right there.
posted by noway at 9:25 PM on August 30, 2013


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