This piece originally published on Mac’s List
The pursuit of a college education may be a long-term blessing and a short-term affliction. A bachelor’s degree provides some economic freedom, but it does not always offer clarity on who you are or who you want to be. If you’re like most people who pursued higher education, you grew up with every stage of life laid out in front of you: kindergarten led to first grade and so on. It was not until the precipice of college graduation that you were expected to figure it all out on your own.
The desperate search for one’s own passion may be derided as a crisis of privilege, a “First World problem,” but the existential call to be the writer of one’s own destiny is deeply human. The urge towards the creative life is innate in all of us. When we are no longer chased by wolves or the threat of starvation, we are chased by ourselves.
The cries “be who you are!” and “know who you are!” are not easily silenced, and attempts to do so will only transform into addictions, foul moods, and physical complications.
So how do you figure out what you want and who you are? In the early 20th century, the poet Rainier Marie Rilke wrote to a despondent 19-year-old young man in “Letters to a Young Poet” with timeless counsel for job seekers everywhere: “There is only one thing you should do,” Rilke wrote. “Go into yourself.”
Esoteric? Sure. You cannot easily place this advice among a list of things to do. But if the advice is understood and heeded, the ultimate rewards are unparalleled.
Through self-inquiry and good counsel, answers to the tangible questions of life begin to make themselves heard. Your anxiety and confusion, your headaches and stomachaches, all have information for what may be off track, they’re not simply symptoms to be silenced in the pursuit of the more conscious goals.
If you can learn when you’re off track by how your moods and body respond, you can learn too where your path lies. This takes some degree of faith, to be sure, but it only takes a few synchronistic successes for you to discover that you have a personal GPS sitting inside your chest.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell’s famous adage echoes Rilke’s: “When you follow your bliss, doors will open where you wouldn’t have thought there were doors.” Campbell uses the word “bliss” as a substitute for instinct, a path not lacking in terror and uncertainty but ultimately providing the greatest payoff. Our wants often only become clear after listening to all the other stuff of life.
In fairy tales, it is the awkward third brother who wanders off in the least anticipated direction, listening to the animals and following the path of a windswept feather, who ultimately finds the gold and marries the princess. Going into yourself and following your bliss means learning to listen to who you are innately. Learning what you’re passionate about begins with discovering and acknowledging who you are, not simply what you are expected to be.
This piece originally published on Mac’s List – April 19, 2013