“…If you do follow your bliss and put yourself on the kind of track that has been there waiting for you all the while, waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss and they open the doors to you. I say follow your bliss and don’t be afraid and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
Of all of my adventures and misadventures in New Zealand perhaps my strangest is my 1.25 day stint as a dairy farmer. Two 4 am shifts, three milkings of 650 cows each, and god only knows how much cow poo. Now, most folks might have been put off by the prospect of working long before dawn and wading around in cow excrement all day. Not me. The job description asked, “Do you feel comfortable talking to cows?” Why, yes, I really do! I was also looking forward to routine, a new challenge, and working outdoors with animals. Plus, I was broke and desperate to earn some funds to continue on with my travels in Vietnam and Europe. However, as I was handed my work issued uniform I got the distinct feeling the job might not be the right fit for me. Literally, it did not fit. I’m 5’2” and apparently dairy farmers do not run petite. I slogged into my first morning on the job swathed in a canvas coverall tent. Add my gigantic men’s gumboots (that’s Kiwi for wellies or rubber boots) and I looked as much like a legitimate dairy farmer as any child trying on their father’s clothing. I felt ridiculous. It also didn’t help that my supervisor whose job advertisement proclaimed, “We want this to be a delightful experience for the cows and our employees!” turned out to actually be a pretty miserable employer. Not to mention there was no time at all for conversing with cows. So we parted ways and I pedaled on towards a new adventure.
Just prior to my flash pan career in the milking industry I cycled the Central Otago Rail trail*. During that time I was able to catch back up with a New Zealand author I’d met weeks before in her home made of straw in the tiny village of Oturehua. Jillian* was kind enough to let me stay with her for a couple of nights. I was able to try my hand at lime plastering the outside of her home, a work in progress. I’m amazed at all she’s accomplished on her own with just a dream of building her straw bale house. When I left she cycled the first few kilometers down the trail with me while we chatted about my own dreams and what led me to New Zealand in the first place. “Ah, you’re on a hero’s journey,” she told me. I don’t exactly consider my cycle tourism a heroic act, but then she laid out for me the phases of a hero’s journey found in mythology throughout history and various cultures. There’s a call to adventure, reluctance to accept, meeting with mentors, tests and allies. I could clearly identify every step in my own life. For a better understanding of a hero’s journey, read Joseph Campbell’s, “Hero with a Thousand Faces” or go watch Star Wars. Campbell is the man who laid out the journey of a hero after decades of studying mythology. I’ve since been reading more of his work and one thing he said in a conversation with Bill Moyers in the book, “The Power of Myth” has especially resonated with me and that is, “Follow your bliss.”
You see, my dairy endeavor wasn’t just disastrous because of my jerk boss or ill fitting clothing. I was pursuing money instead of following my bliss. That’s not to say one should never work unless you find it blissful. Certainly all of us have sought employment for the sake of paying bills. The point of what Campbell has laid out in the hero’s journey is that there are those times in our lives when we are called to a certain path, one that is bigger than ourselves. And, as Campbell explains, during those times doors are opened for you in places you never would have imagined. I pedaled away from the farm straight into the open doors of people who invited me to stay in their homes as long as I like. I’ve since been given an opportunity to spend my remaining weeks in New Zealand writing and planning my upcoming travels in Vietnam.
“Pursuing bliss? Sounds dreamy! Right?” Well, kinda. I’m still pretty fraught with anxiety over how I’m going to live in Europe on my income tax return. I struggle everyday with getting words on a blank page. I’m becoming an expert procrastinator and, as a result, a semi-professional bread maker. Turns out, chasing your bliss doesn’t always make sense on paper. Every morning my brain says, “What the hell?” My heart says, “You got this.” As I cycled away from my dairy farm disaster I thought about all of the times in my life I’ve tried to make something fit that wasn’t right for me. Sometimes it was a job or other times a relationship. There are times I’ve tried to be someone I’m really not or attempted to meet another person’s expectations of me at the expense of my own happiness. While it isn’t always as physically obvious as a comically oversized uniform, in the end it always feels the same – like schlepping through shit in Bigfoot’s gumboots. When you follow your heart, at the very least, you know the boots fit.
* Another book I’ve been reading is Jillian Sullivan’s “A Guide to Creating – A book of Soul Wisdom.” If you’re a writer or creative needing some guidance and inspiration I recommend this book. Plus, the ebook price is good for the artist budget 🙂