What does it mean to ‘follow your bliss’?

I enjoy tarot cards. I don’t have any real opinion about whether or not they “work”. They have pretty pictures and they talk about life, and I enjoy shuffling them and laying them out, and that’s good enough for me. When it comes to making life decisions, I tend to think of them in the same way as Phoebe flipping a coin for Rachel on Friends: It doesn’t matter really what they say; reading them helps you realise what you really want to do. They’re often least helpful, in my experience, when you really have no idea which direction to go.

Today, I drew the Eight of Cups. The image of this card typically portrays someone turning their back on the cups and walking toward the distant horizon, and meanings centre around ideas of letting go, moving on, walking away. I’ve always thought of it more of a ‘follow your bliss’ card. It follows the ‘daydream’ card, the seven of cups, and illustrations often feature the Moon, another card about dreams. But what does it mean to ‘follow your bliss’ when you’re not really sure what it is?

I’m at a place of transition in my life at the moment. I have finished my thesis, and I’m in that weird fallow period between submission and results, where you have nothing to do but wait and no idea what life will bring until you see that grade. An A will open up the possibility of a PhD. The question is whether that’s what I want. And I don’t know.

What is my bliss? I want to write, yes – but writing doesn’t pay the bills, even for successful published writers. What sort of nine-to-five career do I want? What should I look for?

Writing my Master’s thesis taught me a lot about myself and how I like to work. I like a slow start in the morning, so I have time to exercise and ease into my day. On the other hand, I can be very productive in the evening. I enjoy working late, when the world quiets down and I feel like I can really concentrate. So I like working from home and making my own hours, so I can be flexible and make the most of my time. I like, essentially, the work of research. I like academia, because it has that flexibility, it has that self-motivated and self-guided work, and the only real issue is that it pays fuck-all. And, at the moment, I am tired. I am so fundamentally tired of reading and thinking complex ideas all day.

I’ve been looking forward to this fallow period for a long time. I’ll get to write again! and read poetry and fiction! it’ll be amazing! Instead, I find myself concerned about what to do and where to go next. A part of me really does want to leave academia behind… but I don’t know where to go next. It’s hard to make a decision when you don’t know what the options are. Part of this is the post-thesis slump. It sounds good to have some time off after a crunch period, but in practice a lot of people feel empty and down, especially not knowing the result of all that hard work. I’m in that place right now. Trying to sleep, trying to recover, trying to focus on something other than the errors I’m sure I made.

The idea of follow your bliss isn’t really about choosing a career. (I don’t even like the word ‘career’) The concept is more aligned with an idea of fate: that if you do the things you love doing, opportunities will come to you. I don’t really know how I feel about that idea… it seems too much like the Secret, too much like survivorship bias. Like all those books and videos and podcasts about how CEOs and start-up ‘entrepreneurs’ (another terrible word that means fuck-all) run their day, their planning styles and morning routines and how they all get up at 5am. They never talk about the people who did all the same stuff and failed.

Back in January, before crunch time, I wrote about my word of the year: Exploration. Today, I had a post pop up on my instagram featuring something else I blogged about recently: my old writer’s workbook. Kismet, I think. I’ve been going about this the wrong way, trying to think my way through the big, big question of ‘what do you want to do with the rest of your life?’. Maybe follow your bliss isn’t about just doing things you like doing. Maybe it’s about working out what that bliss is. Maybe it’s exploration. Maybe it’s picking up old hobbies and doing new things with them. Maybe it’s seeing where life takes you.

But maybe… maybe I’ll get to it after my nap.

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