Joseph Campbell was a highly acclaimed 20th century American writer who often propounded the wisdom that in order to live a fulfilling and successful life we must look within ourselves, discover what it is we truly want from life, and go and get it. As he often said: “Follow your bliss”. To follow our bliss, we must completely ignore all the expectations others have about what we should do.
As he explained in his book The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work , we are all unique individuals, and thus the life we need to live in order to be fulfilled is also wholly unique and cannot be dictated to us by anyone else.
“You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.” (Joseph Campbell)
While many would agree with this wisdom, to live according to it is a difficult task. The vast majority of individuals do not follow their bliss, but instead follow the opinions and expectation of their parents, friends, or society at large.
Joseph Campbell lived according to this wisdom which he preached. As he explained in the book Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion, in the midst of pursuing his PhD he suddenly quit, deciding that it was not giving him what he wanted in life, and he went off to live in the woods and did nothing but read books for 5 years. As he wrote:
“I had put in all the hours necessary for the degree; all I had to do was write that goddamn thesis. They wouldn’t let me move into another place to continue my education, so I said to hell with it. I went up to into the woods and spent five years reading. I never got the Ph.D. I learned to live on absolutely nothing. I was free and had no responsibilities. It was marvelous.
It takes courage to do what you want. Other people have a lot of plans for you. Nobody wants you to do what you want to do. They want you to go on their trip, but you can do what you want. I did. I went into the woods and read for five years.” (Joseph Campbell)