You’re here because you’re a seeker who wants to thrive in midlife. In spite of all you’ve been through in this life, to continue to strive for personal fulfillment and meaning is the characteristic of somebody who strives for self-actualization. It also makes you an optimist, so let me be the first one to applaud you for that.
Joseph Campbell famously encouraged self-actualization seekers to simply follow their bliss. I call it cultivating a Big Life. Cultivating a Big Life requires a few centering actions. The first is to give sustained focus over time on the things that bring you bliss.
Do you know what they are for you?
how to identify what you want
That thing that you really want to do – your bliss – is really no mystery. Let’s not complicate things. On the rocky road to self-actualization, identifying your bliss is the easy part. You’ll find your bliss right there in your heart, where it’s been sitting, patiently waiting for you to acknowledge it. Give yourself the gift of acknowledging those things that light your soul.
MAKE A BLISS LIST: Take a quiet few minutes of reflection to think about the things that make you happy. No one has to ever see this but you, and it doesn’t matter if the things you write seem impractical or absurd. It doesn’t have to be anything grandiose, epic, or life-shattering. Simply write down things that make you happy; stuff you want to do, the things that light you up and make you forget about the passage of time.
This is mine Bliss List from 2008. Back then I just called it “Things That Make Me Happy.”
At the time I wrote my Bliss List I was a stay at home mom. I had left two previous unfulfilling careers. I often felt adrift and had that nagging sense of discontent with my life; that I had yet to find my life purpose beyond being a mother and wife. I had never found a profession that I felt excited and happy to wake up and go to.
I joined a few friends in a mastermind group to get focused on goals, and one of the first things we did was make a Bliss List. This was the very first time I had ever written that writing made me happy. When I look back on it now, I can see that it’s very telling that ‘writing’ is the first thing listed. Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would be able to have a career writing in 2008. That’s the magic of the Bliss List.
When you compile your Bliss List, do not write anything down that feels like work, an obligation, or that stressful. The omission of important things that you value on your Bliss List is totally fine. This is about YOUR BLISS, it’s all about YOU, it’s not a test about values. Now go a grab some paper and write down your own Bliss List.
Keep this list in your mind’s eye. Keep it sacred. Sit with it for a while. Let it sink in. Arrange your neurons around these bliss items. Open the gateway of your mind to them. Let your actions from this point forward invite more of all of these things into your life. Make some room.
CLEAR SOME SPACE
You can’t find the time to pursue your Big Life until you start the process of disentangling your life from those activities that don’t serve your heart’s desire. This is where many seekers nod in agreement but then can’t seem to find the courage to make hard changes. It’s right here that most seekers stall and falter.
The opportunity cost of following your bliss is that you’ve got to say no to the things that compete and/or do not bring bliss, joy, and vibrancy to your life. This is hard work. You can do it if you can internalize an unshakable belief – sometimes against all evidence to the contrary; that following your bliss is the path to the joy of living a self-actualized life and living up to your personal God-given potential.
I believe that, especially for women, being vigilant about the priority of following your bliss by having to say no to competing for less-joyful demands on your time and weed out the extraneous is what’s most difficult about living a Big Life. Sometimes, it feels impossible because we tend to listen more to ideas about what we should do, and not what our heart says.
In your quest to make space for bliss you will find yourself in situations where you have to decline invitations, say no, stand up for yourself, have difficult conversations, refuse, or go it alone. You will likely be wildly misunderstood. This can feel excruciating, especially to people pleasers.
And now you know why the blog and is called Big Girl Life. This is where you’ve got to reach deep and be a BIG GIRL (or Big Guy) and have the tenacity and guts to follow your path to your BIG LIFE like a boss. When things get difficult and dirty in your quest, you’ll know you’re on the right path.
Pay attention to anyone’s story who has managed to follow their bliss and you will hear the difficulties they had to face on their path toward self-actualization – try Jimmy Carter, Madeline Albright, Steve Jobs, Marianne Williamson, etc. They bore countless failures and disappointments on the road to their Big Life. You will have them too.
I heard John Mackey tell Oprah Winfrey on Super Soul Sunday that he made a pivotal decision in college when he found himself required to read a boring philosophy book. In a moment of frustration, he recalls throwing the book down and deciding from that moment on to never again do anything with his life that he really didn’t feel a call to do. He quit college. He was a disappointment to his family. He was following his bliss, although it wasn’t apparent at the time.
Since then his attentions have not been diluted with extraneous endeavors; which then allowed his focus and efforts to compound over time, eventually manifesting his little health food market into the wild success story that is Whole Foods market today. What a gift to be able to focus early on your bliss and then see the compounding effects of this focus over a lifetime.
Don’t worry, even if you’re like me – figuring out how to pursue your bliss in mid-life, for goodness sakes don’t feel bad about arriving late to the party. The point is that you’re here, in your own good time.
There is no doubt that writing down my bliss list back in 2008 served to set my intention in my mind on those things and from that moment forward I was on the path of a Big Life. From then on when I was faced with decisions about how to spend my time, I recalled my list. My path became focused and clear to me. It allowed me to seize opportunities when they presented themselves. All those focusing decisions brought me, over time, to a much happier place. The bliss list brought me to my blog, and to a career that I love, and that in turn allows me to write about and pursue a ton of my other Bliss List items. Identifying my bliss, and then making time for it is a constant challenge and a fluid endeavor. It has given me a sense of peace, purpose, and fulfillment. It’s been a lot of hard work and the process has upturned my life in many ways. There have been sacrifices made. But that struggle for my own Big Life has made into a better person.
the cost of not pursuing your dreams
On the flip side, if you ignore what the heart really longs for long enough, you’ll find that you lose yourself. This is what people mean when they say, I don’t even know who I am anymore. They have lost their path because they don’t know what their bliss is.
If you believe that we are spiritual beings who are by nature here to creatively manifest our gifts then you might also have an idea that not following your bliss can become downright harmful – to yourself and others. Brené Brown said it best when she said “Unused creativity is not benign. It metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow, shame.”
This can explain a lot of our less-than-proud moments. Rage, judgment, sorrow, and shame can be understood in others, and in our own behaviors as the result of a spirit that is disconnected from purpose, a life that is disconnected from bliss, beliefs that don’t acknowledge the potential within, and actions that don’t serve personal creative manifestation.
If I’m getting snappy, snarky, or mean – to myself or others, I have to ask myself what am I not doing in service of my heart? The heart wants what it wants, and when you don’t acknowledge what’s there all of these emotional cancers creep up in our lives.
The ego gets all crazy about it because it wants us to remain safe. Following your bliss is scary. Speaking your truth is not for the weak. Acknowledging what’s in your heart requires vulnerability, honesty, and courage. So, Big Girls (& guys) it’s either face those or become an emotionally cancerous person. Let this understanding further serve to motivate you through the hard bits on your path to living your biggest and best life.
Remember above all else that it is not the end of the road we seek, but much like Dorothy from Kansas; it is the journey along the road that makes a Big Life.
I encourage you to step into your power and own your dream that you dare to dream for yourself. The world needs you, awesome optimist that you are, to give your unique gifts and talents time and attention. It is the calling of a lifetime, and one of the very first steps of manifesting your own Big Life. Imagine what you might manifest over time, and how much personal satisfaction you will enjoy along the way?
What do you need to start investing your time in doing that you aren’t already doing now to manifest your own Big Life? Does anything surprise you in doing your bliss exercise? Comment below.