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1/21/14

On Finding Work You Love

~Follow your bliss. (Joseph Campbell)

~You’ve got to find what you love. (Steve Jobs)

~Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for the love of it.  (Henry David Thoreau.)

~The above statements are bullshit. (Me)

American culture has the American Dream embedded in it. Be all you can be. Bigger and better. Rags to riches. It is Jay Gatsby's romantic readiness. The Dream was fostered by hope, and by departure from the encrusted and static social classes of the Old World. In Letters from an American Farmer Hector St. Jean de Crevecoeur put it this way: America "is not composed, as in Europe, of great lords who possess everything, and of a herd of people who have nothing. . . . The rich and the poor are not so far removed from each other as they are in Europe." There was promise in the United States and a chance. Forty acres and a mule. With the vast number of immigrants poor, the great hope was to have a plot of land, to make a little money, and for children to have it better than parents.

Today, the pastoral hope of the early immigrants has been overtaken by the new age when most people have enough financially but the Dream has changed, still riding on the cultural myth that you can be better, except not in terms of money but in terms of spiritual happiness.  The idea of well-being has changed.

Today,  in a Post-Industrial age, fulfillment has become an issue. Workers are better educated and might have read Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, in which shelter and safety lie at the bottom with self-actualization at the top. They want the top. They don't want to be part of the "mass of men" who, according to Henry David Thoreau, "lead lives of quiet desperation." Never mind, that Thoreau wrote Walden while living in a shack owned by Emerson and that Henry had no wife and family to support.

Today workers turn to Joseph Campbell who in The Power of Myth wrote "follow your bliss" and they admire Steve Jobs who told them to do what they love. Maybe they don't know Campbell lifted the idea from the Upanishads, part of ancient Vedic scriptures advising spiritual seekers on how to attain enlightenment. The seekers were not employees of Megacorp but forest dwellers who depended on food handed them as holy men. Campbell himself followed his bliss by teaching only part-time at Sarah Lawrence College and consequently had an insufficient retirement pension, so in old age, into his eighties, he had to go on tour giving lectures.

Steve Jobs believed in doing what he loved and was wildly successful at it but, noted for his cruel narcissism, did it on the backs of many employees. A rather aimless youth, bumming without direction, he did not have a vision, but stumbled onto his golden Apple. He had been to India seeking enlightenment and probably that is where he encountered the same idea expressed by Campbell. Sat-Chit-Ananda, or being-consiousness-bliss, according to Vedic teachings, is the highest state attainable by humans. Campbell's "follow your bliss" derives from this very idea. Jobs turned from finding it in meditation to realizing it in work. Noted for magical-thinking, he applied his "reality distortion field" until it caused his death after he sought alternative cures for his cancer. When he finally turned to proven treatments it was too late. For him, if he believed it, it had to be true.

The Vedic scriptures never intended it that way, neither in Cambell's words nor in Jobs'.

I am not an apologist for Megacorp, whatever its real name. It has many evil faces.  I only point out the lie bred into the bone of children as they grow up.  Do what you love and the money will follow. Americans easily take to this notion because it is part of a cultural myth, unquestioned, and something they were brought up with. It is rather like gravity. They take it for granted. But unlike gravity it has no causal relationship. Money might or might not follow.

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