Follow my bliss


I was in Starbucks recently, and sitting on the table was a little promotion for an event Starbucks is sponsoring with T-Mobile: Road Trip Nation.

Apparently, Starbuck’s is sponsoring 4 college kids in a used RV as they tour the nation to “host them along their journey and be part of a movement that is inspiring people everywhere to break tradition, resist conformity and do what they love.”

Printed on the promotion was this quote from Jill Solloway, writer-director for HBO’s Six Feet Under:

Forget about what sells, forget about what is going to make you famous, write what you like, what makes you feel good, and what makes you happy–and success will follow.

My head spun. What are the chances, I thought, that people who take this “career advice” will profit from it. Surely, if we are becoming a more pluralistic and various, the chances that my bliss will be your interest are slim. Some people will follow their bliss to glory. The rest will miss the target and head for deep space.

Naturally, there is something to this advice. To be on the cutting edge of culture, it is necessary to follow inspiration, not the marketplace. (If you are following the market place, you will necessarily arrive too late.) But this is something like a tournament model: many are called, few are chosen.

There is something else to this advice. It reflects that new age, child like confidence that the universe is a benign place and that if you are “true to yourself,” everything else will take care of itself.

I thought the reason we lived in an emergent culture is that everyone keeps on eye on the main chance. We all flock roughly in the same direction. This is how an emergent culture emerges, taking collective shape out of millions of individual decisions that all miraculously end up in more or less the same place.

But I guess it is also true that the way a culture like ours guarantees a steady stream of very novel innovation is by persuading some people to break off and follow their bliss. This way we get many innovations and can rally around the ones that speak to the moment.

What happens to the lottery losers? They add to our multiplicity, to be sure, but they must do so from the aimless, airless discomfort of a used RV.

I know this sounds judgmental. I mean only to highlight one of the many contradictions in contemporary culture.

last note: I am on assignment for the next three days. If I can post, I will post.

Roadtrip Nation

5 thoughts on “Follow my bliss

  1. Steve Portigal

    The idea of Starbucks associating themselves with resisting conformity seems like fodder for an entire Naomi Klein chapter. “Ironic” or “disingenuous” doesn’t quite seem to cut it.

  2. Grant

    Steve, thanks for the post, you and I differ about Naomi, I think. Starbucks is at least interesting enough to embrace a cultural contradiction. This is more complexity than poor Naomi could possibly manage. Thanks,

  3. Steve Portigal

    But all I said is that Naomi could write about it for an entire chapter. I didn’t say anything beyond that!

    In fact, after years of reading her column clipped and mailed to me by my mom (who doesn’t read your blog), I picked up the book, and put it down again, overwhelmed with earnestness. Then I worked with a marketer who was VERY into the book, and I swallowed my discomfort and picked it up. I found that I enjoyed the first 1/2, and made it through the first 3/4, before flipping pages towards the end. The stories about marketing were interesting, and you didn’t need to share her politics to learn from it.

    I’m reading Ralph Caplan’s 1982 “By Design” on my trip to Vegas now, and I’m struck by a similarity in stance, although Caplan is much much more wry and pointed in his opinions, but there’s an overlap there somewhere.

    And Grant, what’s the difference between embracing a cultural contradiction and denial?

  4. jbarrett

    The advice seems not all that fresh. The theme was also a mantra of the nineteen sixties; maybe also of the fifties.

    I wonder if it is particularly inspirational to today’s youth towards which it seems directed; youth filled with desires and expectation and unfettered by the investments of choices made. The implication that everything will be all right is irritating to read, of course it won’t, but even inexperienced youth can tell nonsense when they read it. Do you suppose?

    At any rate, I don’t agree that those who ardently follow such advice are mostly doomed to a life in the airless discomfort of an RV. There are opportunities to self correct and our culture provides them in abundance.

  5. Grant

    Steve, thanks for the update on your reactions to Klein. As to the distinction being embracing contradiction and denial of same, I think the latter is just more interesting. It opens up possibilities instead of hiding them away. No?
    Best, grant

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