Pollyanna and the Meaning of Life

Lyda here. This is a long post, you might want to grab a drink. I’m just saying…

I read “That Thing They Were Born to Do” on Dan’s blog, which I hadn’t read before. One of the people in Dan’s post says that not playing her music would be “the real risk — the catastrophic risk.” I agree.

Joseph Campbell talked a lot about following your bliss. (I may have mentioned this once or twice. Or a million times.)

It seem easy for some. They are obviously gifted with musical talent, with athletic ability, with… whatever. They shine with this talent so early and so brightly, that everyone just knows they will take that path.

But what if you don’t know what your gift is? What if your talents seem ordinary? What if you don’t think you have any talents at all? What if nothing is calling to you, pulling you, urging you on?

What if you don’t know what your bliss is?

Campbell says you can find your bliss by going toward anything that attracts you (like walking by the ocean) or repeals you strongly (like being angry that the local playground is trashed).

“But Pollyanna,” I hear you cry, “I don’t know what attracts me.”

So start at the beginning.


Make a list of what you love to do. Anything and everything. Watching silent movies. Knitting. Petting your cat. Telling silly stories to children.

Then make a list of everything that you are good at. Baking birthday cakes. Comforting someone who’s sad. Gardening. Cleaning. Everything.

If you need help with this part, ask your friends. Ask your family. Ask yourself, “What was my favorite thing as a kid?” Look at old pictures of yourself.

You can use books to help. The exercises in “What Color is Your Parachute?” and “The Artist’s Way” are very helpful. SARK’s books are great – she has some wild and wonderful ideas that will spark some wild and wonderful ideas of your own.

See, you don’t have to do this alone.

Have fun with this. You are discovering yourself. Think of yourself as a delicious mystery.

Think about what you haven’t done in a while that you love to do. Think about what you have always wanted to do but haven’t yet. Make a list of that too.

Or instead of lists, draw pictures. Or make a collage from magazine pictures or old pictures of you doing what you love.

Or sit with some really really good friends, some alcohol, and some fiber, and talk about “what I’ve always wanted to do”. (Hey, this one is fun, plus: Fiber! Alcohol! Better make sure you write the stuff down, though, or you might not remember the next day. I know you.)

Once you have some ideas, then you are ready for:


Look at your lists, or notes from your night of drunken knitting, or your collage, or whatever.

Pick out one thing from your list.

Go do it.

Yes, actually do it.

Say you pick from your list: “Move to London and be a costume designer for Doctor Who.” So, make a start. Go get some costume design books from the library. Watch some “Doctor Who” episodes and critic the costumes. 

Notice how it feels. Do you love it?

Yes? Great, you’re finding your bliss.

No? Why not? Are you really letting yourself go with it? (If you are holding back, try again. If you are really going for it and your reaction is, eh – great, you now know that your bliss is not in that thing.)


Cheer and clap and reward yourself for doing Step 2. Stop people on the street and tell them and make them applaud you. Or at least, stop people in the hallway at home. Or make your friends clap for you. Post it here and we’ll cheer for you!


Repeat Steps 2 & 3. Over and over. You can also go back to Step 1 if it seems like a good idea.

Yes, it really is this simple.


About this time, all the reasons “why not to do this” will be screaming for attention. Some will seem like reasonable, grown-up reasons. Some will be fear-based wanting-to-eat-your-hair reasons.

Ignore them all.

If anyone around you starts telling you “why not to do this” – Ignore them.

Start singing “Send In the Clowns” – that usually drives people away.

It is vitally important that you not listen to anyone who tries to stop you.

Including yourself.

Look, all you are doing at this point is exploring. Testing the waters. You are not running off to Burma to train pythons at this point. You are playing around. Tell everyone to relax and leave you alone.

EXAMPLE (not taken from real life at all): 

Maybe, in 5th grade or something, you had an art teacher who took an instant disliking to you and your frizzy hair and your huge Cardboard Box of Many Broken but Amazing Crayons. Maybe this person gave you bad grades and told you that you had no talent. Maybe you decided then and there that you were not an artist.

Think this through. This guy was teaching 5th grade art. He saw you for one hour a week. What the hell did he know about you? Or art, for that matter?

Decide you are not going to let someone else, ANYONE else, tell you who you are.

Take a field trip to the art store. Get yourself some pencils, or paint and some brushes. Get yourself some real artist paper. Yes, you deserve real artist paper.

If the art store feels too scary, go to Target or the drugstore. (See? This isn’t so hard. You like Target.) Let your inner child pick out some fun art stuff to play with.

It’s okay. This is just playing. You are not quitting your job and moving to Paris to be a street artist at this time.

Maybe you like this. So you get a copy of “The Artist’s Way” and actually follow the 12-week program. You keep doing art stuff. You hang it on your walls. One day, you hear yourself say, “I’m an artist” and you mean it.

Maybe you begin to soar.

I believe you can fly…!


8 thoughts on “Pollyanna and the Meaning of Life

  1. annaliza

    Actually, my problem has usually been narrowing it down to one or two things to put my energy into. Excellent post!

  2. Marin

    OK… the Artist’s Way lost me with the “no reading for a week” part.

    But I’d like to add, from personal experience (it’s how I found out I love golf, which I had no interest in until I accepted an invitation against my “better” judgment), that if a friend invites you to do something that isn’t totally repugnant, do it if you can.

    This person is your friend because you have things in common.

    So if your friend says, “Do you want to go to a drumline competition with me?” or “You want play rugby Saturday with me and my friends?” you go and maybe you’ll discover something wonderful and new.

  3. lyda Post author

    Thanks, BFF! And as you know, I have the same problem… it would be so much easier without that pesky working thing taking up my time…

    Marin – the “no reading for a week” was the hardest part. It happened that the week I hit that, I was traveling to Texas. Delayed flights. No reading. Being in strange place. No reading. Sleeping in a room filled floor to ceiling with books (seriously – have I mentioned my brother the Gorgeous and Available Engineer is a book addict like me?). No reading. I almost caved, but I didn’t. I did a lot of writing. If only I was a knitter then – I could have finished a Stupid Blanket in the airport!

    But I learned something important by not reading for a week. (of course, some people just ignore that one part… just sayin’…) I still do the morning pages, and am much happier when I do artist dates. Once I finish my homework, I’m going to start the sequel, “Walking Through the World” or whatever it’s called.

  4. Marin

    Seriously – did I mention I’ll trade you any number or silk/alpaca/cashmere based yarns for your Gorgeous and Available Engineer brother?

  5. lyda Post author

    Hmmm… yarn for brother… sounds like a great trade, since I get to keep my bro AND the yarn!

    You has pics of said yarn? Brother is very funny too, also very laid-back and wonderful.

    BFF is right.
    Must. Visit. Colorado.
    (damn Pointy Pointy Mountains!)

  6. Pingback: Pollyanna Bobs to the Surface « Pollyanna Rainbow Sunshine and the Needles of Doom

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