Sometimes when I speak to a group of students, I tell them the story of when I was in high school and college and my father would urge me to follow our family tradition of becoming a lawyer. I watched as my cousins, brothers and friends entered into and prospered from the legal profession, yet I knew deep inside I was not cut out to be that organized, disciplined and steeped in research. My mind drifted toward more creative subjects, such as writing and design.
To deflect the inevitable confrontation with my dad, I began developing a track record in my areas of interest and joined my high school and college newspaper staffs. In my third year at the University of Virginia, I even wrote a column for my weekly paper entitled, “Courting the Law.”
As the time approached to register to take the law boards, I told him I was contemplating not even registering. He urged me to, saying I should “keep my options open.” I did register, but the night before the scheduled test, I intentionally stayed out too late and slept in that Saturday morning. He was not very happy.
I drifted off to be an itinerant journalist, traveling the South, making near-minimum wage. My dad feigned support as best he could, but would occasionally mention that it might not be too late to go back to law school. I told him my dream was that I would one day be publisher of the Atlanta newspapers (hope I wasn’t specific about which ones). Yet, in my heart, I wasn’t positive where I was headed. At one point, when a mentor suggested I move into the marketing and sales side of the newspaper business, I left journalism behind for nearly 10 years. Friends would ask if I missed writing and I’d say I didn’t, but inside, something was gnawing at me.
One day, the editor of my high school alumni magazine asked me to write a profile of fellow alum Clark Howard. I took the assignment, interviewed Clark in the studios of WSB-AM and went home to write a profile. Somewhere in the process of writing a feature story, I felt a passion and an energy I had not felt in nearly a decade. I discovered I did in fact miss writing very much.
I then recalled a stunning series of interviews television journalist Bill conducted with mythology professor Joseph Campbell, who talked about the concept of bliss. “If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living,” he said. “When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”
Shortly thereafter I quit my job and, with guidance from God working through other people, published my first issue of my little neighborhood newspaper. No staff, no money, but plenty of bliss. My dad kept calling to urge me to bring over the first issue. He grabbed it, sat down and read it cover to cover. He walked out to my car in his driveway, hugged me and said something he had not said in a long time: “I’m really proud of you.” A week later, he suddenly had a stroke and died.
I was then joined by writers and designers and advertisers – all of whom, by following their own bliss and investing their talents and resources, have enlarged my little idea to what it is today.
When I tell this story, inevitably a couple of students will come up after my talk and say I have inspired them to do what they were meant to do, rather than listen to their dads. I am amused to hear that, particularly when I think about how I, in turn, sometimes give my own children too much advice. I suppose I secretly hope they will defy me and do what they really want to do. What I really want is for them to be happy. If they are, I will be very, very proud.