Permission to start

Marion Dane Bauer
Marion Dane Bauer. Photo by Tracy Walsh

Follow your bliss, they say. But few folks ever talk about figuring out what one’s “bliss” actually is. Sometimes it seems so hard to find, especially when you’re talking about a career path, a way to earn a living.

It sounds too good to be true.

But is that because we don’t know when to listen?

Listening is hard. Often, it requires swimming upstream, feeling utterly unsure or facing doubt, even from (sometimes especially from) loved ones. And fulfillment can take not months, but years.

Marion Dane Bauer, when she realized what she wanted to do, heard the call.

As a mother of young children, she began writing in little pockets of time when she “should have been cleaning the house.” When it came time to stop being a stay-at-home mom and get a job, she realized what she wanted — to be a paid professional writer! She didn’t want regrets.

“I had a vision of myself on my deathbed, saying, ‘No one gave me time to write!’”

So she made a five-year deal with her husband: “I told him, ‘I’ll treat it like a job, and if I’m not published by the deadline, I’ll go to work.’”

Three and half years later, Bauer’s first book, Shelter from the Wind, was published, eventually followed by her Newbery Honor-winning book, On My Honor. Then she kept going for more than 40 years and is still publishing to this day at age 80, pursuing topics as lofty as the cosmos (no less) with her latest children’s book, The Stuff of Stars.


Her life hasn’t been easy, by any stretch, but it was that time in her life, among others during her early years, when she chose to follow her dream. I find it fascinating that she’s found joy in the process of writing, not just in the finished products, which for her includes 104 children’s books in all.

“A lot of people want to have written,” she said. “They have a vision of a published book, and they think that’s what it’s all about. For me, it’s the daily process that really feeds me. It’s something I need.”

Bauer suggests we can all find that certain bliss at any age.

“If you haven’t had a chance to find what really feeds you yet, it’s not too late. Find it now,” she said.

What is it for you?

It reminds me of the Mary Oliver poem, The Summer Day, that ends with the memorable line: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Is it what you’re doing when you should be cleaning the house? It might just be a matter of — as Bauer puts it — giving yourself real and honest “permission to start.”

You might be afraid of failure, of doing it wrong, of not loving every single minute, of “what ifs.”

But as a good friend of mine often asks: What if it’s great?