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  • Writer's pictureJulian Molteno

FOLLOW YOUR BLISS — A Hero’s Journey

In my teens I became aware of an American man who had an expression that summed up how he felt life ought to be lived. His expression was — “Follow your Bliss”. I did not know anything else about him apart from this single thought of his, but his words resonated strongly with me, because by that time of my life, I had already discovered my bliss — bodybuilding. The reason I took note of his “Follow your Bliss” philosophy was that my bliss was quite unorthodox and was not really approved of, nor understood by my family, nor by many other people in my life. A young man of my upbringing and education, in 80’s South Africa, was expected to go to university, get a “proper” degree, and enter into a respectable profession. My unusual choice of a bodybuilding life required me to push back against those expectations. This “Follow your Bliss” idea helped reinforce in me that my bodybuilding choice — winning the Mr Olympia, living in California and being an “all-action movie star” — was a commendable way to live one’s life. Furthermore, I felt that to actually know one’s bliss was a blessing in itself, and what a shame it would be to then not follow it. At various times during my life I have been reminded of that simple sentence, and over the years I have reflected whether or not it still holds true for me. Recently I was wondering just who was this man, whose saying had occupied the edges of my mind for so long, and typed “American who said follow your bliss” into Google. To my astonishment a whole world of information popped up! 

It turns out that Joseph Campbell — for it was he — was an interesting and inspirational man. He was not, as I had naively and somewhat patronisingly thought, a loud-mouthed American salesman of “lifestyle” and “positive thinking”, but an academic of some note. Campbell was a Professor of Literature who worked in comparative mythology and comparative religion, his work covering many aspects of the human experience. Campbell's best-known work is his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), in which he discusses his theory of the journey of the archetypal hero shared by world mythologies, termed the monomyth.  

The monomyth? Sounds interesting, especially as my younger daughter Octavia is studying Classic Civilisations for Sixth Form. Part of her syllabus covers The Odyssey (which I too am reading, to enable me to have some sort of input if Octavia wants some Dad advice) in which Odysseus is exactly the type of hero that Campbell talks of in his monomyth concept. Campbell asserts that all the ancient stories and myths have a similar hero and a universally recognisable plot, thus, the monomyth. I felt that the rest of the dopey kids in Octavia’s class would be ignorant of this monomyth gold-dust and Octavia would be guaranteed an A* if she mentioned Campbell’s theory, all thanks to me! 

Campbell demonstrates the monomyth theory beautifully with his illustration of The Hero’s Journey, an idea that immediately grasped my attention and my imagination as I have long enjoyed thinking of bodybuilding, Greek Mythology and general heroic deeds, as all fundamentally melded to one another.  

So, I followed my bliss, and pursued my bodybuilding life. And where did it get me? Did my dreams come true? Did I win the Mr Olympia? Did I live in California? Was I an action-movie star? No. No. No. And No again. But . . . just like Campbell’s archetypal hero, I have had my very own Hero’s Journey! I answered the Call to Adventure, and I entered into The Unknown, received Supernatural Aid, fell into Temptation and Defended Evil. I shapeshifted into a savage Mangalore and was later transformed, with a magic potion, from a mere mortal into a Mighty Golden Warrior, fighting to the death with a Wizard. And amazingly, albeit briefly, attained the status of a God!!! And finally, upon my return to The Known, a Goddess gave me the Gift of Eternal Love! Sound far-fetched? Read on, Dear reader, read on . . . I answered the Call to Adventure by jumping on a one-way flight to London, and with a young man’s optimism and belief, I entered into the unknown. I received Supernatural Aid from Anabol, Deca Durabolin and Dianabol. These three Temptresses, these Sirens, lured me to them and enchanted me with whispered promises of superhuman strength and bone-crushing muscle size, they promised me the power to stride the earth like a colossus! I fell into Temptation and defended Evil as one of Zorg’s bodyguards in The Fifth Element. Mr Zorg was an international arms dealer, and as such, had an army of henchmen to implement his evil ways. One of my enforcement specialities was manhandling old men!! He formed an uneasy alliance with the brutal mercenary Mangalores, and as is often the way with evil  I shapeshifted into a savage Mangalore “dog soldier” and we caused strife and havoc wherever we went! 

I was later transformed, with a magic potion, from a mere mortal into a Mighty Golden Warrior and fought to the death with a Wizard on the stage of the Broadway Theatre, Barking, in east London, in the musical “Wizards and Warriors”. ( I was the Warrior in the title, and the Wizard was played by my best friend from SA, Paul De Sousa, who was living with me at that time in London.) In the first half of the production another actor plays the part of my mortal self, but as the curtain rises for the second half (after having drunk a powerful elixir) the smoke clears from the stage, and I am revealed, transformed into the Golden Warrior! Standing tall and proud, tanned and muscular, holding my mighty sword high above my head and adopting my most imperious expression. Dressed in furry boots, a tunic and some sort of leather strapping, and with my golden mullet, I adopted heroic poses and led the masses to victory against the terrible Wizard! 

As an aside, I must mention here that the musical was produced by a man called Andy Ball, whose organisation, London Amateur Musical Productions (LAMPS), put on musicals to raise money for charity. This particular show was in aid of Mencap and these kids had sat through the first half of the show obviously feeling a bit bored and possibly confused, so when I appeared rather dramatically as the Golden Warrior, they responded in the most amazing way. The whole theatre rose to their feet as one and absolutely ROARED their approval and support for their hero! At last here was a timeless character, a strong and honourable man they immediately recognised and could all identify with. It was, actually, a truly humbling and unforgettable experience as their cheering, shouting and clapping just went on and on. I can assure you that it’s hard to look imperious with a big, stupid grin on your face. After the performance a few kids and their parents waited to see me and get an autograph, which, like an idiot, I signed: “Death before dishonour”, and, “Never Surrender!!” And, amazingly, albeit briefly, I also attained the status of a God!  In 1991 I competed in a London bodybuilding show called the Mr Capital City, which I won, and which remains one of the nicest experiences of my life. The whole day and evening has such warm memories for me. Lots of people from Physique Gym turned up to support me, and the other guys and girls from our gym who were also competing. (You can see them in my Gym Group Photos post.) All in all a very happy experience. Many years later, perhaps fifteen or more, I was having a one-off session at a Fitness First in Finchley. As it was my first time there I had a good nosey about and looked at the Personal Trainer Profiles up on the wall. One of the PTs’ profiles stated that he had competed as a bodybuilder, and furthermore that he had competed in the Mr Capital City 1991! How amusing! I had a better look at his photo and I did recognise him. Anyhow, I started training and after a bit I noticed that he had noticed me, and was looking curiously in my direction, clearly wondering where he knew me from. Once he had finished with his client he came over to me and asked if I was Julian Molteno? Which I certainly was. He then asked if I was the same Julian Molteno who had won the Mr Capital City 1991? Again, I was happy to confirm his suspicions. He then said to me, “ I tell all my clients about you.” And went on to explain how, in his opinion, everyone who was competing on that day (including himself) looked either too small, or too fat, or not tanned enough, etc. Basically, he felt that they were a pretty underwhelming lot. Then, towards the end of the contest he saw me on stage and was impressed with how I looked. All those years later he said to me, with much emphasis as he thought back to that night, “And there you were . . . standing there . . . LIKE A GOD!!”  

And finally, upon my return to the Known, a Goddess gave me the Gift of Eternal Love. Unbeknownst to me this Goddess first glimpsed sight of her Hero on the brutal battlefield that was Camden Town Hall, Judd Street, London, WC1, as he fought tooth and nail, clenching and sweating his way to Victory, to Glory on that fateful night we all now know as . . . The Mr Capital City 1991!!! Yes! This goddess (sitting at the back of the hall with her sister) spied her hero, and as is the way with goddesses generally, she utilised her special powers, she plotted and schemed, and brought him under her spell. Our poor, hapless hero was defenceless, for while he could stride the earth like a colossus and brandish his mighty sword above his head whilst looking imperious, he was inexperienced in love and was bewildered by the dastardly tactics employed by this lady deity to ensnare his heart. And by and by he fell hopelessly in love. And, believe it or not, they lived happily ever after!  

Mom I know this post has been silly and frivolous and self-indulgent (and long!), but . . . I do want to return, in a serious way, to Joseph Campbell’s original “Follow your Bliss” philosophy. My experience of following my bliss has been a very interesting one. I have discovered that when you follow your bliss, beautiful things happen, to you and to others around you. By the age of thirteen I had mapped out my life and I set off (on my Hero’s Journey) to make that happen. And it DID happen. Just not how I thought it would. Not everything worked out. I’m not Mr Olympia, and I’m not a movie star, but perhaps you have to follow your bliss . . . to then discover your bliss. Follow your bliss to reveal your true bliss. The bliss you never knew you desired. I look at my daughters as they get ready to enter the adult world and embark on their Hero’s Journey (In the twenty-first century, girls (women!) can have Hero’s Journey’s too!) Goddess Suzy and I can help them materially and emotionally, we can guide and nurture them, but in the end, their lives are theirs to live and they will make their own choices. However, if I had to give just one piece of advice, it would probably be those wise words of Joseph Campbell’s spoken so long ago . . . to just . . . FOLLOW YOUR BLISS.  

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