“What Should I Do with My Life?”

That’s the name of a book by Po Bronson that’s become a big best-seller in the US. I was in the Newark Airport two weeks ago waiting for my flight back to the southwest when I went into the bookstore, and the title of the book simply jumped out at me. I picked it up and read the blurb, and I had to buy it.

What Should I do with My Life? isn’t really a how-to book or a self-help guide. It’s not about tips and pointers. Bronson simply interviews 55 people who have had interesting experiences coming up with their answer to the question. He uses their real names and usually includes their photo. He never gets trite or saccharine, and never pretends that there are any magic answers. Simply by telling their story, he manages to shake readers into looking at their own lives and realizing that maybe what they are doing with their lives isn’t the only way there is. Maybe we can actually do something with our lives that we love.

I’ve only read half the book, but it’s already changed the course of my job hunting. I had been toying with the idea of starting my own PR business for the past year, or of partnering with an existing business so that I’d be a co-owner, not an employee. But I was scared to death. What if there wasn’t enough incoming revenue to pay my bills? What about benefits? What about the stress of having to find new business? In my heart, I knew I’d never have the courage for it.

Just today, I took the first steps, finding a partner (a young lady I’ve worked with for years and whom I adore) and making plans. And just like that, today the phone rang and one of my old employers asked if I could do some freelance PR for his company. And we’re off….

The main message I’ve got from the book so far is that the answer to the torturous question is often right in front of our face and we don’t even know it. I love classical music and opera, yet I’ve never checked with the state opera to see if there’s anything I could do for them. (Writing, publicity, program notes, etc.) I’ve always taken it for granted that there was no possibility. Most of us do that, and we are blind to the opportunities right in front of us. The book drove this home, but again, it’s much more than tips. Some of the people Bronson interviews have not figured out the answer to the question. Some have had their dreams fall short of expectations. But by telling their story and adding some insightful commentary, free of sentimentality or bombast, the author manages to show you the world from a whole different perspective. I felt doors were opening for me with each new chapter.

The book’s not perfect. Bronson has a tendency to generalize, and although he says the interviews are with “ordinary people,” many don’t really fit into that category — few are ordinary 9-to-6 workers in the rat race like me. But all in all, I am finding this one of the most worthwhile books I’ve read in a long time. It’s a trite thing to say, and it’s too early to really know, but I have a feeling it’s changed my life.

The Discussion: 16 Comments

At least you had THE MONEY to buy this book. The jobless don’t……

April 2, 2004 @ 6:19 pm | Comment

I have a lot of compassion for the jobless, being in that category myself for the past 5 weeks. Still, I suspect they can find this book at the library soon enough.

April 2, 2004 @ 6:22 pm | Comment

Does this mean you won’t be coming back to China? Actually, I am excited for you; the enthusiasm for life is back in your “step” and that is good, my dear friend. Please forgive my lack of e-mails–my work plate has become overwhelmed almost to the point of panic these days.

April 2, 2004 @ 9:35 pm | Comment

Joseph, lots of poor whites to help you if you hire that race?

April 3, 2004 @ 1:02 am | Comment

The library? Shows how the rich can never understand us poor.

First, the Library never has a book until it’s 4 or 5 years old. That’s why all their computer books are useless.

And been to a library recently? Seems not.. As a anti theft measure you now have to have a Major Credit Card registered to check out a book! How can the poor get a “Major Credit Card?” NOT

April 3, 2004 @ 1:59 am | Comment

Jeez. Lighten up, people!

I’m in a not entirely dissimilar situation myself, and have read about — and thought about buying — the Bronson book. If only because Po Bronson is a hottie. But seriously, at the age of almost-40 I still haven’t figured out what I want to do when I grow up.

Richard, I’m glad things are working out for you. Having a positive attitude is half the battle — if not most of it.

(And if I butter you up enough, can I have a job?) ๐Ÿ˜‰

April 3, 2004 @ 2:05 am | Comment

This book should have been called “What Should I Do With My Parent’s Money?” Nearly all of the 50+ people who’s stories made the cut (supposedly over 900 were interviewed) are greed-driven, over-educated, whiny Gen X-ers and former dot-commers who are coasting on their trust funds while trying to “figure it out” (very few have actually found their calling). If these people are truly representative of my generation I want a new birth date.

Don’t make a mistake and pick up this book expecting it to even try to answer the question it asks in the title. This is a blatant ego-trip and all about how smart Po Bronson is, how empathetic he is, and by coining terms like “Boom Wrangler” & “Phi Beta Slacker”, how desperate he is to be the voice of his generation.

I heard Mr. Bronson on NPR and thought this book might be perfect for one of my employees who’s looking for answers, but after reading it I think I’ll save her the disappointment (I mean, if these multiple-MBAs can’t get it together, the rest of us don’t have a chance). I’m giving it 2 stars because a handful of the stories are truly inspirational and worthwhile.

A helpful tip might be to pass over any book in which a way-too-hip photo of the author takes up half of the back cover.

April 3, 2004 @ 5:08 am | Comment

My library has 4 copies, and I was never asked for a credit card to get a library card. So I guess I’ll read it.

It looks like a fun book. Thanks for the recommendation.

April 3, 2004 @ 7:24 am | Comment

This blog seems to have touched the nerves of a few of life’s “victims”. The poor who can’t overcome obstacles. The poor who still have access to computers and can whine and snipe and tell the world why they can’t do anything.

Good for you, Richard, that you found a tool that is making a difference. Maybe sharing your experience might help others as well. Too bad that some feel the need to make snide remarks in return.

There is a site where people who can’t afford a book or who can’t get a library card or who is just a victim who the stars are lined up against can go tell their story and commiserate with others of the same ilk. Go to poorme.com and slop your whine on those pages!

April 3, 2004 @ 7:43 am | Comment

Vaara, Mark and Sonoman, thanks for the sanity check.

It’s interesting to see that three of the commenters — Daniel, Samuel and anonymous all have the same IP address,, so I have to conclude it’s a fellow with too much time on his hands trying to stir things up.

April 3, 2004 @ 10:12 am | Comment

Joseph, to your question of whether this means I’m not returning to China, let me say this: I feel hopelessly conflicted. I am dying to go back, to learn and teach and make a contribution. But I have commitments here, like a house and aging parents and two cats and a lot more. So I’m leaning toward partnering with my old friend and running our own little PR/marcom shop together. I’ll know soon enough if it’s what I want. If it were simple enough, I’d just hop on a plane now and head back to Beijing. Don’t be surprised if I catually decide to do that in the not so distant future.

Mark: The book is no panacea and no silver bullet. It was right for me at this precise moment; it got me to think and to see my situation from a new perspective. So for me, it was worth its price many times over. I would say if you are not in the throes of a mid-life crisis, this isn’t required reading.

April 3, 2004 @ 5:53 pm | Comment

My entire life is a mid-life crisis…

April 3, 2004 @ 6:20 pm | Comment

Po Bronson – the man that made the myth of the dot-com world.

Won’t be rushing out any time soon to read his book, let alone buy it.

April 5, 2004 @ 10:42 am | Comment

No matter what he said about the dot-coms, which everybody, including me, got wrong at the time, this book stands on its own and is at least worth a look.

April 5, 2004 @ 1:34 pm | Comment

I read the book (yes, got it at the library)
Very interesting book. For the person above, who indicated that the subjects were MBA, trust-fund sucking, dot-com drop-outs; yes there are a few. Yes, most of the folks are accomplished in one way or another, but what is enlightening is that these folks can’t figure it out either. It actually is comforting that perhaps the goal is universal. There are some good clues in the book, but the author stops short of prescribing those as rules, as they are not. Bottom line, there is no right answer(s), but this book can help you find the way.

April 9, 2004 @ 9:36 pm | Comment

Khabbi, nicely said.

April 11, 2004 @ 11:05 pm | Comment

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