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What Should I Do with My Life?: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question [Kindle Edition]

Po Bronson
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (353 customer reviews)

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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

“Brimming with stories of sacrifice, courage, commitment and, sometimes, failure, the book will support anyone pondering a major life choice or risk without force-feeding them pat solutions.”
Publishers Weekly

What should I do with my life?

It’s a question many of us have pondered with frequency. Author Po Bronson was asking himself that very question when he decided to write this book—an inspiring exploration of how people transform their lives and a template for how we can answer this question for ourselves.

Bronson traveled the country in search of individuals who have struggled to find their calling, their true nature—people who made mistakes before getting it right. He encountered people of all ages and all professions—a total of fifty-five fascinating individuals trying to answer questions such as: Is a career supposed to feel like a destiny? How do I tell the difference between a curiosity and a passion? Should I make money first, to fund my dream? If I have a child, will my frustration over my work go away? Should I accept my lot, make peace with my ambition, and stop stressing out? Why do I feel guilty for thinking about this?

From their efforts to answer these questions, the universal truths in this book emerge. Each story in these pages informs the next, and the result is a journey that unfolds with cumulative power. Reading this book is like listening in on an intimate conversation among people you care about and admire. Even if you know what you should do with your life, you will find wisdom and guidance in these stories of people who found meaningful answers by daring to be honest with themselves.
Among them:

-the Pittsburgh lawyer who decided to become a trucker so he could savor the moment and be closer to his son.
-the toner-cartridge queen of Chicago, who realized that her relationships with men kept sabotaging her career choices.
-the Cuban immigrant who overcame the strong dis-approval of her parents and quit her high-paying job to pursue social-service work in Miami.
-the chemistry professor who realized, quite late in life, that he would rather practice law.
-the mother torn between an Olympic career and her adolescent daughter.
-the seventeen-year-old boy who received a letter from the Dalai Lama and was called to a life of spiritual leadership.
-the creator of St. Elmo’s Fire, who wasn’t sure he could quit his successful Hollywood life for the deeper artistic life he had always wanted to pursue.
-the author himself. Po Bronson has worked as a bus-boy, cook, janitor, sports-medicine intern, bus-lift assembly-line technician, aerobics instructor, litigation consultant, greeting-card designer, bond salesman, political-newsletter editor, high school teacher, and book publisher. Since then, he has written three books: Bombardiers, The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, and The Nudist on the Late Shift. But none of those experiences compared to what he learned by writing this book.


“We all have passions if we choose to see them,” he writes. “Most of us don’t get epiphanies. We don’t get clarity. Our purpose doesn’t arrive neatly packaged as destiny. We only get a whisper. A blank, nonspecific urge. That’s how it starts.”

With humor, empathy, and insight, Po Bronson probes the depths of people who learned how to hear the whisper, who overcame fear and confusion to find a larger truth about their lives. A meditation, a journey, and a triumph of story-telling, What Should I Do with My Life? is a life-changing book by a writer who brilliantly tackles the big questions.


From the Hardcover edition.


Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In What Should I Do with My Life? Po Bronson manages to create a career book that is a page-turner. His 50 vivid profiles of people searching for "their soft spot--their true calling" will engage readers because Bronson is asking himself the same question. He explores his premise, that "nothing is braver than people facing up to their own identity," as an anthropologist and autobiographer. He tackles thorny, nuanced issues about self-determination. Among them: paradoxes of money and meaning, authorship and destiny, brain candy and novelty versus soul food. Bronson’s stories, limited to professional people and complete with photos, are gems. They include a Los Angeles lawyer who became a priest, a Harvard MBA catfish farmer turned biotech executive, and a Silicon Valley real estate agent who opened a leather crafts factory in Costa Rica.

Bronson is a gifted intuitive writer, the bestselling author of The Nudist on the Late Shift, whose thoughtful, vulnerable voice emerges as the book’s greatest strength and challenge. He describes his subject’s lives along with the ways they annoy, puzzle, and worry him. He frets about meddling with his questions, yet once, memorably and appropriately, he offers a talented man a top post in his publishing company. While this creates the juiciness of his portraits, it also can make Bronson the book’s most memorable character and the only one whose story is not resolved. Even so, this remarkable career chronicle sets the gold standard for the worth of the examined life. --Barbara Mackoff

From Publishers Weekly

In this elevated career guide, Bronson (Bombardiers; The Nudist on the Late Shift) poses the titular question to an eclectic mix of "real people in the real world," compiling their experiences and insights about callings, self-acceptance, moral guilt, greed and ambition, and emotional rejuvenation. Bronson crisscrosses the country seeking out remarkable examples of successful and not-so-successful people confronting tough issues, such as differentiating between a curiosity and a passion and deciding whether or not to make money first in order to fund one's dream. Bronson frames the edited responses with witty, down-to-earth commentaries, such as those of John, an engineer whose dream of building an electric car crumbled under his personal weaknesses; and Ashley, a do-gooder burdened by the unlikely combination of self-hatred and a love for humanity. Bronson wants to understand what makes these people-among them a timid college career counselor trapped in his job, a farmer bullish on risk-taking, a financial expert grabbing an opportunity to rebuild her brokerage firm devastated by the World Trade Center tragedy and a scientist who rethinks his lifelong work and becomes a lawyer-tick. He occasionally digresses, musing on his own life too much, and frequently hammers points home longer than necessary, but neither of these drawbacks undercuts the book's potency. The "ultimate question" is a topic always in season, worthy of Bronson's skillful probing and careful anecdote selection. Brimming with stories of sacrifice, courage, commitment and, sometimes, failure, the book will support anyone pondering a major life choice or risk without force-feeding them pat solutions. Photos.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 942 KB
  • Print Length: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (December 24, 2002)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000FBFMKC
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #178,915 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
558 of 590 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed but important January 14, 2003
Format:Hardcover
Questioning his own life, author Po Bronson set out to learn how others made tough career decisions -- and lived with them.
He says he talked to nine hundred people, seventy or so in detail, and he includes the stories of fifty or so career-changers in his book.
Bronson does not offer a systematic study or a self-help book. That's important to get out of the way. As other reviewers have observed, you won't find plans or guidance for your own career move.
Instead, Bronson offers a jumble of anecdotes, unsystematic and uneven -- just the sort of stories I hear every day as a career coach. People seek new adventures. They weigh the cost (and there always is a cost). Sometimes they decide the cost is too high and they back down. Sometimes they leap and experience disappointment. And sometimes they leap and find themselves soaring.
Career-changers are hungry for guidance. Bronson's interviewees often sought his approval -- and his advice. He insists that he's not a career counselor but they asked anyway. This quest for help is typical during any life transition and underscores the need to be cautious about seeking help from whoever happens to show up.
And of course this overlap of roles can be viewed as a flaw in the book. Bronson admits lapsing from the journalist role. He gets so involved with his interviewees that the story becomes a quest, a journey-across-the-country story rather than an analysis of career choices. Bronson includes his own story, told in pieces throughout the book. This feature seemed to interrupt the flow: if the author tells his own story, we should be led to anticipate autobiography.
Despite these flaws, Bronson comes up with some sound insights into career change. He observes that people avoid change because of the accompanying loss of identity.
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165 of 177 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book that makes the reader really think January 2, 2003
Format:Hardcover
If you are interested in a "5 Step" plan to finding a better job or simply reading a series of "How I became a rich from humble beginning" stories, this not the book for you. Anthony Robbins style of cheerleading plays no role in these pages.
How do people change from what they really want to do for a living with what they are presently doing. How do you reconcile your dream job with how you are still going to make the car payment? What is holding you back from changing? What fears do you harbor? How do you know what is your destiny? These are some of the issues that are addressed in this book. I use the word "addressed" carefully, because you will not find a nice "bullet point" summary of steps to take in this book. Life is not that simple and neither are the issues faced by the average reader of this book.

Everyone profiled in the book (50 people... I believe a total of 900 people were interviewed) made the critical decision to act upon their desire to change the way they earning a living. Real people and real decisions. Unlike Hollywood, not every story has a perfect cute ending. The process for change is extremely complicated and ultimately takes a lot of work. Self-doubt was common. But change they did. The people in this book are just like you and me. Bill Gates has no seat at this table.
Bronson does a careful job of covering all the different angles. There are people who rejected money to follow their dream ( including Bronson himself), then there are others who make a decision without the support of the their family, there are those who struggle for years to make a change and there are those who make the change immediately. Whether you are extremely rich/successful or just starting out you will be able to relate.
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90 of 101 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book, but too many rich white folk January 9, 2003
By A Customer
Format:Audio Cassette
This is a nice treatment of many different people grappling with the question which titles the book. Po does a nice job of playing therapist and finding the story arc of his subjects' careers. Central themes include career v. family/relationships, facing your fears/biases/baggage, pragmatism v. idealism.
However, the book profiles a disproportionate number of people who are traditionally successful (i.e. wealthy from business, law, etc) and traded down into lower-paying careers that offered more fulfillment. Most of the subjects are Clinton-Gore alumni, Silicon Valley vets, or driven Ivy Leaguers who burned out and then were beset with ennui.
The book has value, but it may be worth waiting for your library to get a copy. It feels a bit, tho' not grossly, self-indulgent, and sincere enough.
I would have preferred to hear a more diverse set of voices, economically and racially. Po refers frequently to how someone contacted him having heard word-of-mouth that he was working on this book. Perhaps the self-selection this created was to the book's detriment.
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121 of 139 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A BAD JOKE - MORE FICTION THAN FACT February 17, 2003
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Several contributors to this book -- the ones who haven't been duped by Bronson into joining the shameless publicity-fest -- have complained that their stories as told by Bronson are fictional, at best. Reading this ridiculous I'm-so-great-everyone-else-is-sadly-confused excuse for a book, I believe the naysayers. I also know three of the contributors, and I could not in the least reconcile the facts of their lives with Bronson's presentation of them.
For instance, Lori Gottlieb had been a successful journalist and author of a national best-seller, the memoir "STICK FIGURE: A DIARY OF MY FORMER SELF" BEFORE Bronson interviewed her. Yet somehow he fails to mention that she was the author of two books and had written hundreds of articles for national publications --that she had found this successful career path -- after leaving medical school. Instead, he presents a story of a woman in search of a career merely to suit his purposes -- to fit into the theme of his book. But if a reader were to do a Google search on Gottlieb, the reader would marvel at the difference between the I-don't-know-what-to-do-with-my-life woman Bronson describes and the accomplished professional writer she actually is. It's not that Bronson didn't have this information when he was researching his book: in fact, he knows Gottlieb, and he had been interviewed for Gottlieb's second book, "INSIDE THE CULT OF KIBU: AND OTHER TALES OF THE MILLENNIAL GOLD RUSH," so clearly he was aware of her status as a well-known writer and failed to disclose this very relevant information in his book.
Two other friends were made to sound like clueless airheads and pathetic lost souls, when both are actually quite accomplished and extremely articulate.
The New York Times panned this book, and for good reason.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book!
Po Bronson knocks this out of the park! Great narrative voice and broad look at a generation. Reminds me a little of Studs Turkel's Work.
Published 1 month ago by Margo Walker
5.0 out of 5 stars Story of people trying to figure out their career purpose
I've read this book three times. Every time I wonder what I should do for my career, this is my standby. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Andrew J. Long
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspirational and Motivating Stories - love it!
Great stories. Very inspirational and motivating. I listened to it all in two days while in a car to work.
Published 2 months ago by Katrick
4.0 out of 5 stars Lacks Direction, but Still Interesting
Let's start off with this: Don't go in expecting to get an immediate answer to the question posed by the title. Bronson used that as a lure to find people to interview. Read more
Published 4 months ago by M.A. Cox
5.0 out of 5 stars "There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a...
I came across Po's book a few weeks ago, and I loved it. I am asking these questions in my own life, wondering what to do with the
last 6- 8 years before retiring. Read more
Published 4 months ago by R. Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars There are no easy answers, but you knew that.
If you want the answer to question the title asks, what you will get is is the confirmation that a great many people work long and hard to find it. Some do some don't. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Maverick
5.0 out of 5 stars Not for everyone - perfect for someone
I wasn’t going to write a review for this book, but I felt compelled after reading some of the negative reviews. This is not a self-help book. Read more
Published 4 months ago by S. Myles
3.0 out of 5 stars interesting
Good points of interest but no real conclusion. Just alot of stories about peoples career choices and motives. Would have liked a better ending
Published 5 months ago by cheryl lawyer
4.0 out of 5 stars New Year, New You
It's inspiring. Uplifting. Gives clarity.
A wonderful book to read in the begining of the year.The little push I need
Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting read
I was somewhat fascinated with the stories of the various individuals Bronson puts in the book. I am a big fan of Bronson's writing style. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Steven Rakow
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More About the Author

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman's NurtureShock was on the New York Times bestseller list for six months. One of the most influential books about children ever published, NurtureShock landed on more than 35 "Year's Best" lists and has been translated into 16 languages. The authors have won nine national awards for their reporting, including the PEN USA Award for Literary Journalism and the American Association for the Advancement of Science Award for Outstanding Journalism.

Prior to their collaboration, Bronson authored five books, including What Should I Do with My Life?, a #1 New York Times bestseller with more than ten months on the list. He has been on Oprah, on every national morning show, and on the cover of five magazines, including Wired and Fast Company. His first novel, Bombardiers, was a #1 bestseller in the United Kingdom. His books have been translated into 20 languages. Po speaks regularly at colleges and community "town hall" events. He is a founder of The San Francisco Writer's Grotto, a cooperative workspace for writers and filmmakers. He also serves as volunteer president of the San Francisco Vikings Youth Soccer League. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and two children.



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