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What Should I Do With My Life: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question Hardcover – December 24, 2002

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (December 24, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375507493
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375507496
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (354 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #328,597 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

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.

Customer Reviews

He seems to ignore the fact the asking the question is not enough, you have to answer it too.
When I found this book, I thought it was going to be about regular people who hated there work and the steps they took to get to a better place.
Brian Kent
I highly recommend it for anyone having doubts or are wondering what they should be doing with their life.
C. Eaker

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

559 of 591 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Cathy Goodwin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 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 By "savedian" on 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 By A Customer on January 9, 2003
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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122 of 140 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 17, 2003
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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