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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

3.3 out of 5 stars 378 customer reviews

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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.

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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: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (378 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #974,845 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Hardcover
This book is a delectable collection of anecdotes about people who realized that the jobs they were doing were meaningless and how they found happiness by finding an occupation that they loved. The anecdotes are well chosen, cover a large spectrum of professions and from that perspective it's a good book. You'll learn about investment bankers becoming fishermen, hollywood execs becoming doctors, saleswomen becoming massueses. The anecdotes generally adhere to the following format:
The protagonist works really hard to make money and/or acquire power and prestige then there was a life changing event that made him realize that what's really important is such-and-such (family, leasure, helping people) and then he gives up the lucrative but empty profession and does something that they love or allows them to do what they love. If you are at a cross roads yourself it is quite instructional to see the various creative ways other people found happiness. Don't look here for philosophical epiphanies though - the central theses of the book however are mostly rather banal:
1) If people do what they really love as opposed to what society dictates is desirable and prestigious they will bring more energy and creativity to their jobs and productivity will rise.
2) Money isn't everything. Learn to live on less and you'll be happy because it will allow you to do what you love.
3) Work does not have to be fun. The important question is whether you find it meaningful and rewarding. If you believe in what you do putting up with gruntwork will be easy.
4) Surround yourself with people who share your values. You'll be happier that way because you won't need to compromise your values (eg by selling someone a widget you know they don't need).
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