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

Po Bronson
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan 2003
“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.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (Jan 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375507493
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375507496
  • Product Dimensions: 24.1 x 16.5 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 728,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Po Bronson wanted to find out what to do with his life so he started interviewing people who were asking the same question. He wound up writing an excellent self-help book, called, naturally enough, What Should I Do With My Life?, consisting almost entirely of questions instead of slick answers. Here are over 50 short real-life stories of people who woke up and realised that "this is not a dress rehearsal". They took the trouble to ask what life is for, where their real gifts lie and what they really want to do with their lives.

The result is as fascinating and messy as life itself. Some of the people come out on top. They chuck out the routine grind with its dead-end expectations and find out what they are good at, follow their dream and find happiness. Others continue the struggle. They wade through days of confusion. They fight against society's shallow solutions. They battle with their doubts and fears. They kick against the trite expectations of family, friends, employers and lovers to keep up the search for their Holy Grail. Bronson has written up the stories with compassion, insight and sensitivity. But the tales avoid the usual sentimental feel-good factor that seems to be a requisite for self-help books. Instead we're shown the truth that following the impossible dream always has a price. Bronson mixes his sensitivity with a certain gritty reality and ironically this realism inspires other questing heroes much more than yet more syrupy positive thinking. This is a fresh, spiky book; an excellent kick start for anyone who wants to confront life's big questions. --Dwight Longenecker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'A remarkable piece of reportage - the finest evocation of Silicon Valley to emerge so far.' Times 'Bronson is a snappy writer... Like all the best reportage, this is research laced with anecdote and adrenalin.' Independent on Sunday --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
49 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good question, huh? 6 Jun 2003
By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE
What exactly should you do with your life? Where is that one job that will make your life eternally happy and remove all doubt about whether you've made the right choice? Well, Po Bronson has talked to a lot of people who have faced that very question, and he has some good news and some bad news for us in this book.
The bad news is that there doesn't really seem to be an escape from the doubt. One common thread running through all the stories is, that nobody seemed to unquestioningly accept wherever they were at right now as their final destination.
The book opens with the story of Za Rinpoche, who got a letter from the Dalai Lama when he was 17, explaining that he was the reincarnation of a who, along with his five brothers, had ruled a poor and remote region of Tibet six lifetimes ago. There you go: Your place in the scheme of all things, straight from the Dalai Lama. He studied for twelve years, and is now 32 and lives in the US. And even he is not free of doubt.
So what hope is there for the rest of us? Will we ever find this one spot meant for us, where everything makes sense?
The book contains story after story of people who have faced the question in widely different ways. From the New York investment banker who became a catfish farmer in the South to the spokesman for an Oil company who quit because of their unethical business methods, and went to the opposition - a government agency monitoring oil companies.
And the stories are presented very matter of factly, with few value judgements. Po does let his own opinions of peoples choices shine through, but he never condemns them. He shows a deep understanding of the circumstances that lead people to their decisions - even the bad decisions.
In this way, the book offers very little specific advice.
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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Has Some Interesting Points 22 Jan 2004
I purchased this book because I was intrigued by the title and believe that this is a question many people ask all the time, even if a person is happy with life at a particular moment. I think we all wonder what is out there and we all want this “more.” For people who are in a job in which they hate, which may be a great job but it is not the right job, this question is critical. Author Po Bronson faced this same question. He was originally a business person, but inside was a writer yearning to be free. He had to ask himself difficult questions and seek the answers that best suited his life. As he reflected upon the steps he took from becoming a business person to writer, he believed that other people who made changes in their own lives probably asked the same questions. He researched out many people and the results are what this book is all about as it answers the question passed by the author, “What Should I Do With My Life?”
The book’s greatest strength is the author. He is a gifted writer and when the reader encounters the many people he interviews, it is more like listening to a person talk than reading a text. He is a person who not only listens, but knows the questions to ask, when to interject, and when to remain quiet. The easy to read chapters flow quite well, and give the reader much to think about afterward. He uses different people who are at different stages in life, and the author seems to respect most of the people he includes. He is hardly sentimental, and this book is not gushy. It is real and for most of the people included, there is still a great deal of unfinished business in their lives.
For me, the book had two weaknesses, but I am willing to bet that for many readers, these would be strengths. First, I believe the book lacked diversity.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb book, but not for everyone 27 Feb 2004
This is a fantastic read. At times inspiring, at times confusing, at times depressing, but at all times thought provoking. This isn't a selfhelp book in the traditional sense. It does not promise that you'll know your answer to "What should I do with my life?" by the end of the book. It is a series of case studies, of real life stories of people who have struggled with their question and in many cases solved part of the riddle.
It helps you to begin to relook at your own life, your past experiences, your current skills, to pay attention to what your life is telling you. What clues have you missed which you could pay attention to? Where are the keys to your own lifes purpose?
This is a book that doesn't talk down to you, doesn't come up with the same old exercises to work through. What it does do is show you what others have been through. That there isn't an easy answer to the question, and yet if you begin to learn from these other peoples experiences and pay attention to your own life, the answer may already be with you. Confused? Read it and you'll see.
This great book does not give you The Answer, but helps you to REALLY LOOK at The Question.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This wil get you thinking 24 Jan 2004
This very readable book does not answer the question for us, which would of course be nice and save us years of self-questioning. Why not? I suppose because Bronson values our intelligence too much and the simple fact that we have to find this one out for ourselves.
Po Bronson's book is structured as a series of vignettes, telling the stories of around 50 people and how they deal with a question we've all probably asked ourselves. It's readable because it goes from one set of adventures and challenges to another - and they happen to be true. One of the satisfying elements is how many answers - not to mention false starts and wrong turnings - there are. Even so, he consciously limited it to professionals from his age-group, the Gen-Xers, and baby boomers. 900 interviews have been boiled down to these ones, so expect a very entertaining cast of characters including a model who gave up the glamour, and a trust-fund kid who became a gang-busting LA cop.
From a very confident writer (you might be be too if a previous novel had been made into a Hollywood film!) with a wide experience in journalism (a regular column in Wired), Bronson knows how to pose questions and then sit back, recording the answers.
The author himself appears in various guises - as listener, friend, confidant, character taking part in some of the stories, and reveals in passages how his path has unfolded, from unhappy bond trader to full-time writer. It feels like he really lived the question himself and so is able to get under the skin of many of his subjects. He himself admits that his attitude to life changed quite a bit during the interviews, some of which spanned days.
He is conscious of an international audience, and adapted his introduction for the UK edition.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it
Simply love this book - am reading again, five years later. Very inspirational and definitely worth a reading if you are at a cross roads in your life.
Published 3 months ago by Sarah George
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking
I've read this book a couple of times now, which is something I rarely do. I found it a thought provoking book, and it asks & answers some questions we can go too long without... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be compulsory viewing for every schoolkid and every person...
Seriously, this should be made compulsory reading as it makes you realise that you are not the only person in the world who is at a crossroads or facing this decision. Read more
Published 6 months ago by RB
5.0 out of 5 stars A really helpful guidance
This is one of few books I had read that makes a change of my life~ I had suggested it to my friends now~
Published 8 months ago by Weigang Liu
3.0 out of 5 stars Book
Saw this in a magasine and thought I would get it cheaply on here.I got it fast and it was cheap..Quality is not that great ..It is a bit used but then again was cheap..
Published 10 months ago by christel
3.0 out of 5 stars This was a gift
This was for someone else, so I only got a sneek peek at it. It reminded me of Stubbs Terple. Lots of people find ways of doing something fullfilling, and you can't always plan... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting, but a very american perspective on this question
I've dipped in and out through a number of stories in this book about how people question their purpose in life and what they do about it. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Mr. Robert Marsland
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
I loved reading this book. The author comes across as humble but with an air of wonderment about the human race. Read more
Published on 18 Jun 2012 by blackbird
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit repetitive
I don't want to be too critical because the author has invested a huge amount of work into this project, and the book may be very valuable to others. Read more
Published on 18 April 2011 by andy1980
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring, thoughtful and diverse
Po Bronson has asked the question that many people it seems are afraid to ask themselves. Fifty plus interviews over a period of many years in some cases, means that he has... Read more
Published on 19 Feb 2011 by N. Makwana
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