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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 27 February 2004
What a fantastic book. At times it’s inspiring, at times humorous, at times depressing, but at all times thought provoking. This is not a self help book in the traditional sense of the word. It does not promise to give you the answer to “What should I do with my life?” by the end of the book. It is a series of case studies, of interviews of real people who have struggled and sometimes solved part of their own riddle.
This book does not do the usual self-help stuff. It doesn’t have lots of “fill in the blanks” exercises. It doesn’t condescend or promise the world. It simply gives you other people’s perspectives, other people’s experiences. By seeing what these other people have been through, by understanding what they felt, you get the chance to think about your own past experiences. Not because you are asked to, but because by reading through the book you naturally begin to ask yourself the questions the interviewed people ask.
What am I here for? What do I want to do? What is my life telling me? Have I missed some clues as to where I’m going? Am I already doing what I should be doing in life, but haven’t realised it?
This book shows there is no magic answer waiting round the corner, but also lets you know the answer may be within your grasp. Confused? Read it and you’ll see what I mean.
The fascinating book will not give you The Answer but will make you REALLY LOOK at The Question.
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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. You might say, that it offers no help for us to find out what we should do with our lives, but that would be wrong in my opinion. Reading the stories, shows us some of the situations that other people have faced, and how they've handled them. And there's real inspiration in that.
I was moved by many of the stories, and found myself cheering the people on, hoping for them to make the right choices. And this is the true magic of this book. Po Bronson went a lot further than just interviewing the people in the book - he entered their lives. As he puts it, he slept on their couches, went to parties and weddings, dined with their families, and in this way got close to them.
This openness is also apparent in the way he shares his own story, which is equally inspirational: How he walked away from a 300.000$ a year job offer, to pursue a highly uncertain carreer as a writer. Remember, this was before he'd had anything published.
This book is an easy, enjoyable read. The stories are all fairly short, and all of them are interesting. The idea for the book is wonderfully simple and beautifully realized. There is no doubt, that Po Bronson has a gift for this sort of project. Read it!
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on 24 January 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. A few Brits turn up in the pages, since he came over here three times searching for material, as well as some of those who went to Hong Kong searching for an alternative.
It's a good read. I found it inspired me both first thing in the morning and when I let it sink in just before going to sleep.
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on 22 January 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. It seemed as if most of the people interviewed, or at least included in the book were white males with a smattering of white females. Most were in their thirties or early forties, and most seemed to be somewhat privileged, or at least had opportunities open to them. This is not a book to find too many Horatio Alger tales. While many of these people do make radical life changes, they also seem to have a plan they can fall back on, based upon the advantages they have had in life. The author alludes to this very fact at one point in the book, but does not change the focus. Perhaps this is because he knows his focus audience rather well. Another weakness is that the book focuses almost solely on jobs and changing one’s job in order to be happy. Very little attention is given to other factors that give life meaning such as family, faith, or enjoyment that enriches life. While the author does not downplay the importance of these things in life, it is clear he wants to show that having a lousy job that has to be endured in order to enjoy other aspects in life is a copout, even though many people remain at jobs they do not care for because other aspects of their lives are in order. Bronson seem to be arguing that since people today often times have the opportunity to take advantage of opportunities previous generations lacked, and that many people today have had extended periods of youth, it is quite possible that people in the future will not be trying to reclaim a lost youth as many did in the generation that preceded the late baby boomers/early generation X. Though I find the lack of diversity and over focus on work as weaknesses, the author presents that material in such a way that in a few years, I may be look at this book differently and see him as prophetic.
People hoping to make changes in their life direction will undoubtedly find this book helpful. Those of us who are satisfied with our jobs will also find this book helpful because it does get a person thinking about what matters most in life, and Bronson encourages people to look within before looking outside of ourselves, always timely advice.
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on 19 May 2005
Whilst this book is labelled 'self-help' by many people, it is in my opinion too narrow a description for the content within its pages despite the title. It is in part a collection of 56 mini-biographies through which is woven the author's own experiences.
These stories are used to illustrate a point such as the case of the peripatetic Marcela Widrig who only changed direction when her hand was forced by an unexpected redundancy, even though she had hankered after more personal human contact than her plane hopping modem sales job allowed for six months prior to that event.
This is a longish book, that you will best enjoy if you can empathise with the personal stories being told. An alternative take however is that the material could be much tighter and in truth could be condensed into a very few pages.
Most of the people profiled are Americans, although not exclusively - for instance Kat James is from Brighton. Before you groan, this is not a big problem for non-US reader's because the message the author is trying to impart is universal and not based on quirkes of the American system.
The message that I took was that your life will be much more fulfilling if you listen to your heart not your head.
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on 27 February 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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on 18 April 2011
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. It just didn't really help me when I was going through a genuine "what do i do with my life period"

The book is a documentation of a series of friendships / encounters that the author had with people from different walks of life who were struggling with figuring out their path in life.

Each chapter is about a different person. You read the chapter to get background on that person, and what they're doing with their life now. I bought the book because I picked it up in a bookshop and found that one of the stories resonated strongly with what I was going through. And after reading the chapter I felt a bit better, because I saw that I was not the only one to change path so many times. But, I suppose, the point is that the book itself can't really help you. It can make you feel better because you see that there are others who don't have a clue what they're doing :) But you don't need to read the whole book to find that out. And you don't need to read the whole book to get the simple message: follow your dreams in life. Find something you're passionate about, and go after it.

Just my two cents.
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on 25 May 2016
Short inspirational stories about people who reached a point in their life when they needed to gaze at the stars and take stock of their values, feelings, beliefs and direction. It goes to show how life is dynamic and can be exciting and interesting if we think outside the box and don't allow ourselves to get stuck in monotonous ruts.
The only downside (and hence 3 stars rather than 5) is that most of the stories seem to be about people who are circumstantially or financially in a position to be able to make bold choices. It doesn't seem to speak to those less well off, or the single unemployed mum living in a council house. Its more to do with middle class Jeremy who comes from a financially comfortable background and whose parents are well connected.
Still, the principles of daring to think for yourself and taking occasional risks are applicable to all.
Buy this book for inspiration rather than copycat application.
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on 17 February 2004
I liked this book and found it quite inspiring. It poses the questions and I then found Richard Templar's I Don't Want Any More Cheese, I Just Want Out Of The Trap answered them. And Ros Jay's The White Ladder Diaries told me what to do next. Good combination, all three. I now run my own busienss which I only started two months ago but it beats working for cheese in a dead end job like I did before.
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on 15 June 2003
I found this book a compelling and inspirational read. Through the 60-odd stories presented, Bronson explores the messy minefield of questions and issues faced in today's world of infinite choice. It was like talking to a group of people who are facing or have faced the same issues and doubts that myself and many friends are going through. I could identify with many of the stories, and found comfort in the fact that I am not the only one struggling with these issues.
From walking away from money (and the concept of money as a benchmark for success), to the importance of leading a balanced life, the questions of ethics, location, the "grass is greener" mentality and the fear that you don't belong.
What was most refreshing of all was the fact that he does not attempt to paint a rosy glow over the stories. Some people took great risks which paid off, others ended disastrously, but what is most striking is the fact that the people who are most satisfied are those doing something which is meaningful to them, and that in many cases the journey is just as important as the destination.
I empathised with many of the characters in the book and would welcome a sequel in 5 or 10 years time to find out how they're all getting on!!
A must read for anyone asking themselves this question!
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