Book review: What should I do with my life?

Good question, huh? 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.

The one piece of actual advice in the book concerns the lockbox fantasy. This is the idea, that when faced with a choice between pursuing a normal job or some crazy dream, you can always take the job for a while, putting the dream in a lockbox, save up some money, and then return to the dream later. Po bronson writes, that out of all the people he talked to, nobody had ever been able to take this route. The people who’d promised themselves to return to the dream later never did.

But here’s the good news, to offset the bad: Many people do have the courage to pursue their dream or ideal. Many of the people who decide not to take that mediocre job, but to wait for the right thing, do find it. Others make what they currently have, the right thing.

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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