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What Should I Do With My Life?    by Po Bronson order for
What Should I Do With My Life?
by Po Bronson
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Liz Cooper

This is not a self-help book. It doesn't provide any clear-cut answers, nor does it claim to. Instead, it offers 'stories of ordinary people ... messy and complicated.' If you're looking for a step-by-step guide to career planning, you won't find it here. However, this book will allow you to garner inspiration from the lives and decisions of others.

Stories are organized into eight sections, each dealing with a specific theme. The first, about 'making the right decision in the absence of experience', asks the question: how can you really make a choice, if you've never tried it? I found it useful that the author doesn't only focus on success stories. For example, Jessica Grossman thought she'd always wanted to be a doctor like her father. But once she became an ob-gyn, she realized she wasn't cut out for the long hours and constant pressure. During her interview, she often broke down and sobbed in the middle of a busy coffee shop. Clearly, Jessica Grossman could not know what being a doctor would entail, until she experienced it first hand.

The second section deals with the way our social class influences what we do with our lives. The third focuses on resisting temptations that distract from true aspirations. 'Failure's hard, but success is much more dangerous,' says Bronson. 'If you're successful at the wrong thing, the mix of praise and money and opportunity can lock you in forever.' He continues to discuss the importance of making the best of a situation, whether it lasts three years or a lifetime. Russel Carpenter, for example, has only had one employer in his thirty-five years, which is highly unusual these days. Yet he loves his job, and has seen no reason to leave NASA for another company.

Next comes a look at practical people who 'dare to look inward, to their own muddled psyche', followed by an exploration of the power of environment over career choices. Claude Sidi wanted to be a marine biologist, but working on a remote project on the Oregon coast made him realize how much he needed people. He quit to become a big city dentist. He snaps pictures of his patients and can tell you the name of their dogs. In short, he loves it. Section seven looks at the way couples handle dual ambitions, careers, and dreams. And finally, the author looks at those who (like many of us) haven't yet figured out their dream jobs, but who are building skills to draw upon when the time comes to make their contribution.

Written in a warm, almost confidential tone, What Should I Do With My Life? conveys stories of ordinary people with an empathy that's hard to find in typical journalist endeavors. Human-interest articles often end up being dry and impersonal, yet Po Bronson inserts his own brand of humor and encouragement into each account. It merits repeating that the book does not offer answers. Instead, it takes an in-depth look at the struggle between money, prestige, security, power, and personal fulfillment, with many tales of people who have gone from rags to riches, and then back to rags again.

If you're at a point in your life where you wonder whether you were meant to do more, or contemplate quitting your job to make a bold career move, the stories in this book should inspire you and help you to decide on a course of action.

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