Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What Should I Do With My Life?

I'm a self-help book junkie. When I go to a book store or a library, I usually end up in the non-fiction section. My favorite subjects, besides books on writing, are health, fitness, dogs, parenting, money, psychology, any book that fits into the personal growth category, and biographies. I love to learn about interesting people.

During times of personal crisis, small and large, I find help and comfort in reading books. It's kind of funny how we often think that we're alone with a problem, but so far, I have not had a single problem that has not been addressed in a book.

A couple of years ago, I was going through a rough spot in my career. I had only been teaching for four years, but I was unhappy and wanted to quit. My window of opportunity for a change came when I found myself unemployed. Had it not been for our recent economic recession, I probably still be an unhappy teacher.

It takes special circumstances to find the courage to quit and start over. Personally, I have 40,000 dollars in student loans. And before my unemployment, I didn't feel I could rightly justify to my husband that I wanted to do something else, and maybe go back to school again. It felt impossible!

Po Bronson has written a wonderful book called "What should I Do with My Life? The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question."

As I read this book when I was unemployed, it felt like I had come home.

Bronson spoke to nine hundred people who told him their stories, and fifty of those stories are presented in his book.

Here is a snippet from the introduction on his homepage .

"I learned that it was in hard times that people usually changed the course of their life; in good times, they frequently only talked about change. Hard times forced them to overcome the doubts that normally gave them pause. It surprised me how often we hold ourselves back until we have no choice. So the people herein suffered layoffs, bankruptcies, divorces, illnesses, and deaths of loved ones, and as a result they were as likely to stumble into a better life as they were to arrive there by reasoned planning. They made mistakes before summoning the courage to get it right. Their path called into question the notion that a calling is something you inherently know when you're young. Far from it. These people discovered in themselves gifts they rarely realized they had."

So what happens? How come we don't know when we're eighteen which path is the "right" one?
Bronson says:

"Most people jump through life, asking what's next, and choosing based on where can they make the most money, what offers the most upside or opportunity. A conventional "success" story is one where, with each next, the protagonist has more money, more respect, and more possessions (Bronson, What Should...p.222)."

Sounds familiar? When we're young we are often looking for what can make us the most money, and our parents are happy to see us land a high status job. (Not me of course, I chose teaching!)But this is an oversimplified answer, which you also learn by reading the book, because unfortunately, for some of us, it takes half a life time to figure out who we are, and where our hearts are.


  1. Your ambitions and goals will change all through your life. I was married young and raising my children was in the forefront until they were in school full time. During that time I did volunteer work with the Red Cross and schools and always had my hand in some sort of artistic pursuit. When I went back to work (at a bank) I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I could do a good job, people liked me (always important to me, child of an alcoholic) and was very promotable even without a college degree. I eventually became an RN (always wanting to provide service) which was good for me academically but bad for my nerves. I received a bachelors degree at the age of 52. Each job was progressively more responsible with the accompanying increase in salary but now that I am in my 60's I find all that is not important anymore. Working parttime in the children's room in the local library is perhaps my favorite job of all. I suspect ambition is on a curve with our age, peaking somewhere in the thirties/forties and then declining as you come to realize there are more important things in life than money and power. I guess it's true that experiance is the best teacher. Wish I was wiser when young!

  2. Being a child of a parent with mental illness, I know exactly where you're coming from. Money has never mattered to me. All I need is enough to pay the bills and get by. My dream is a fun jobs that brings me over existence minimum!