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

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  8,317 ratings  ·  615 reviews
In What Should I Do with My Life? Po Bronson tells the inspirational true stories of people who have found the most meaningful answers to that great question. With humor, empathy, and insight, Bronson writes of remarkable individuals—from young to old, from those just starting out to those in a second career—who have overcome fear and confusion to find a larger truth about ...more
Mass Market Paperback, 436 pages
Published November 29th 2005 by Ballantine Books (first published 2002)
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 ·  8,317 ratings  ·  615 reviews

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Feb 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Po Bronson's What Should I Do With My Life? speaks to the almost universal dream of finding one's true, life-affirming passion. An inspirational book that has the power to change lives- and happens to have a really bad title. Make no mistake- this is not a self help book, in the conventional sense.

This book does not offer 12 steps for finding your one true way. It doesn't purport to have empirical answers to all of the existential dilemmas in your life. You won't find any easy-bake recipes guar
So what kind of peyote are you guys smoking? This book escaped the infamous 1-star rating simply by virtue of Bronson's use of real life stories that helped me escape from his own incredibly annoying narration. Was it the truisms he loved to repeat? The lack of helpful guidance? (Be yourself). His incessant need to come off like a soft-spoken preacher who secretly wishes you'll all wind up homeless on the streets of Detroit begging for his next edition? Yuck. ...more
Mar 01, 2013 rated it did not like it
Only read a couple chapters of this book but it was enough to make me want to put it down and stop reading (which I rarely do). What really blew me away was the extent to which his narrative and commentary overrides the stories he claims to be presenting.

In Chapter two, he tells a story of a woman who chooses to remain unemployed in the hopes of holding out for her dream career. He discusses his frustration with this conversation, pointing out his "male need to fix things and the female need to
Real People. Real Stories.
Ordinary People, extraordinary stories.
People just like you and me.

Nothing helps like knowing you're not alone.

A little of what the stories in this book will remind you:

A calling is not something you know, it is something you grow into through trials and mistakes.

It won't be easy, it wont be quick. Finding what we believe in and what we can do about it is one of life's great dramas. It can be an endless process of discovery, one to be appreciated and respected for i
This was very disappointing overall. This should have been interesting, given the premise and how extensively the author sought out people with interesting stories about their work lives (he set up a website and heavily marketed it, and even became sort of a job counselor and marriage counselor and life counselor to all kinds of people in the process of meeting these people and compiling these stories--many of the people he interviewed initially got in touch with him to seek his guidance and cou ...more
Sep 12, 2008 rated it liked it
in my current state of unemployment - i thought this book would offer some fresh perspectives. it revealed that most people are as clueless as i am about what to devote one's life to. however, it does offer interesting stories and several "truths"...one of which is that a winding path towards one's ultimate goal is not necessarily a bad thing. po bronson unravels his own path to becoming a writer in with the anecdotal chapters. most of the stories were based out of the bay area (where bronson li ...more
M.F. Soriano
Aug 02, 2010 rated it it was ok
The good thing about this book is its sustained focus on an extremely important topic. The bad thing about this book is nearly everything else. Po Bronson writes in a clunky, Journalism 101 style, with wooden introductions of his subjects fumbled into the text. He digresses often, judges his subjects too harshly for my tastes, and generally spends more time holding forth on his own ideas than he does relaying the opinions and experiences of the people he interviews. Once or twice, while I read t ...more
Apr 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I remember the first time I saw a book titled "What Should I Do With My Life?" in a store and thought to myself, "What kind of ass thinks he can answer that question in a book?" Based on that cover-based judgment, I left it on the shelf, and didn't give it another thought until, months later, a friend recommended it to me.

I love this book because it is an honest book. Po Bronson interviews hundreds of people and tells you a handful of compelling stories and does not try to fit it all into a Sing
Jul 11, 2007 rated it did not like it
Shelves: finished
Despite the enticing title - people tend to search for clues about what to do with their life - this book did put me off. No depth, simply a series of snapshot of people's life written rather dryly and bluntly.

It is like watching Oprah without the "ooohh, aaah..." :-)
Jul 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned-paperbacks
I read this book at a very pivotal time in my life - a time when I've felt the desire to have this question answered more than any other time. The book doesn't attempt to answer the question, but it was inspiring and uplifting, and told the stories of people who have been in similar situations as I am (and much much different situations) and how they made changes, and what their outcomes were. Not all the stories were happy, or relatable, but they were all real. And they made me realize that doi ...more
Jul 17, 2012 rated it liked it
I am just getting started but have a few thoughts. This book is comprised of a series of short nonfiction stories about people the author interviewed and how they went about answering this difficult question for themselves. I read another review that said, 'the people in this book are just as confused as I am.' that made me LOL, not unkindly, but what did you expect? Life does not have quick fixes. There is no secret answer that will suddenly clear everything up for you. So far the stories are i ...more
Jul 13, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is actually a meaningful read in the end, but there are certainly some rough patches along the way. This being noted, I urge others to read on, as the early uneveness of the book gives way to far more consistently insightful passages in its second half. Simply put, some of the early stories are not particularly revealing (or, even more acutely put, do not evidence clearly why Bronson chose to include them), but by the end they are a tiny minority of many riveting, important narratives. ...more
Mar 24, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dropped
After finding this book on some tech blog's must read list I decided to give it a shot. I now find myself regretting this course of action. What Should I Do with My Life is full of short stories of a bunch of people that Mr. Po Bronson interviewed, and then proceeded to tell them how to fix their life or how much their decisions sucked. The interviews are much more a platform for Bronson to present his own thoughts and views on how life should be, and he disagrees very strongly with anyone that ...more
Feb 03, 2010 rated it liked it
I was really liking this book early on, the first half, but as I continued further the predominance of people in business and politics just didn't sit well with me. I also continually wondered how the people who didn't start in high dollar careers (i.e. didn't have a bankroll to start something knew) afforded to go back to school and get a new degree, or whatever it is they decided to do.
I'm ending (layoff) a job that has been a career and I have no desire to look for another job in this field,
Mar 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book, full of stories of how people have created meaningful lives. Everyone who chooses a new life path has a unique transition process and it's always a challenge on some level, though not the same challenge for everyone.

Reading others' stories has encouraged me to see my life a little differently, as a continuum and a woven story rather than separate vignettes or roles or chronologies. In one story is buried the nugget that making the shift ISN'T easy, even though most p
May 09, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: unfinished
I gave up on this one roughly halfway through it, mostly because of its lack of direction. These people haven't answered the "ultimate" question of life; they simply either stumbled onto something they enjoy doing for a living after decades of soul-searching, or have ultimately become complacent.
Sure, there are those that absolutely LOVE where their path took them, but it offers no condolences to the rest of us. Am I supposed to wander through life until a mid-life crisis opens my eyes to someth
Jan 25, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
What should I do with my life? Not read this book, for starters. I had to throw in the towel on this one. I made it to page 143 out of 365 and couldn't take it any more! It's about people and their empty, meaningless jobs or lives in flux. Maybe I'm just not smart enough for this book, but I thought it was completely boring. The narration was so irritating that I'd even go so far as to call it arrogant. ...more
Jun 21, 2007 rated it really liked it
Po Bronson undertook this project because he was asking himself the title question. He traveled across the world to learn how others had found their answer.

Delightfully, there is no pat response. Lives don't wrap neatly into timelines or bar graphs of progress. As a result, those who are hoping for a quick answer should steer clear. This book is perfect for those who have time to savor the stories while seeking their own passions.

Bronson writes compassionately. His heart is beating right next t
Jan 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: self-development
If you just lost your job or something and need to figure out what to do, this book is not for you. If you are a college undergrad wanting to answer the question "what major should I choose?" then this book is also not for you.

This book is for someone who is willing to accept that there isn't an easy answer for a career, since choosing a career, like choosing the person to marry, can have a lot of positives from a number of options. It doesn't offer straightforward, simplistic career advice, it
This is a strange book. It's fascinating because people are fascinating: I am a big fan of Studs Turkel and similar projects. But the way all the people's stories are filtered through Bronson--some of them are portrayed quite critically, in ways the interviewees would not appreciate--made me uncomfortable. There are lines that journalists and academics don't cross with their subjects, and while Bronson clearly develops a high level of trust with his interviewees that made them more frank, I can' ...more
Nov 09, 2011 rated it did not like it
I found it boring. Very VERY boring. This book is filled with stories of people who have supposedly figured out what to do with their lifes, but to me it seemed like a bunch of people who really didn't have a lot of answers either. Every story is told by the author and not by the individual person and the author has his own take on each story and also talks about his own life in each story. I got kind of a condescending air from the author as well. Sort of like "I interviewed all these people an ...more
Apr 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I accidentally found this book on a forgotten shelf in a store in Amsterdam, NL. I could not overcome the situational irony I found in the title, as I was browsing the shelves asking myself the very question "what should I do with my life?"

Despite the unbearably campy title, this book does a marvelous job answering that very question. Po Bronson chronicles the challenges, successes, changes, and lives of every "type" of person imaginable. With these little glimpses into the lives of others, I fo
Nick Cruz
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Though the question itself brings a lot of anxiety, the book about it doesn't at all. Po has a wonderful voice and you really get to know the people who dared to answer this question.

The second part of the title, "The true story of people who answered the ultimate question", is really what the book is about. It's a collection of humans that Po has connected with and is relaying his lessons to us. But my favorite parts of the books weren't learning about all of the people he talked to, it was the
Oct 27, 2021 rated it liked it
Second time through this one. I had started to read it back in 2004, but only got about 3/4 of the way through. My bookmark was still in it. But this time the stories rang more true to me and the writing was a bit easier to read and I got through it.

Po brings much of his own story to the table in this one along with some amazing stories of others. However this is not a "if you want to change your life, here's how" book, which I believe is what I was looking for in 2004. It is more of a "Here's
May 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Not a scintillating read but an eye opening one. In that way it parallels many of the stories the book is trying to tell: these lives are not perfect, or necessarily extraordinary, but in that plain humanity can be found the beauty.

Eyes opened: I think I really gained from hearing so many widely differing stories of people making unconventional, radical, brave choices. It's empowering to see the various struggles people went through (small and large) and to see how they pulled themselves out of
Jessica Voigt
Sep 17, 2022 rated it liked it
It is an interesting book to get to know life stories when life takes a completely unexpected path. At the same time, they are common stories, stories that could happen to you and me , and I think this is the beauty of this book.

Two things make me give it 3 stars: first is how annoying the author can be when he describes the dialogues with his interviewers. Many times he describes his interview as the moment when the person changes her point of view about her own life, seeing how wonderful her l
Lizzie  J
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Definitely helpful to get to see an intimate look into dozens of people's lives and their own search to the answer "what should I do with my life?" With so many different stories, there's at least one that you're bound to be able to relate and connect with. ...more
Jul 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Read this years ago. Loved it! The author interviewed people about this question: "What should I do with my life?". Over and over again, the book shows that vocation is not a simple question and answer process. ...more
Dec 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
I loved the book and read it sparingly because I wanted to savor and think about the stories.

This is one of my favorite paragraph of the book related to the authors feelings. I personally want to be more like this:

“I’d rather help then watch. I’d rather have a heart than a mind. I’d rather expose too much than too little. I’d rather say hello to strangers than be afraid of them. I’d rather know all this about myself than have more money than I need. I’d rather have something to love than a way
Dec 18, 2020 rated it liked it
Did I really think this book with a catchy title will provide me with some concrete answers? Ahem. Maybe.
Bought it for $2 at our annual book sale, enjoyed some of the stories. It is a reminder to never stop searching for the right path for your own life.
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Po Bronson has built a career both as a successful novelist and as a prominent writer of narrative nonfiction. He has published five books, and he has written for television, magazines, and newspapers, including Time, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and for National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Currently he is writing regularly for New York magazine in the United States and for ...more

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