By Po Bronson
Random House (2003), $24.95
After the dot-com bubble burst and there was little dirt to dish on Silicon Valley machinations — or more accurately, few people who still cared about such intrigues — journalist and novelist Po Bronson was at a career crossroads. Faced with fewer editorial assignments and a canceled television series, the best-selling author of The Nudist on the Late Shift, who chronicled Internet culture during its heyday for Wired and the New York Times Magazine, found himself asking the question that would become the title of his new book, What Should I Do With My Life? It's no coincidence that this career guide-cum-self-help tome hits stores on Jan. 7: It's perfectly timed to strike a chord among idealists who still draft New Year's resolutions.
Bronson's got a knack for finding ordinary folks with remarkable stories, and he profiles 50 people who found their “true calling, or at least those who were willing to try.” It's a timely topic that many will find relevant, and as a former aerobics instructor (!), greeting card entrepreneur, and bond salesman, Bronson is more than capable of tackling it. Interviewing more than 900 subjects, he questions the difference between curiosity and passion, examines how family plays a role in making career choices, and considers environmental factors with a story about a country hick who finds happiness (not to mention a 20-year-old Romanian girlfriend) as a portfolio manager in the United Arab Emirates.
While even bleeding hearts will cringe at Bronson's motivational speaker-style intonations — “those who broke away from the chorus to learn the sound of their own voice” — What Should I Do With My Life? may give you that kick in the pants you've been hoping for. Bronson asks all the right questions, and he's savvy enough to include cautionary tales of people whose risks didn't pay off, like the engineer who left a cush job at Industrial Light + Magic to start an electric-car company, but fell prey to his own weaknesses. Though I hate to admit it, What Should I Do With My Life? kept me up several nights and filled my head with wild notions of shooting for the moon, which is more than I can say for Richard Nelson Bolles' What Color Is Your Parachute?