Tuesday, May 12, 2009

“What should I do with my life” by Po Bronson

Almost rubbish. That is the feeling I get from the book because it is an assortment of collection of stories from many people hence it not be so well connected in a sense. However, the author still seeks to arrange the stories in certain broad themes and of course, he has many classic lines that are worth remembering:
“Trees are like books – they have an intangible psychic significance far beyond their utilities . "
“I rather expose too much than too little. I rather say hello to strangers than be afraid of them. "
In this book, lots of people interviewed came from the dot coms or the Clinton administration. People who once had everything and now had to look for it again after losing it.
Here are some of the main lessons that one can bring away from the book along with the relevant chapters:
Synchronicity or Not:
Destiny: There is this story about Kat whose events in her life seems all to link her up with her destiny. – Perhaps there is no luck involved. All it was was simply the rational brain putting her back in touch with her deep down longings. Hence all types of luck – good and bad, appear in our daily lives. but our brain chooses the so called Good luck in order to make us connect.
The Dharma Advisor
It is okay not to have an answer to what you want to do in your life but it is not okay to stop looking.
Have you looked under your bed?
The Entry Level problem. All entry –level jobs suck the big one. However, the entry level job may provide relevant experience and perspective for your dream job in the future –for example sales can help you better as an inventor for the person of the chapter – Noah who wants to be an inventor.
The Brain Candy Generation.
People who found their special place don’t talk about how exciting or stimulating their work is, it is about meaningful/significance/fulfilling.
Certainly, we are better off and will contribute more in a situation that fits us, but in the meantime we can challenge ourselves in the various environments and use them to find out who we are.
The take away lessons seems to be don’t give up on your dreams but there is always a valuable lesson in everything so just keep learning. Just like how the author himself took on some jobs that didn’t suit him but actually helped him to overcome some of his fears – like fear of talking to a stranger over the phone.
The umbrella of Freedom:
Of all the stumbling blocks that deny people from chasing their dreams, one of the most common is the problem of guilt. Why should we be choosy when poor people don’t get to choose? The fact is not all poor people are just contented with a materially comfortable life.
And what is freedom in a developed nation for? If it is not to live where no one can tell you who to be or what to be? What is freedom for, if not the chance to define yourself who you are?
A billion is chump change
Failure’s hard, but success is far more dangerous. If you are successful at the wrong thing, the mix of praise and money and opportunity can lock you in forever. It is so, so much harder to leave a good thing.
The crossroads of temptation
How about getting rich first before pursuing your dreams? Don’t lock up your calling and invest years of your life into a job for the cash you expect to have in the end. Getting rich takes hard work , sacrifices and changes – you don’t come away from that the same person who went in. You end up so emotionally invested in the world and psychologically adapted that you don’t really want to ditch the cash and run.
A tacile Jones:
Story of Ben who uprooted his family, quit his job and then moved to another place to start an electric car company. Before that, he has invested lots of time in this hobby to really produce a successful electric car. However, when he reached the new place, he blew so much money on the renovations that he had to get a new job and forget about his dream for the moment.
We are our worst enemy. When it comes down to it, and all the reasons why you can’t accomplish your dreams have fallen away, the final stumbling block is within.
The Change Junkie kicks her habits:
“People who find their purpose are not always on a high. It still feels like work, it’s hard, but Monday never comes too soon. It seems like their purpose - for now… They are not always comparing with some other imaginary life inside their head”
When the coin lands tails
One of the social experiment of the dot com era was whether ordinary risk averse people could act like more normal risk takers. In the dot com hey day, start-ups collapsed but the successful ones took the limelight and hired all the bodies. But when all ventures failed, the converted ordinary risk adverse people lost faith and shut down.
The Once –angry Minister
Everyone in this book has overcome his/her own limiting beliefs. They have discovered that their hard earn skills meant more than the talents that they are born with.
Nobody taught me – the benefit of being around like minded people:
The author actually gathered together with a couple of writer friends to rent an office so that they can all come to work instead of just writing alone at home – where there was no rent.
As for Po Bronson, he learnt that without structure, he tends to run into his imagination and into a new life. Having a routine and structure keeps him sane. Having a community is not everything but it makes success possible.
In his opinion, moving into a new environment of like-minded people means you have to ditch your old support system.
Uncomfortable is Good:
Why should you travel alone– first, for people who are simply trapped by their responsibilities, exposing yourself to other people’s lives remind you how little you need to get long happily. Choosing a new way seems possible.
In your daily life, there is a constant din from work, family and friends and deadlines. Travelling alone will force you to listen to yourself – it will make you uncomfortable and uncomfortable is good. You can get used to being alone for long periods, having to talk to strangers, having to get yourself from one place to another.
It also helps to travel without a plan, it rehearses the improvisational approach and opens your mind to a sense of adventure. Especially for those, whose lives have been more or less when planned from school to scholarships and then to arranged careers.
Accepting a gift: kids and parents
"People who have never had kids never quite see themselves as a success, but people who are parents never see themselves as failures.”
Because having kids make your more accepting. More patient. To be tolerant of minor delays.
Another joy is that it teaches the joy of being generous. By giving so much to our children, we open up ourselves to a whole range of emotional rewards that we didn’t give much credential to previously. But these rewards are not only in our kids, but everywhere.
Ending remarks:
At the gathering of a business council of a group of over a hundred CEOs, Po Bronson stated that people need to find work that they are passionate about. Educating people is important but not enough – far too many of our most educated people are not operating at the max speed. Productivity explodes when people love what they do. Similar to what Thomas L. Friedman mentioned. Jack Welch is okay with not doing what you are passionate about it as long as you are certain about who you are doing this for.
At the end, in a personal context, maybe I should have been more open to the idea that I will learn from the job in Suzhou and it will help me in other areas. My argument then was it is not relevant experience. Anyway, it is over. Now is to apply to my other jobs in consideration of my lack of experience. and to never give up and to always apply for jobs.
As the good review in A Time's Magazine article "Hint: It's Not Plastics" puts it: "The answers to the ultimate question are often cliches, and that doesn't mean they're wrong — they're just not very helpful. What's helpful is seeing that other people are trying too, even if they're failing."
I guess that is one of the greatest value of this book. It is an empirical approach to solving the question: " What the HELL should I do with my life"

Lovely lessons to bring away:
Some of the fears that stop people:
-The fear of irreversibility, limiting future options
- fear that our passions will put us in the poorhouse
- Fear that what we need for ourselves will tear us away from our friends and family.
- The misconception that our life doesn’t not begin until we find out answer when actually our failed attempts often establish why our “answer” is so meaningful – it is part of the path.
Too many people use the dream job or nothing goal as a way of ensuring that their dreams stay alive and are not challenged by reality.
I used to treasure the talents, now I treasure the hard fought. I used to want to change the world, now I am open to letting it change me.

Here is a much better summary with an article from the author.

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