A life with purpose will beckon all of us at some point to answer these questions.
Are we doing something worthwhile with life?
Is our work meaningful?
Are we wasting it away at a keyboard or in an office or in the air on business travel?
Is this what we imagined ourselves to be doing in not just our adult years but also the very best years of our lives, realizing that working full time takes up at least a third of our waking hours?
Then if we keep prodding, we may hear the imploring of the heart as it always asks the heavy questions: What is our true purpose? Is there even such a thing? Maybe I am asking too much…. maybe just having a job and my health is good enough … but something inside is itching for more, for depth of meaning and a feeling of accomplishment of something we can call our own, a true labor of love and devotion.
With these thoughts swimming in my head for the last few months while pursuing the next phase of my career, I came across a fabulous article by FastCompany.com. I have shared this article with numerous friends and colleagues, and soon I picked up “What should I Do with My Life?” by Po Bronson. I find it funny and sad at the massive number of people who are looking for answers to this question. The question seems to strike a chord with those from every walk of life, every background, every culture, and every corner of the world.
I instantly loved Po Bronson’s writing style, ever so full of inspiration and awe. I started reading the book immediately but I am not sure why I read it so slowly. I think partly I wanted to digest every story. Po travels around the country for a long time, interviewing hundreds of ordinary people who have struggled to find the answers, people who have made brave, crazy, shocking, and dramatic changes in a life that seemed to be going just fine, perhaps too fine by some of our standards.
Why would a successful stock broker in Manhattan making over 300 thousand dollars a year quit to become a fish farmer in the middle of nowhere … why would intelligent highly accomplished young people quit a perfectly good job with potential for a career to pursue a dream, a vision, a faint voice in their head ? Why is it not smart to first save up so that you can then finance your ultimate dream with the nest egg instead of going after the dream penniless? There is a sense of urgency about the people he interviews – how is it possible to wait a lifetime to enable a dream comfortably when they cannot wait another day to get started on it with all their resources and all the sacrifices they are willing to make now?
This is a remarkable book about the strength of spirit and the unpredictable conditions of the human heart – to learn that you are not happy with the dream job and the dream house, and that you took yourself to be someone else all these years is daunting enough, but to face it and to make brave outrageous decisions to move away from the shackles of daily routine and to pursue the passions deep inside your heart takes the kind of courage that we read about in novels and watch in movies. Po Bronson found it in multitudes of ordinary people across the country, and he tells us about his discoveries in beautifully written tales. There are, we learn, as many paths to success as there are people dreaming up such paths.
Reading is the best pastime for an active mind! If you like to see the other book reviews, check the index of In Print.
Sadly, at the end of every chapter, I had to pause and think – I could identify with bits and pieces of each person he interviewed. I could see some of myself in each of them. My goal on reading this book was to find my answer to the question. I did not find my answer, I did not get closer to my own passion and my true next phase of career, but oddly enough, I felt settled and content after reading this book. While the answer did not come, I found out more about who I am and heaps more about who I am not – and most importantly, whom I do not wish to become.
Sometimes, it is enough to know that what we do on a daily basis is not enough, and there shall be more to our lives, and we should simply not ignore the inside voice whispering to us the secret wishes of what would make it wonderfully happy. We should continue to listen, and act in our own time. But do be cautious not to become complacent, for the years fly and life is brief, and our strong sharp years are the present ones we have, and of those, we have a finite number. Do with them what you were meant to do, even if not fully, even if in bits and pieces, to fill up your bucket of joy and accomplishment.
Some of my absolute favorite phrases about living a life with purpose by Po Bronson:
- “Failure is hard, but success at the wrong thing can lock you in forever.”
- “Don’t mistake intensity for passion.”
- “A calling is not something you know, it’s something you grow into, through trials and mistakes”
- “Attack your fears, rather than shy away from them.”
- “Bring what you do in alignment with who you are.”
- “Freedom is the confidence that you can live within the means of something you’re passionate about.”