Leadership Hall Of Fame: Po Bronson, Author Of "What Should I Do With My Life?"

How has the economic downturn of the last few years changed people's ability to create their perfect life? We continue our examination of the business book What Should I Do With My Life? with an interview of author Po Bronson.

Po BronsonWhat was the impetus for you to write What Should I Do With My Life?

I didn't know what to do with my life, and I realized I wasn't alone, I'd been asking this question forever. My wife was pregnant, the TV series I was writing for in L.A. was canceled, and I wondered if I could or should continue as a writer, and what my voice should be. It helped me relate to the story of others, who were in search of themselves through the search for meaningful work.

Why do you think the book was so successful and resonated with the business world in the way that it did?

Because it dug into people's truest and deepest psychology, something the business world normally does not see reflected. Through work, and through our careers, is how people go on identity quests these days.

How has the economic downturn of the last few years changed people's ability to create their perfect life?

I have never met anyone with a perfect life, so, that's clearly never been possible and always been a fool's errand. My book advocated that it was a 50/50 deal--half learning to reach for what you hunger for, and half learning to make the most of what you get. The most common starting point for people's journeys was getting laid off. Thus, the economic downturn has not been an obstacle, rather the opposite - economic downturns force people to reinvent themselves.

Your books have such a diverse set of subjects; what had been the principle behind your writing career?

I don't have principles stuck to my office walls reminding me what direction to go in ... I have books on the shelf behind me that I think are great books, tremendous books, and I aspire to one day write something as good as those.

What Should I Do With My LifeHow has your writing process changed from My Life to writing NurtureShock?

The main shift has been from doing social documentaries, exhaustively interviewing people about their lives, to hitting the library and the databases and basing my work on science. My reason for doing so was simply variety, I wanted to try something different, to push myself, and learn to tell stories in a new way so I stay creatively fulfilled.

What makes a good business book stand out from all the others?

Telling the truth, telling it like it is. Way too many are full of spin, broad claims without real data, anecdotes reshaped to prove a point, trends that are barely trends, singular principles forced onto the complexity of more heuristic processes.

What are your three favorite business books, and why?

  1. The Big Short, for its perfect storytelling and ability to get me lost in a story I already thought I knew, but didn't.
  2. Freakonomics, for modeling how to think harder about what data really says.
  3. Bombardiers, my first novel--is that against the rules?

Read more from What Should I Do With My Life? or our Leadership Hall of Fame.

Po Bronson is the author of What Should I Do With My Life? The True Story Of People Who Answered The Ultimate Question, published by Ballantine Books.

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1 Comments

  • David Kaiser, PhD

    Po, I loved the book, I read it myself when I was neck-deep in my own long dark night of the soul and it gave me comfort that I wasn't alone. I now recommend it for clients who are looking to change direction in their careers and they have found it very helpful.

    Thanks again,

    David Kaiser
    Executive Coach and CEO
    www.DarkMatterConsulting.com