What Should I Do With My Life?

Everyone else in the blog-o-sphere is talking about it, but that is because What Should I Do With My Life? is such a thought-provoking article.

Po Bronson comes up with a stumbling blocks that keep people from properly answering the question. Some thoughts:

  • It isn’t about money: People live under the delusion that they have to get enough money before they can do what they want to do. I remember, back when the dot-com bubble was busting, reading about a Microsoft employee who complained that MSFT stock had been hit so hard that he couldn’t quit to go to seminary as he had planned. I couldn’t muster any sympathy for the man. Many people manage to go to seminary without first becoming independently wealthy.
  • Intellegence can’t get you there: I went to school with a few hundred National Merit Scholars. These are people who aced the SAT in their region — they scored in the top 0.5% for their region. Still, from what I’ve heard from a few of them, their intellegence did not naturally lead to a fulfilled life. One person ended up dropping out because he became obsessed with a woman who didn’t reciprocate. Another, after graduating, couldn’t manage to hold down anything more compelling than a cashier at a movie-house — and he wasn’t happy with it. Obviously, intellegence isn’t going to automatically make you more capable of answering the question.
  • Where you are matters: I’m still digesting this one, but I know that living in a technological backwater like New Orleans has changed my opportunities and outlook.

There is a sidebar at the bottom of the page titled “So what do you do?” and it addresses the queasiness people feel about that question. I admit I don’t mind answering the question because my answer is a big part of who I am. But, I’ve run into a few people who didn’t want to answer the question. They felt that they shouldn’t be defined by what they did. Still, a majority of our waking life is defined by what we do, so to claim that the answer to the question “What do you do?” isn’t as signifigant as “Who are you?” seems disingenuous. As the sidebar points out, if you don’t like The Inevitable Cocktail-Party Question, maybe it’s partly because you don’t like your answer.

The article is great, but I have to take issue with some of the underlying assumptions. Po Bronson writes: A status system has evolved that values being unique and true even more than it values being financially successful. I would claim that society has always valued uniqueness and veracity to self. But business has never, and probably will never, valued these attributes.

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