It’s finally summertime, and it’s really starting to feel like it here in DC. The hot temperatures and upcoming vacation plans inspired us to create a (very) informal Hoya Gateway Book Club. For the next couple of months, we’ll suggest a book for your summer reading list and provide a few discussion questions to prompt reader dialogue. Feel free to engage in discussion with us or just simply read the books on your own! Our list will focus on career-related books, but we promise they won’t be boring!
Our first book, (drumroll please…) is Po Bronson’s What Should I Do With My Life? The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question. Bronson interviewed more than 900 people, young and old, to investigate the answer to the age old question of purpose and examines the journey and transitions of the people involved in his research. Many of these men and women make drastic changes to achieve happiness, which Bronson summarizes in order to give the reader a glimpse into their story and, hopefully, help them to determine their passions and strengths.
On his blog, Bronson writes of the book, “What Should I Do With My Life? is used by far more than professionals at a mid-career reckoning point. It’s widely read by those facing college graduation, and it’s been assigned to incoming freshman at some big universities like UMKC, Rutgers, Tenn State, and West Texas A&M. One New York State Supreme Court Justice used it to counsel his son upon graduation. But it’s also picked up by those recently diagnosed with cancer who have been given a short time to live. Many National Guardsmen have read the book after they return from their year tour, and one doctor contacted me from an Air Force base in Germany – he was giving the book to soldiers who had lost a limb (to help them accept the inevitable changes in their life). Two famous actresses have read the book to help them understand the lives of regular people (Hah!!!), and one 17-year-old homeless youth in Denver was inspired by the book during the time he was getting off the streets. Housewives read it as they contemplated reentering the workforce after years caring for their children at home. A surprising number of retirees pass the book around, as a call to find a meaningful purpose in their retirement years. Many churches assigned it for Sunday school bible study. These are all audiences I never imagined in my wildest dreams would be reading my words. ” (http://www.pobronson.com/index2.html)
Once you’ve finished reading, take a look at these discussion questions below. We look forward to hearing what you think!
- What have you been called to, over the course of your life? Have you listened to those calls? Which have you acted upon, and which have you chosen not to?
- In the first section, Po portrays various ways of arriving at “a sense of rightness,” such as analyzing your skills, or watching for synchronicity, or wanting to help others who have suffered similar tragedies and losses. Po also says we’re as likely to simply stumble into a place that feels right as arrive there by reasoned planning. Which of these ways have you used when telling your story to others? Could you tell your story using the other methods?
- Po concludes that it’s in hard times that we’re forced to overcome the fears and doubts that normally give us pause. To what extent have the changes in your life been self-selected, during good times, or been forced upon you, during hard ones? When you’ve suffered hardship, has it altered what you consider important? Has hardship changed your life, or have you fought to get back to “normal”?
- Po warns against editing out important pieces of our story in order to make our story more presentable to others. “Embrace your luck, pain and ghosts,” he suggests in one chapter; in another he writes, “look backward even more than forward, and chase away preconceptions of what our story is supposed to sound like.” He contrasts the Resume Version with the Work-In-Progress Version. How do you describe yourself in a public situation? How do you do so differently in a private situation? What failures do you rarely bring up? Do you agree that we should be more revealing of our “real story” in public situations?
- In the chapter “The Brain Candy Generation,” Po says the true search is for what you believe in – what kind of world you want to live in. In what ways are you making the world a better place – even if it’s just one quality interaction at a time?
- 25. Po tells Tom Scott that happiness is too easy a test; rather, we should ask what will be fulfilling. Leela de Souza found that fulfillment when she stopped asking what would make her happy, and instead asked “to what could she devote her life?” Mike Jenzeh’s life improved when he gave up that it was all about himself. Yet these stories are balanced by the likes of Warren Brown, who stopped suppressing what made him happy, and Kurt Slauson, who had been denying himself permission to enjoy his life. Have the most fulfilling periods of your life also been happy ones? Is happiness essential?
- Bart Handford tells Po the parable of the three bricklayers building a cathedral, suggesting that even menial work can be meaningful if it’s contributing to something you believe in. Have your most meaningful accomplishments required a lot of menial work?
- Po suggests that temptations can come in many forms: in the form of money, respect, love, and convenience. Write a one page memory about a time in your adult life that you resisted one of these temptations.
- In the chapter “The Ungrateful Soldier,” Po recounts C.S. Lewis’s assertion that belonging to an Inner Ring is a powerful, wayward desire. Po asks Tim Bratcher who’s sitting at that table – who’s in his Inner Ring. Are there ways you’ve used status as a surrogate for individual expression? What elusive ring do you long to belong to? Are there people in your life (or in your past) that you don’t respect, yet are still trying to prove wrong?