Monday, June 17, 2019

On the Coffee Table: Po Bronson

Title: What Should I Do with My Life?: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question
Author: Po Bronson
Image result for what should i do with my life
via Amazon
Novelist Po Bronson, partly out of a need to make sense of his own journey, compiled a list of true stories confronting the question of what to do with their lives.  As one might expect, there are plenty of tales of those leaving conventional jobs in the corporate world to lead a non-profit or become a professional gardener or an inventor or what have you.  Some found new meaning in the work they were already doing.  Some were still working on the answers by the time Bronson left their stories.  In all cases, the answers came through effort and risk, not by sitting on the couch waiting for an epiphany.  His basic message is neatly summarized near the end of the book: "Bring what you do in alignment with who you are."

This book, unplanned, has come to me at an interesting time.  I like my job (music teacher) - much of the time.  I believe in the meaning of what I do - much of the time.  I'm not always sure it's what I'm meant to be doing.  I'm very good at parts of the gig and consistently struggle with others.  Sometimes I wonder if the strongest skills I bring to work would be put to better use in another context and with fewer or more tolerable struggles.  Bronson's book reminds me that such wonders are not unusual.  He hasn't given me any answers but I do have new ideas for how to approach the question.

It's always worth remembering the things I value.  I love music and sharing that love with others is always gratifying.  Students, even middle school students, can bring tremendous inspiration if you let them.  I enjoy the trust and respect from my colleagues that my long tenure in the district have brought me.  Perhaps most of all, I am grateful for one of the underappreciated privileges of teaching: the frequent opportunities to hit the reset button.  Each new school year, new term, new concert cycle, new day, new class period, new student brings an opportunity to reinvent if I need it.  Even if I do eventually find a new path, there are rich possibilities for the one I'm on.  It's good to remember that.

Also good to remember that a job can just be a job.  It need not define me.  I work to live and not the other way around.  I wouldn't want anything to change that.

One slight tangent: as I have written in previous posts (like this one), I love trees.  I have made big life choices, like living in Vermont and choosing a house to buy, based in part on my love for trees.  On page 301, Bronson offers this lovely thought: "Trees are like books - they have an intangible psychic significance far beyond their utility."


  1. My goal is to live closer to the redwoods.
    Though that thought is kind of scary with all the wildfires out here these days. It's not a thing to do lightly anymore.

    I'll take a look at this book.

  2. I think many of us have had these thoughts especially if we haven't had the choice of the path we are on making the best life on the path we are now on.
    We all need to learn that because the part where we 'are" is just as important as the finish.

    1. You're right and I have always been one to value the journey as much as the destination.

  3. In my opinion, this book is very good.
    Giving confidence that someone must have the courage to make a decision to arrange the comfort of life through his choice.
    Without doubt.

    1. Bronson makes a strong point that making these informed choice requires effort. One can't simply sit and wait. One must earn the gratifying life path.

  4. Growing up the music teacher was a great source of continuity in my life. He was a major part of my middle school experience. My siblings got to have him in both middle and high school. If there had been room for a violinist (he helped transition me to a French horn) in our community, I would've continued as well.

    I don't know what your particular frustrations are, but I can promise you that you have a big role in the lives of the kids in band.