I have to say I like Po Bronson. Not so much his writing, which I think is very readable but not exactly Stegner, but more his obvious zeal for being a writer. He is also a thinker and someone genuinely concerned with examining and understanding not only his life but the lives of the people around him. In “The Nudist at the Late Shift,” he looked Silicon Valley in the eye, during its frothiest, and managed to capture that surreal energy that feels now like a fading dream or nightmare.
But with “What Should I Do,” he takes a great premise (speak to hundreds of people caught in that struggle to find a career that they can love) and isn’t able to find much in the way of a universal truth, or aggregated and implementable wisdom. Instead he seems to travel the country hanging out with some quasi-interesting people and productively and therapeutically guising his own professional writers block. And although the writing is serviceable, Po feels compelled to add his own 2 cents after each story, as if he is some kind of hipster Dr. Phil. Maybe it is my own jealousy shining through, I sure wish I could make a living writing topical popular books about my peers, but alas I am just like one of the characters in his stories who hasn’t yet found the way to professional Nirvana. I am, however, also realistic or cynical enough to have accepted both the nature of capitalism and the realities of funding a lifestyle that might create a more enduring happiness than ephemeral professional bliss.
I think the real hidden answers to the question of “What Should I Do?” are: “Get Lucky,” “Get Connected,” “Try To Be Among The First 200 Employees at Google” or “Don’t Confuse Your Satisfaction With Work, With Satisfaction In Life.” These are the answers that he should have at least acknowledged are common experiences shared by those rare folks that are in fact satisfied professionally. The subjects in the book seemed less genuinely content with their new career decisions, than they did ultimately more realistic than they were before about the nature of “work.”
It has been a tough few years, and the reality is economic prosperity like that Americans have experienced over the last 20 years may never return. But at the end of the day I believe that whether it was Po’s intention or not, the book will serve to act as either 1) proof of the universal nature of professional frustration or 2) hope for the future management of expectations, which will ultimately help ease the pain.