7 Things We Already Know About Our Lives

  • Someday Lesson: When we say we don’t know what we want out of life, we’re lying to ourselves. We know – we’re just avoiding the truth.

Po Bronson: What Should I Do With My Life?

A client recently forwarded me an article by Po Bronson in the magazine Fast Company. In 2003, Bronson released a book and accompanying Fast Company article entitled “What Should I Do With My Life?” I haven’t read either, but after reading the updated article in the January 2009 issue of Fast Company, I’m adding the book to my wishlist.

Bronson talks about Someday Syndrome – the idea that people don’t know what they want to do with their life. And instead of “selling smoke” (as the Spanish put it), he talks about practical actions and how meaning changes for each person.

In the article, he outlines the topics covered in the book, focusing on what we already know about our lives but tend to ignore.

1. Most people do not choose to change. For the most part, we like our ruts. We’re comfortable in them. Most people change because they are forced to, by job cuts, by a health or family crisis, by a sudden realization that their life has completely and utterly stalled. Change happens when something threatens our comfort and forces us to reevaluate.

2. Dreams and real life are not inseparable. In popular culture, fulfilling our dreams means cutting ourselves completely out of our lives and running off to the top of a mountain to meditate (or to Hollywood to become a star). However, real dreams integrate our current lives into what we want. We all have principles and responsibilities – if we drop them to pursue something else, then we are not following a dream, but a whim. We complete dreams when we live with integrity.

3. Thought is not action. Bronson takes a shot at what he calls “The Modern Dream Machine Industry” – the books, DVDs and courses that say riches and a fulfilled life can all be had if we just believe it hard enough. I’m with Bronson on this one: dreams are not fantasies. They are the results of concrete actions that take us from where we are to where we want to be – by doing, not just believing.

4. Dreams involve hard work. I suppose it all depends on the definition of work, but every dream has some task or set of tasks that we hate doing. At times, life is boring, loathsome, upsetting and uncomfortable, even when we are pursuing our passions – that’s okay. That’s what makes up a holistic life. Accept the drudgery when necessary and get on with your dreams.

5. There is no one right answer. Bronson tells a story about three men who work for different reasons: for money, for family, for being a part of something larger. One of these reasons is not better than the other. As long as we are clear with ourselves about why we are doing something, there can be no wrong answer. The only wrong answer is a lie (e.g., as if we say we’re doing something for our family when really we’re doing it for the money).

6. People don’t have a single passion to pursue. This is like saying that each person has only one-true-love. Whatever. I have so many passions, it’s hard to keep them under control. And they change over time. As Bronson says: throw a glass of water on anyone who spouts the one-true-calling crap to wake them from their fantasy.

7. We know what we want out of life. We might hide it, lie to ourselves or try to pretend otherwise, but every person knows what they want. For twenty-five years I knew what I wanted to be – a writer – and yet I hid it behind other things. You know it too. Stop lying to yourself.

And now for a prize – leave a comment here before May 12th and I will draw one name using a random number generator and that person will receive a copy of Bronson’s book What Should I Do With My Life.

And if you want to know more about Po Bronson, check out his website. I’m heading over there right now…

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26 thoughts on “7 Things We Already Know About Our Lives

  1. Emma Newman says:

    It’s weird, this question has been hitting me for the last couple of weeks – from other people, not for myself. It’s made me feel so lucky to know *exactly* what I want – and need – to do, even though it’s hard sometimes.

    So I’m leaving a comment here in the hope of winning this for a friend I met last week who is totally lost. She’s never found anything that has gripped her, and now, after five and a half years of being a stay-at-home Mum she’s desperate to find something meaningful for herself. She said that she doesn’t burn to do anything, and that comment chilled me. For me, that sounds like sleepwalking through life, which I would never wish on anyone.

    Emma Newman´s last blog post..Persistence really is everything

  2. Joely Black says:

    I’m with Emma. I’ve always known exactly what I want, and what I’m supposed to be doing. I have no idea what it means to just sit around through life shrugging and not knowing what you want to do.

    I’ll go beyond that – the one true calling applies to me even if it doesn’t apply to him. One thing that it’s always worth remembering is that often we make assumptions about what everybody else’s life should be like and what they all *should* be doing based on our own experiences.

    There are people who find they have one calling in life and that’s what they are bound to do. There are other people who find that they have many interests that they want to pursue. Neither way is better or more real than the other, they are both valid approaches to life.

    Joely Black´s last blog post..Amnar is ten years old today

  3. I gobbled this book up when I came across it – with a title like that how could I not. I found it massively inspiring, and wasn’t surprised (though a little disappointed) that it didn’t contain the one true answer to all my questions.

    For me, my latest feeling is that although I know what I want out of life, what I should do with my life, I’m not in a place to do it yet. It’s not that I’m not ready (that is *I* am ready, my consciousness is ready) but that I have some stuff I need to do first.

    When the message of ‘doing’ is so strong in our culture, it’s easy for that to permeate to even a quest for purpose. The feeling that I should find the purpose and then push, push, push, do, do, do was ever present. Another lesson it seems for me to stop, and really look at what is true for me, where I am at, and act from love.

    This is a great book of stories of interesting people who found meaning in their lives outside of the common cliches. But it won’t tell you what to do with *your* life. To do that you have to search for what is missing.

  4. I loved reading this list! It’s SO true. We often don’t choose change, we think are dreams are impossible, and dreams are hard work. One point I’m not sure I agree with is the idea that we already know what we want. Like you, I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer, but I have a lot of friends who have NO idea what they want to be.

    Positively Present´s last blog post..rainy days and mondays…

  5. This book was recommended to me several years ago, but like so many others, I’ve never gotten around to reading it.

    “Most people do not choose to change.” <- I couldn’t agree more! Even in the case of positive changes, we usually make them only because are forced to or feel we have to. I don’t think anyone has ever said, “My life is great, and to make it even better I’m going to …”

    “We know what we want out of life.” <- When I first read this, I disagreed, but I once pictured myself doing almost exactly what I do now, long before I ever heard of a virtual assistant or a blog, so maybe it is true!

    Janet Barclay´s last blog post..Did You Miss the NAPO Conference?

  6. Chris says:

    I am highly educated, thinking that was the path to finding what I really wanted and, well, that gamble was a poor choice. Now, I am reevaluating what my life is all about and what I really want to do, which is surprisingly hard when you’ve spent such a long time being myopic about your life’s goals. I would LOVE a copy of this book as it is being offered at the right time for me…

    Oh, and this is an excellent blog – I do enjoy reading it.

  7. @Emma and @Joely – ah, but then you finally achieve it and you live it, and it’s all good … and now it’s routine. That’s where I am at now. So, while continuing to live it, because it is what I want, it’s back to sqaure one to find a new passion, a new goal to pursue. I think it’s cyclical. The cycle of discovering a passion, working on it, achieving it, living it can take months or years. In my case years.

    @Alex – can you randomly generate your sister to win this book please 🙂

    Urban Panther´s last blog post..Is this a mid-life crisis?

  8. Sherrie Sisk says:

    I’m guessing #3 is aimed at Law of Attraction books, movies, etc.? This kind of raises my hackles. Bronson’s not the first to make this allegation, by far, and so it might seem like I’m picking on this book though I’m really not, but here goes: I’m not aware of any mainstream blog, book, or movie “generally accepted” (and there’s a loaded phrase) as a LOA resource that DOESN’T stress that action is also required, in addition to raising positivity and expectation over negativity, fear, and lack-based thinking.

    And while I’m not necessarily a huge LOA proponent, I do think it’s important to get the parameters of the movement straight before we can discuss it intelligently. (Frankly, personally I’m not sure what I think of LOA. I’ve seen some examples in my life that would tend to support the idea, but of course we all know lots of examples in our own lives and others where things don’t work out so neatly.)

    That being said, I would also be interested in reading this book, as I do agree with most of what Bronson writes.

    Sherrie Sisk´s last blog post..Fibromyalgia and Dr. Unbeliever: A Horror Story From Texas

  9. Thanks for the book recommendation; I’ll be reading it.

    It took me some time to realize that I didn’t have just one passion. I wondered to myself that once I had succeeded with my passion, then what would I do? Now I understand that one passion leads to one or two more so I’ve always got something interesting and exciting to do. Works out well!

  10. Melinda says:

    That sounds like a great book Alex, and very generous of you!


    Melinda´s last blog post..May Book Giveaway – “Tribes” by Seth Godin

  11. Patricia says:

    I wish to write two things to your post…I think the book is on Kindle..and I will read it. Thank you
    #1. I was taught on my first job, by a truly skilled and amazing human being, that people only change when the pain is too great to stay put. It made me feel odd because I love to explore change and make change in my life…but no one around me seems to…they want to hold on – this confuses me.

    #2. I am so happy I found Andy Hayes on your site…my tour of Scotland was canceled this morning and my youngest child must write a paper on a multinational corporation from Scotland…Andy has been responding to our emails all day…and came up with good companies for us….We will still have that drink but it might not be on your birthday! A toast to you anyway!

    Patricia´s last blog post..Examining the Role and the Rules

  12. Cath Lawson says:

    Morning Alex – It sounds like a fab book – I love reading true life stories. I’m glad you’ve confirmed the “one true calling myth”. Somebody said that to me when I had to leave my nurse training due to illness and it really stung. The idea that “God” or someone would make something bad happen to me, just to stop me from being a nurse didn’t sound right.

  13. Alex Fayle says:

    @Emma & @Joely
    I love that you two want to win this for friends. Knowing what we want and going after it just makes us more eager to help others figure out the same, no?

    Good reminder that not everyone is in the same place and that while a lot of people need to stop talking and start doing, a lot of others actually need to stop doing and start thinking. Good for you for recognizing that in yourself.

    @Positively Present
    The first point is my favourite as well – that we can’t always choose our situations but we can always choose our reactions. As for knowing/not knowing what we want, I believe that those who say they don’t know actually do but they’ve buried it so deeply they can’t access it. Fear and conforming can really obscure our dreams.

    Exactly! You might not have known the details, but you knew what would make you happy.

    I took the same route, taking a masters degree that took me on a scenic route to my dream. If I had the opportunity to do it over again, I likely wouldn’t have chosen that path because it was fear-based, but having done so I don’t regret it as it has led me here to being a Someday Mentor which I totally love! BTW, glad you enjoy the blog!

    Glad to see on your blog that you’ve discovered a new passion for something. Yay James for helping you!

    I think the missing piece of information comes from the marketing of the LOA/Secret type stuff. Because the latest flavour of “Get Rich Quick” sells best that’s what the marketers push, and since the general consensus comes from what the marketers say, these materials get a bad rep, even when they do promote action.

    I have so many passions I have a hard time keeping them in check! I definitely do not subscribe to your one true calling (and neither do I subscribe to a one true love idea either). 😉

    Thanks! Maybe we can “randomly generate” a win for each other in the book giveways? (Kidding!)

    If you win, I’ll order you a Kindle copy. 😉 And yes, I don’t understand that fear of change. I’m a change junkie!

    Yay to the Andy Hayes connection!

    That would also feel very strange to me, being tossed by someone through bad situations just to get to the true calling. I suppose for some, however, it’s how the universe works…

  14. DiscoveredJoys says:

    Do you want to hear something spooky…

    I went through the list of 7 topics covered in the book (now pasted into my ‘own book’ research database) and highlighted all the ones that I recognised as fitting in with my own thoughts. I highlighted them all.

    I then thought about them a bit more to see which ones resonated with me. I agreed with 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 without much inward turmoil.

    2 (Dreams and real life are not inseparable) gave me pause for thought because I had always assumed that integrity was necessary and dreams were part of that. It never occured to me that there was a risk of building a wall between dreams and real life. That was thought provoking.

    The real wake up call was 7 (We know what we want out of life). I currently do not think I know what I want out of life. I have always ‘gone along’ with the traditional career/marriage/kids template; it suited me well enough at the time and I was happy. I’m now at the point in my life where the traditional boxes have been ticked and I’m thinking “What now?”

    So now I’ve got to go away and think some more about what I want out of life (but can’t or won’t admit to myself). Damn, I can feel the auto-resistance building as I type! Time to put on the walking boots and head out for a good think.

    A very timely and helpful blog.

    Thank you.

  15. We do not want to change — indeed. I know this, which is why I am overweight. Because quite frankly, getting into shape isn’t something I care about enough to do something about it. As opposed to expanding my business, moving toward being a published novelist, and trying new recipes.

    Should I want to? Sure. But I don’t, and I know that it’s not going to change until I do.

    Great post, Alex.

    Erin Hartshorn´s last blog post..more work by me, now available

  16. Andy Hayes says:

    I love the Andy Hayes connection too. Oh, wait, that’s me. 🙂

    I read this book a few years ago when I wasn’t in a very good place. I really thought it was a practical and eye opening read. Can high suggest it.

    (Oh and since I’ve got it already, you can leave me out of the drawing :P)

  17. Alex Fayle says:

    I hear you on the inner-resistance. I do that all the time with myself. You might want to check out Jonathan Mead’s recent post about fighting our own progress: http://www.illuminatedmind.net/2009/05/05/anti-you/

    I know what you mean – I run and I do WiiFit, but I’m just not interested enough in changing my diet to get rid of the weight that I look at and complain to myself about. 😉

    You’re removed from the draw… Glad you liked the book – thanks for pointing me to the article in the first place!

  18. Ann says:

    Ouch! This hits home with me and it’s not a comfortable feeling. I’m at the stage where I need to make a decision about what I’m going to do and I’ve been avoiding it for nearly a year. I know it’s time to face it….

  19. Alex Fayle says:

    It’s so easy to find things to distract us from making the decisions we know we need to make, eh? Good for you for recognizing that. Now instead of facing the whole big thing – which is totally scary – how about making one small decision on just a part of the whole?

  20. […] are several reasons you might be holding back.  Run through the list Alex put together at 7 Things We Already Know About Our Lives to see if it helps you isolate what’s keeping you from putting your whole self into achieving […]

  21. beth says:

    I know it takes a great deal of effort to change because we are so familiar with what we already are doing. However, you make a convincing case for us to dive in and see what we can gain from doing so. I am scared but willing to take the plunge!

  22. Christi says:

    I came to this article by way of another blog. More and more articles have been randomly coming my way, pushing me.

    This list hit several nails on the head. Its clear, no-nonsense verbage had me sitting back and nodding my head. For the moment it pushed away the doubt…and the complacent acceptance that I know what I want but it’ll probably never happen.

    I’ve already pushed ahead on one dream. It went down exactly as listed here. Thoughts were not the same as action, sometimes it was sheer evil drudgery, but the end result is so worth it. This article reminded me that if I could do it once, I can do it again with my next big thing, it’s just been waiting for me to see that.


  23. Alex Fayle says:

    It’s like standing above a pool on a really hot day knowing that it will feel really good but being afraid of the shock of the change by diving in. Good for you for being willing to take the plunge!

    Welcome! It’s amazing how when we are avoiding something we seem to get nothing but messages directing us back to what we’re trying not to think about. And yes, having a success in the past is a great way to motivate the future. Good luck!

  24. Joely Black says:

    @ Urban Panther – I feel bad for you, that’s a shame that the passion died. I’ve been writing fiction pretty much every day since I was nine years old. I still love every minute of it after having written so many books that if I was to include every manuscript, I’d probably be well into the 20s by now. Every book is a joy, as is spending time with fans, sharing how they feel about it. There’s nothing routine to it at all.

    I think if you constantly want to be entertained by life, and demand that it supplies something magical to you in every moment, then you’ll probably struggle with boredom. If it’s all about Achieving The Goal then obviously, once you’ve achieved it, there’s no interest anymore.

    My perspective is different. I find great love and passion in the doing. Every book is a new adventure. I go back and read old manuscripts for the hell of it. I re-encounter old characters and go nuts over them. It’s a wonderful experience.

  25. Alex Fayle says:

    There were 18 different commentors on the this post, so using a Random Number Generator, I drew #1 – Emma Newman! Congrats!

  26. Emma Newman says:

    Yay! As soon as I receive it, I will send it on to the friend I mentioned. This rocks! What a great week! Thanks Alex xx

    Emma Newman´s last blog post..Hitching up my skirts but trying not to run away

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