The best thing about commuting via public transit is that it encourages me to read. Reading on the train offers two key benefits: it makes me sound smarter at parties and it reduces hobo-related harassment (especially since I started covering my book du jour with a homemade jacket that reads The Perfect Crime: Why No One Misses a Dead Bum.)
Since my big move to Chicago, I’ve been obsessed with career-guidance books. Here’s an overview of my latest reads:
Title: What Should I Do with My Life: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question
Author: Po Bronson
Summary: This book provides a ton of personal accounts from people who are desperately trying to find their callings. Some of them don’t have very happy endings (or endings at all), but most of them are neatly tied up and somewhat comforting. There seemed to be a lot of stories of people fumbling through professional purgatory, going to school for the wrong thing, realizing their dreams late in life, etc. So, if you’re looking to add a little schadenfreude to your career-crisis reading list, I give it two thumbs up.
Title: Grindhopping: Building a Rewarding Career Without Paying Your Dues
Author: Laura Vanderkam
Summary: This book reminds me of that episode of Will and Grace in which Jack keeps repeating his workout catch phrase, “Stake it.” The author seems a bit desperate to be credited for coining the term grindhopper, and she promotes it through constant, merciless repetition. For those of you who aren’t already using in your everyday speech, a grindhopper is someone who refuses to be tied down by a traditional 9 to 5. They quit their day jobs to make bedazzled guitar straps for rocker chicks. They start multi-million-dollar candy manufacturing companies with two dollars, no knowledge of candy manufacturing, and a lot of tenacity. In short, they’re young and they’re more successful than you, and it’s all because they don’t let the man and his old-school rules determine how they should define work.
This book showed me that all I need to do to have the career of my dreams is to stop making excuses and get out of my own way—which I would totally do, but I just have so much going on right now. There’s those six episodes of Star Trek: Voyager on the Tivo that must be watched before they’re deleted to make room for some house-flipping show. And, let’s face it, my new granite countertops aren’t going to seal and polish themselves. But seriously, once those things are done, I’m definitely going to learn how to make croissants and open a bakery called Sticky, Tender Buns…or perhaps I’ll call it Don’t Bring Your Brats in Here You Damn Hippies Who Don’t Beat Your Kids or I’ll Punch Them in Their Chubby Little Throats.
Title: I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was: How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get It
Author: Barbara Sher
Summary: When I stumbled upon this book at my local library, I wanted to cry. ‘Finally,’ I thought, ‘Someone wrote a book that speaks to both my inflated sense of self-worth and my constant fear that every decision I make is wrong.’ There was even a chapter in which Babs promised to show people with too many interests how they could pursue all of them in a single lifetime. First, she told me to make a list of all the things I wanted to be BEFORE reading any further. I was intrigued. I hastily wrote down my greatest ambitions and turned the page, expecting something revolutionary—like a recipe for that elixir of life Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn drink in Death Becomes Her. Sadly, there was no recipe. She just told me to identify all the things I could do as a hobby or as a temporary vacation from my day job and—poof—now I could magically do them all. I suppose the book did help me prune a few interests that don’t merit full-time pursuit. But it’s clear to me now that if I want self-improvement claptrap with a hint of the supernatural, I’ll have to join Tom Cruise’s book club.
Title: The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
Author: Timothy Ferris
Summary: I really liked this book at first. The author makes some good points about how younger workers are more interested in flexibility and stimulation than salary and stability (although he’s hardly the first person to document the phenomenon). He’s traveled the world doing bizarre, glamorous things that read like a straight bachelor’s fantasy resume. At 29, he’s skied the slopes of the Andes, won a Chinese kickboxing championship, raced motorcycles in Europe, acted in a hit TV show in Hong Kong, and danced in tango competitions in Argentina. Throughout the book, he points out that you don’t need millions of dollars to do the things you’ve always dreamed of doing. More than anything, you need the flexibility to work when and where you like. Things were going great until the book recommended that, in order to determine what I should do with my life, I should make a list. I haven’t opened it since.