Saturday, January 25, 2003

Quiet Desperation (washingtonpost.com) [Review of latest Po Bronson book]

Quiet Desperation (washingtonpost.com) (Review of latest Po Bronson book) "Bronson would like readers to believe that his book is deeper, more existential than a book about, say, career coaching, but it simply isn't. Like Audrey Hepburn, who plays a bohemian book clerk enamored of a philosophy called empatheticalism in the 1956 film "Funny Face," he has discovered that the true meaning of life is – yep, you guessed it – getting with the program. If you've suddenly realized that your high-powered job as a surgeon, a corporate lawyer, an investment banker or a dot-commer isn't fulfilling, there's no need to freak out. Quit your job – or, as Bronson puts it at one point, take a "gripless open-handed jump into the void," as though the void were nothing but life off the career track – and get a job you like better. Bronson, himself a former bond salesman, pats himself on the back early on in the book for helping one young man realize that what he really, really wanted was to become a golf pro; and he is proud of a friend who resigned his position as a vice president at Wells Fargo, drifted for a while, then ended up as a highly paid portfolio manager in the United Arab Emirates.
In the end, Bronson sums up what he has learned, not for the sake of the average reader, but for a group of CEOs "from some of the biggest companies in the country. Together, they pretty much are the economy." He's been invited to speak to these folks about What People Really Want, we learn in the book's final chapter; although he's nervous, he thinks it's a great opportunity to speak truth to power. When it's his turn to speak, he tells the assembled head honchos that most people don't care so much about benefits, flex time, day care or stock options. "We need to encourage people to find their sweet spot," he says. "Productivity explodes when people love what they do. We're sitting on a huge potential boom in productivity, which we could tap into if we got all the square pegs in the square holes and round pegs in round holes." This, apparently, is what life is really all about: improving productivity. If you don't love the job you've got, get a job you'll love. This is existentialism, American style."

I wasn't looking for deep existential insights from Po Bronson, and I'm enjoying the book...
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