Thursday, March 20, 2003

Book takes control of destiny question

By Julie Reed
The Associated Press

Sometimes, your destiny can arrive in the mail.

Take Za Rinpoche, (formerly Choeaor Dondup), a Tibetan growing up in a refugee camp in southern India. One day, he received a letter from the Dalai Lama telling him he was the reincarnation of a warrior who was the great spiritual leader of his region. Rinpoche was called to the Drepung monastery in northern India to prepare for life as a spiritual leader.

Rinpoche's story is one of about 50 profiles included in Po Bronson's new book, What Should I Do With My Life?

Bronson was at a turning point in his writing career when he became intrigued by people who had found their true callings. He corresponded with about 900 people and got to know about 70 well. His book contains "stories that I hoped would encourage reflection and offer solace, not ones that merely entertained."

It is the certainty of Rinpoche's place in the world - having it in writing from the Dalai Lama himself - that drew Bronson to him. Bronson uses the story of the newly minted monk to comment on our notion of destiny, saying "there's a persistent tension between wanting our life's purpose to be revealed to us by some higher power and wanting to scrap and fight for it against all odds - to earn it without help."

The question of destiny - do things happen for a reason? - is a common one raised by many of Bronson's subjects. They include Janelle London, an intellectual-property lawyer whose kidney transplant led her to become an organ-donor activist; Jessica Grossman, who mistakenly thought she'd find fulfillment as a physician because her father was a prominent cardiologist; and Marcela Widrig, a successful international sales director turned massage therapist.

This isn't a Studs Turkel-type book - Bronson says he's not interested in what it's like to perform certain types of jobs. He's really after how certain types of occupations, industries and lifestyles affect a person's place in the world and how a person turns out. He hopes that these stories reveal that "What should I do with my life?" is the "modern, secular version of the great timeless questions about our identity, such as `Who am I?' or `Where do I belong?' "

The struggle between what people think they should do and what they want to do led many to ask if everyone has a calling in life. "People who don't have passions don't struggle," Bronson says, a bit of advice that helped Noah Goldfader realize that the interest in golf he had harbored while jumping from one marketing job to another could be more than just a hobby.

Bronson urges people to pay close attention to their side interests and give them weight when deciding their life's path. It would be nice, he says, "to think that our destinies are out there, looking for us, hunting us."

A better story, though, is to emphasize "that your experiences are your chance to define meaning."

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