Yes, it's a question many folks are asking. But it's also the title of a book I just finished.
Po Bronson's work is long, but it might be worth your while if you're looking for stories about individuals who have dared to answer the title question. The stories are all engaging, and many seem ordinary. But in their ordinariness is where many of us can find direction.
Bronson interview countless people while working on this book. He traveled and listened to stories, some of them heartbreaking, all in an attempt to show the reader how many paths unfolded for people who own catfish farms, work as lawyers, and teach school.
Even though some of these quotes are ripped from their context, these are worth sharing as they got me thinking:
Many people use the dream-job-or-nothing goal as a way of ensuring their dreams are never challenged by reality - by hoping for too much, they can preserve their dream as a perfect fantasy. (page 13)
Passion is infectious - so few people have it for their work that when you do glimpse it, it makes an indelible impression. (page 15)
We live in a rich country, so rich that we're blessed with the ultimate privilege: to be true to our individual nature. Our economy is so vast that we don't have to grind it out forever at jobs we hate. For the most part, we get to choose. And so a status system has evolved that values being unique and true even more than it values being financially successful. (page 20)
We all have passions if we choose to see them. But we have to look backward even more than forward, and we have to chase away our preconceptions of what we think our passion is supposed to be, or not supposed to be. (page 37)
People have this stupid fantasy that if you're the creator, or the inventor, of the artist, you hand over your creation to businessmen and cash the royalty checks. That's a fantasy. It's irresponsible to their gift. If you have a gift, you should take care of it. (page 42)
The same goes for figuring out your place in life. It's not a puzzle that can be figured out on paper. You have to try something, see if it works, and learn from it. (page 46)
The conclusion that brain candy is not enough is probably the most threatening to our generation's belief system. In this belief system, the world is a battle between the Boring and the Stimulating. We channel-surf through jobs and relationships, pushing the button at the first hint of slowing down. Like Lori, we've rejected the compromises of our parents' generation, who sought safety and security. Anyone who comes along and murmurs that "stimulation is not everything" is quickly tuned out, because we don't want to hear it anymore. (page 47)
The relevant question is not what you will do, but who you will become. (page 48)
We can worship saints, but we can't emulate them. I would rather hear how the weak of will end up doing some good. (page 92)
For all those who were morally troubled by their work, it surprised me how few ever considered simply switching sides. (page 95)
The hardest thing about doing the right thing for yourself is you usually have to do it alone. (page 96)
If you need to summon the will to make a change, don't debate ethics. Get personal. If you don't believe in the integrity of your profession, you can debate the ethics of it forever and never do anything. But if you define the personal toll it's taking, it hits a lot closer to home. (page 102)
If I was financially independent, I would never have to take work I didn't want to do. But to become financially independent, I had to take work I didn't want to do. (page 113)
Failure's hard, but success is far more dangerous. If you're successful at the wrong thing, the mix of praise and money and opportunity can lock you in forever. It is so, so much harder to leave a good thing. (page 114)
If you have a passion then making your dream come true is so easy compared to the hard part. (page 144)
People have a natural tendency not to work on problems where they can't make a difference. (page 162)
Passion is really a complex organic chemistry between an individual and her job that isn't replicable or mass-producible. (page 174)
Intensity is external; passion invokes something inside you. It's a call-and-response with your soul. It's not just adrenaline. (page 175)
I'm not saying the community is everything, but it makes success possible. (page 236)
Don't doubt your desire because it comes to you as a whisper. (page 268)
The things we really want to do are usually the ones that scare us the most. The things you'll not feel conflicted about are the choices that leave no one hurt. (page 268)
You want to know where your fears are hiding? Tell me what you know about yourself. Tell me what you can't live without. (page 282)
Many of our fears and misconceptions about our careers stem from our fears and misconceptions about being a parent. (page 307)
But I'd rather help than watch. I'd rather have a heart than have a mind. I'd rather expose too much than too little. I'd rather say hello to strangers than be afraid of them. I would rather know all this about myself than have more money than I need. I'd rather have something to love than a way to impress you. (page 360)
Finding what we should do is one of life's great dramas. It can be an endless process of discovery, one to be appreciated and respected for its difficulty. (page 362)
Passion is rooted in deeply felt experiences, which can happen anywhere. (page 365)
Overall, this book is a bit tedious in its description and ultimately offers little in the way of resolution. But that's what also gives the reader a sense of community. Pick up this book if you're looking to listen to others about how they landed where they are.