You can make decisions to pad your wallet. You can make decisions to maintain proper appearances. You can make decisions because they’re safe or predictable. You can make decisions because it’ll keep your parents off your back. You can make decisions simply to delay making harder decisions. I began this book because I was drawn, artistically, to those who’ve made decisions to serve none of those ends. I was interested in people who resisted those pressures and made a decision simply because it was good, or right, or true to their nature – and were willing to be challenged by the consequences.
As I wrote in the introduction, “Nothing seemed more brave to me than facing up to one’s own identity, and filtering out the chatter that tells us to be someone we’re not.”
I think in each and every one of our lives, a time will come that we will have to make a hard decision like this. We might be a new college graduate, or a recent retiree, or a mother going back to work after years raising children, or a soldier coming back from conflict. I wanted this book to be a companion for people of any sort who have to make a brave decision. People who are struggling to hear that voice within.
I found that it’s not what you do that defines you nearly as much as what you overcame to get there that shapes you. This is a journey of infinite variety that we all share.
So often, people feel stuck. They feel trapped by inertia or by financial constraints or by a lack of experience, or the simple shortage of hours in the day. In traveling across both oceans, being welcomed into the lives of strangers, investigating so many domains I had absolutely no prior experience with, I was demonstrating that the world is a far more open book that we usually imagine it to be. The world is full of incredible, rich opportunities. If you strengthen your curiosity as you would a muscle, by exercising it regularly — if you can empathize with the lives of others, if you are willing to see a potential friend in the face of every stranger, if you are willing to suffer some embarrassment and discomfort, and if you are patient — you will not be stuck forever.
These are stories of maturation; of gaining understanding through being forced to look at life a different way. In the end, having the benefit of perspective contributed to their satisfaction as much as the new lifestyle. They got over their envy; they stopped employing ironic detachment as a inverse-survival strategy; they stopped expecting somebody else to make their life better for them. To quote Emerson, they found the power that resides in them. Some pursued a cause; others a dream; others took the only opportunity they could find and turned it into something better than a dream. Some found fulfillment when they stopped chasing fruitless notions and embraced a workable solution. Some ended up better off; some traded psychic income for part of their paycheck. Everyone has made ends meet. Most of the stories have positive outcomes, but all of the stories began in failure – in the crashing to earth of their best-laid plans, stranded here, forced to improvise, stop pretending.
-Po Bronson on his book What Should I Do With My Life?