Career Bliss: Secrets From 100 Women Who Love Their Work
By Joanne Gordon
Ballantine, 368 pp., paperback, 14.95
The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People With Too Many Passions to Pick Just One
By Margaret Lobenstine
Broadway, 272 pp., $19.95
Seven Sins for a Life Worth Living
By Roger Housden
Harmony, 208 pp., $18.95
Often I'm asked whether I love being a writer. The answer is yes. Of course I don't love the endless rejection, the scant recognition, or the meager paychecks. I may be crazy, but I'm not insane. It's the writing itself that compels me. There's nothing more challenging, or more intellectually satisfying. So, does your work ''complete" you? If so, you'll also find ''Career Bliss" a guilty pleasure. These women are your compatriots.
Joanne Gordon, a contributing writer for Forbes, has amassed an impressively varied list of working women; there are singer-songwriters, CEOs, gym owners, auto mechanics, and, yes, even synchronized swimmers. Take Marina Ramirez-Alvarado, a biomedical researcher, professor, and scientist. As a child she imagined herself owning a travel agency, but a talent for chemistry set her on a different course. When Alvarado describes the pleasures of her job, you totally get it. ''The day you get something right, even if it's tiny, is such an important and wonderful day. I've seen the face of many people who have been struggling and struggling and all of a sudden, the thing works, and they glow! One reason why I keep doing this job is because those days exist."
All of these women's stories resonate for me. It's only when Gordon attempts to categorize her subjects that the book falters. There are chapters with titles like ''The Lovers," ''The Builders," ''The Loyalists," and, most annoying of all, ''The Heroines, Healers and Sisters." To make this book read like a self-help text, Gordon lumps her interviewees together into 10 subheadings and argues that the women whom she profiles in each chapter share certain ''predominant traits and values." I wasn't persuaded. To this reader, the overarching narrative seems arbitrary. Gordon speaks of being inspired by Studs Terkel's ''Working." I wish she'd taken a page from his stylistic book and let her interviewees do all the talking.
Of course, many of us have yet to find the one, compelling passion that will complete us and provide a lifetime of satisfaction. Instead, we are constantly in a state of flux; if we had our druthers, we'd be a lawyer till noon, a linguist till 4, and a rock musician to boot. Isn't there world enough and time? According to Margaret Lobenstine, there may well be. Apparently we're not suffering from adult ADD, we're Renaissance souls.
Lobenstine, a life coach and career counselor, explains in ''The Renaissance Soul" what this new label does for her clients, ''people who had long suffered under the labels 'dilettante' or 'flake' or just plain 'failure.' " Now they can ''glance backward towards a time -- the Renaissance -- when people who pursued many different interests were held in the highest esteem."
Here's one self-help book that is exactly as advertised, well thought out and offering sage advice on how to make yourself into the multitalented and multitasking professional you'd love to become. There are exercises to help readers winnow down their numerous interests and land so-called umbrella jobs. Lobenstine provides examples from her own practice, how one client's love for hand-knitted sweaters is channeled into a thriving retail business, while another's desire for fame is quenched when she becomes a children's librarian in a small-town library. This is a guide for those who are struggling with choosing a career, as well as those who find themselves bored to tears with the one they've chosen.
Of course, maybe the real way to achieve happiness is by focusing on the small things. You know, the daily pleasures like kissing your lover, watching your children at play, or taking in the way the light changes as the day ebbs. So Roger Housden seems to argue in ''Seven Sins for a Life Worth Living." One of the most vivid examples he offers to prove his point is this depiction of an extremely tardy lunch during a French vacation: ''It was another full half-hour before the confit de canard arrived. In that half-hour we watched the dog scratch his ear with his hind leg; we wondered about the honeyed stone wall opposite, how long it had been standing, and the lavoir a few yards up the street, when women had last gathered there under its red tiled roof to chatter and rub and scrub their men's working clothes clean. And every now and then we wondered whether we should remonstrate any further about our fugitive canard. When it came, stewed in its own juices, the most tender and delicate meal I have ever tasted, I knew that heaven was truly to be found on earth." His impatience was his mistake, according to Housden. Instead of being irritated by the languor, he should have savored every minute. After all, life is pretty much all about waiting. Housden, author of the best-selling ''Ten Poems" series, argues that contentment comes only when we let go of our anxieties and let ourselves be -- well, you know this one, right? Here now in the here and now. I'm absolutely with him in theory. I just don't think this book does his argument justice. It reads like a writer's journal, lots of interesting asides that had not yet been developed into a cohesive whole.
Naomi Rand is the author, most recently, of ''It's Raining Men."