Book review: The Life Brief by Bonnie Wan

A new book for the new year aims to help you find out what you really want from life.

Happy woman looking at laptop and screaming, working at cafe


It’s the new year and when better to think about what you want from life? A new book takes the format of an advertising brief – ‘making meaning out of messiness’ – and uses the essence of brand strategy as a clear template for thinking about what we have so little time to contemplate: what on Earth am I doing and is it what I want?

The book, The Life Brief by Bonnie Wan, begins with a familiar scenario to many parents: family chaos. Wan writes: “On the outside, things looked damn good. But inside, I was drowning and depleted and full of questions.” “Are marriage, parenting and life supposed to be this hard?” Wan asked herself. It all came to a head when she returned to her childhood home and spent a night crying and writing about what she felt about her life and came to the conclusion that everything rested on ‘time’ – time for her family, time for work that fulfilled her, time for travel and to actively participate in her community. She then had to scope out how to get it.

She says the Life Brief is designed to get to the heart of what matters to you, allowing you to tune in to your ‘inner voice’, bearing in mind that that can shift over time.

For Wan, now is a time of questioning many things – from how you work to who you are – and yet many of us are living according to what they think they should want rather than what they really do want.

Rearranging the furniture of our minds

The book is divided into three parts and is full of a lot of practical exercises. It all starts with writing – and making writing about what you want a daily practice, even if you have no answers, for a specific amount of time which is probably manageable for many time-poor people and for those who don’t know how to start thinking about changing their lives. She cites the poet Roger Housden saying “writing rearranges the furniture of our minds”.  Next she says you need to write longer [20-30 minutes] and almost automatically, tapping into your subconscious. Then comes making lists – one about how you would describe yourself when you are completely free to be yourself and the other about how others see you, noting the gap between the two.

There is a section on thinking about your values where Wan explores her relationship with her Taiwanese identity, how she felt forced to hide it, to assimilate, how that made her feel and what small and large steps she could take to change that so that her values and beliefs aligned more with her life.

The book then explores limiting beliefs and people and how you want to be remembered and Wan links that back to advertising and branding, for instance, ‘listening to your fans’ and ‘separating the Meaningful from the Meaningless’. She even speaks at one point about ‘the T-shirt Test’. She says: “Your Brief’s handle should be a word or phrase that has staying power.” Basically, an advertising slogan. She counsels not going on to the part where you activate your Life Brief until it makes you feel ‘FUCK YES’ when you look at it.


There is a lot about Wan’s own experience in the book and an emphasis on positivity, which is very in keeping with the advertising metaphor. There’s even a bit about creating your own ‘Dream Team’ to cheerlead you. There is also a lot of emphasis on the individual – what I want – which is very much of its time, and about control and living a life without regrets, if that is possible. “We aren’t in control of everything, but we DO control our own choices and actions”, she writes, for instance. It ends with the words: “Life is brief. Make it meaningful. Make it yours.”

The book may have a lot of appeal to many people and so many of us do end up living our lives for others rather than for ourselves. It does have a very practical focus, like many self-help books, which many will find useful. But it feels sometimes like the whole world has been taken over by advertising and marketing these days and that the focus always seems to be on the individual, on what I want, rather than on something bigger than that.

*The Life Brief: A Playbook for No Regrets Living by Bonnie Wan is published today by Torva, price 16.99 pounds.

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