I’d like to preface this by saying that books such as these are no guarantee to immediately finding your purpose or calling.
Doing so is not usually a small or quick undertaking, and involved collecting many experiences, thorough introspection, as well as study of the process of finding your passion. These books may be able to help with that last part.
Also, these are books that I happen to have liked or that resonated to some degree with me. The book reader fit depends on personality, life circumstances at the time of reading, current cultural conditions, and other factors.
If you wound up here, another possibly relevant list I’ve created is on resources for career changes and decisions.
Here is a good interview with the author that gives an overview of the main themes and ideas of the book:
Soulcraft (Bill Plotkin)
A wonderful book that outlines 40(!) spiritual exercises designed to help you discover your “mythopoetic identity” and archetypal purpose.
A central foundation of this book is a model of 3 dimensions of existence, represented by the directions across (earth), above (heaven), and below (underworld). I found this model helpful in that most spiritual teachings tend to delineate between the spiritual and the worldly only. This book focuses on a third vector of spirituality (the metaphorical underworld), in which we descend into archetypical depths to access the part of us that is neither entirely formless (heaven) nor entirely material (earth). It is an intersection of the relationships between our human ancestors who lived before us and our own role in the current world.
This book inspired me to do a 3 day wilderness fast and another 2 day fast, because wilderness fasting is the most powerful and oft cited practice in this book. But it’s also just the tip of the iceberg of ideas.
If you enjoy this book, I’d also recommend Wild Mind and The Journey of Soul Initiation by the same author.
Here is an interview with Bill Plotkin that addresses his major ideas and worldview about purpose (what he calls a “mythopoetic identity”), “soul encounters”, spiritual maturation, and the process of finding a delivery method for one’s purpose:
Radical Brillance (Arjuna Ardaugh)
Another book that I thought did a good job of giving some food for thought with regards to living one’s best life. Two metaphors I remember in particular were:
- The potluck. Life is like a potluck in that we are not supposed to all bring the same dish, and if we tried, the potluck would be disappointing and we’d also not be able, most likely, to make a good dish since we’d be imitating someone else. We’re not supposed to bring what is popular or common or even the most liked. We’re supposed to bring what we are most qualified to bring, even if it’s not the most popular or glamorous or well-liked contribution.
- The theme park. Life is like a theme park in that we all have a finite amount of time and energy to “ride the rides”. We can ride the same ride all day or we can try to vary it as much as possible. But we cannot do it all. It’s up to us, and no one else is going to be responsible for what we do and the experience we ultimately have.
I wrote a summary/review of this book.
The Genius Zone: The Breakthrough Process to End Negative Thinking and Live in True Creativity by Gay Hendricks
I wrote a summary/review of this book here.
This book is obviously addressed to people in the mid-life stage, but I think that an inquisitive twenty-something or thirty-something could benefit from the wisdom in it, and as a preparation guide for navigating the notorious difficulties that often accompany midlife.
Midlife and purpose go hand in hand because it tends to be a time when our old “egoic” ways, strategies, and coping mechanisms become outdated and need to be let go, which translates to changes in our outer lives, relationships, and what we put our time and energy toward. The book invokes the metaphor of metamorphosis (from caterpillar to butterfly) in which new, and more authentic and essential drives are accessed and honored.
I think midlife is often referred to as a “crisis” because often hits us unawares and unprepared. Perhaps if we had a guide earlier in life (e.g. 20s and 30s) to plant seeds for how to navigate midlife challenges when they arrive, it couldn’t be so much of a crisis.
For those who are past their midlife crisis, this book might also be useful as a means of looking back and making sense of a phase that they found challenging, perhaps even unlocking some yet-to-be discovered corners of learning.
Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life (Bill Burnett and Dave Evans)
I remember thinking that this book would be most valuable for younger adults (late teens and 20s), while they are making initial, orienting educational and occupational choices. However, I think it has some ideas that are helpful for anyone who is considering a change of career or where they put their time and energy into.
This is an active learning book with exercises, which I think makes it unique and potentially likely to help if the exercises are done.
4000 Weeks (Oliver Burkeman)
I think this book could be useful in helping someone narrow down their imagined visions of what they could be doing, by emphasizing the value of eliminating what we don’t have time for, choosing something we do have time for, and committing to it. Short book review here.
Finding Your North Star (Martha Beck)
I read this book about a decade ago and found it to be thought-provoking and perspicacious. It is fairly lengthy and so approaches the integration of “essential self” and “socialized self” from many directions.
The War of Art (Steven Pressfield)
This book is by a writer and focuses on writing, but the principles apply to any pursuit of excellence. The central antagonist is the “resistance” which is our avoidance of our work and prevents us from putting in the time to living our calling. This brief book is highly popular, inspiring, and motivating.
Pressfield does a great job narrating his own books, so you might consider the audible version.
Actually the part I most remember being relevant in this book was the first vignette of a client named Dan. I did think this book was overall worth a read however. Robbins gives a useful metaphor of building a life with lego blocks, focusing on one block or brick at a time, not needing to know what future blocks will be or where they are coming from. Because, she suggests, we sometimes need the insight from the 1st block in order to find the 2nd one, and so on. So worrying about the entire structure or multiple blocks at once is often too large of a task and overwhelming. She also gives a reframe about our “passion” simply being internal energy rather than something outside of ourselves. Her view is that the external trigger for our energy can change over time, so it’s more important to try things and continuously be in touch with what creates “passion” in the energetic state sense of the word.
Tribes (Seth Godin)
Really this is more a recommendation of the author than this specific book, which is the one I remember the best. Godin has written many books and I find that they overlap a lot. They tend to focus on finding a niche, bringing something original, innovating, and creativity.
The idea behind tribes is essentially discovering our gift and who we need to lead and gift it to. Godin does a good job of encouraging quality over quantity, starting small, and authenticity. I think the concept of a tribe is tied to purpose because we largely feel self-actualized through our connections with, and contributions to, others.
Have you read a good book or have another resource on this topic? Please leave a comment below!