5 Books Helped Me Figure Out My Life

Books have always helped me along my journey. When I was lost, uncertain, or fearful, books have served as the mentors that I never had.

I believe they’re also the most accessible tool since you can get them for cheap or free at the library.

This is a list of books I’ve read and recommend over and over to people I meet who are going through something I've experienced.

Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer (Amazon Link)

“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.”

After reading this book, I realized that I was enforcing how I thought I should live—often informed by parents, teachers, or society—onto myself. Instead, I should have been paying attention to what direction my life wanted to go. This idea I learned from Let Your Life Speak completely changed what I was focusing on.

There’s an old saying—“The best way to ride a horse is in the direction in which it is going.” Do you have a natural bent in one direction, but are forcing yourself into another? Are you creative but forcing yourself into the medical field? Do you love talking to people but are forcing yourself into programming because it’s prestigious?

The book made me realize that we don’t last for long if we aren’t heading in the direction we’re personally compelled to go. You’ll run out of energy, you won’t be able to convince yourself over and over every morning to keep going. Eventually your spirit will turn against you—resentment and feelings of shame increase. The implications of not living out your true self are much more negative than people realize.

Palmer connects with you by sharing personal stories of career change, confusion, and depression.

I recommend the audiobook version. The reader sounds like a wise grandpa here to wash away your anxiety.

How To Find Fulfilling Work by Roman Krznaric (Amazon Link)

“By far the biggest mistake people make when trying to change careers is to delay taking the first step until they have settled on a destination . . . The only way to create change is to put our possible identities into practice, working and crafting them until they are sufficiently grounded in experience to guide more decisive steps . . . We learn who we are by testing reality, not by looking inside . . . Reflection best comes later, when we have some momentum and when there is something new to reflect on."

I read this book when I was 25 and it changed how I was approaching my career. Before reading this book I thought that one wrong move would cause my resume to burst into flames. That if I made one mistake, I’d be unemployable and forever destined to work menial jobs for low pay.

I was so cautious about every decision that I was indecisive and I could barely make a move. This only increased my anxiety.

What changed this was the guideline act first, reflect later.

The idea is that you can’t know until you try. But most of us do the opposite. We try to plan every move and anticipate every possible outcome before taking action. This method results in a lot of indecisiveness because you simply don’t know what the outcome of your decisions will be—there are too many factors. The only way to know is to take action. Move in the direction you reckon is the best one, then assess later after you have more information.

The book also has stories of actual people and their career paths. I realized that most people don’t know exactly what they’d do and they turn out fine. For example, Albert Schweitzer decided at the age of 30 that he no longer wanted to be an organist/theologian and started retraining to become a doctor.

Find Fulfilling Work includes practical advice and exercises that will help you get a better understanding of what you’d like to try. It was a huge impact on my journey and inspired the name for this blog.

The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho (Amazon Link)

And, finally, the third symptom of the passing of our dreams is peace. Life becomes a Sunday afternoon; we ask for nothing grand, and we cease to demand anything more than we are willing to give. In that state, we think of ourselves as being mature; we put aside the fantasies of our youth, and we seek personal and professional achievement. We are surprised when people our age say that they still want this or that out of life. But really, deep in our hearts, we know that what has happened is that we have renounced the battle for our dreams – we have refused to fight the good fight.”

The Pilgrimage is about a man traveling on foot to get to a place to acquire something—is there anything more relatable?

This book made me realize that I couldn’t give up. That if I submitted to what everyone else was doing, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. Life would be constant suffering. A droning existence.

Giving up on living a life you want takes just as much work as pursuing what you’re meant to do. I think the person who gives up feels a much heavier burden than the person who takes on more responsibility.

This book lit a fire under me and within me. If you’ve given up and need inspiration, you need to read this.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (Amazon Link)

“But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/paint/write a decent play?” Yes . . . the same age you will be if you don’t. So let’s start.

The Artist’s Way is a book about recovering your creativity. Although it’s geared towards becoming an artist—writer, painter, dancer, anything creative—it is about much more.

The Artist’s Way is about rediscovering yourself. The self that existed before people told you who you should be. The self that existed before you started accumulating stuff as a hobby. The self that existed before you became too careful.

Cameron is a great writer and serves as your loving mentor through it all. She takes no excuses, speaks from her real-life experiences, and doesn’t let you rationalize your bullshit—every fear is brought into the light with this book.

There are twelve chapters, and each chapter assigns you exercises for a week. I recommend taking this one slow and letting it’s ideas sink in. I read one chapter every Saturday morning then tried to implement the ideas during the following week.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl (Amazon Link)

“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”

Man’s Search for Meaning was written by a concentration camp survivor. In the book he writes about the people in the camps who survived and what differed between them and those who didn’t survive.

The conclusion that he made was that it was a sense of responsibility that made people strong. That if people have enough meaning attached to their suffering, they can get through anything.

This is important in our day-to-day life. If you hate your job and you have nothing you’re working toward, not only will you hate your job, but it will also cause you despair. But if your current situation is simply a stepping stone toward what you’re actually trying to do it’s a million times more bearable. It's easier working a job you hate if after work everyday, you're working on your transition out of that job.