Best Books on Finding Purpose (Updated for 2024)

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I love books with a passion. Having moved several times in the last few years, I should say that I really love the library and digital books with a passion (I love my Kindle ). I’m always finding new books and checking way too many of them out from the library (which I’ve found is a great way to rack up fees and support your local branch).

I peruse and read just about anything that I can get my hands on related to life purpose and passion. You can talk about these ideas in a lot of ways, with words like calling, vocation, figuring out what you want to do, finding your voice, etc. I’m not too concerned with the specific words you use. Instead, I like to focus on books that produce results, are actionable, and help a person take control of their own life. Self help is my genre of choice. This is why my list grows way faster than I can keep up with it (just like my library fines!).

While there are many a great book that could be on this, I want to do the hard work for you of sorting and choosing to save you time. There are many positive psychology books authors who have written on the topic of passion, inner peace and positive thinking who are not on this list. I’ve included a list of additional authors at the end, if you’d like to dig deeper.

What I’ve found is that the problem with there being so many interesting books is that few of them really stand out to me after a few weeks or months have passed. They may be fun to read once, but I’m interested in finding the books that stand the test of time and keep offering more insight the more you read them.

So I wanted to offer my short list of favorites along with why I think they matter.

The Best Books on Finding Your Purpose:

Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer

Let Your Life Speak
Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer

Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer – This is by far my favorite book on the concept of work and meaning. Palmer frames his ideas around finding your vocation in his own journey. It’s a short book, yet I find myself constantly returning to reread and quote sections.

I have yet to find another book that has this kind of wisdom and depth. I truly believe that it is the best that is available and that everyone should read it (probably more than once).

Who this book is best for:

Soulful and inspirational seekers. People looking for meaning, passion, and happiness.

Available in: digital | print | audiobook

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art — Another short and small book about the hard work of creating (maybe I’m biased toward short books?). This book explores the inner battle of making something worth making and all the fear, procrastination, and self-sabotage that comes along with it.

For many creatives, Pressfield was the first to put language to these ideas. In my opinion, language is half the battle so his contribution is very valuable. After you’ve read and absorbed some of Pressfield’s thoughts, you’ll notice his influence everywhere.

Who this is book is best for:

Creatives, writers and passion seekers.

Available in: print | audiobook | digital

The Art of Work by Jeff Goins

The Art of Work by Jeff Goins

The Art of Work by Jeff Goins –  Jeff Goins isn’t a foreign name here at the Meaning Movement.  You can listen in to my interview with him here.

This book is a fun and easy to read treatment of how different people find purpose in the work they do.  “Work” here is a pretty broad category.  It includes both work for income and the kind of work we do simply because we want to do it.

Goins approaches the topics of work and meaning through stories of people doing things that are important to them.  Each section explores a different approach and centers on a different story.

Since the topic of purpose is so subjective, the stories in this book are incredibly helpful. There isn’t a right and wrong way to find purpose and happiness. There’s only the way that works for you. Goins does a great job of extracting a framework from the stories to help you find your way into the thing that work for you.

Who this book is best for:

Career oriented inspiration seekers.

Available in: digital | audiobook | print

Creative Calling by Chase Jarvis

Creative Calling by Chase Jarvis

Creative Calling by Chase Jarvis – I really didn’t want to like this book.  Chase Jarvis is a fellow Seattle photographer, and an insanely successful one at that. I didn’t like that he was writing on “my topic” – I know: as if I could own a whole domain. It’s just that he’s so good at everything he does, I didn’t want him adding helping people find calling to his list of accomplishments. But I gave him a chance and I’m so glad I did. His book is kind, generous, and very insightful – all the things I didn’t want him to be!

He tells his story of aspiring to be an action sports photographer, breaking into an industry, innovating and changing that industry, and beyond.  While some of his outward success makes his story feel inaccessible at first pass (his CreativeLive platform raised $58.3 million, for example), he extracts universal principles and helps you apply them to your situation.  I definitely recommend his book.  It’s well worth a read.

Who this book is best for:

Creatives and passion seekers.

Available in: digital | audiobook | print

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

The Artist Way
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron — The Artist’s Way is positioned as a book that helps artists get unstuck. Though I think it is effective in that mission, there are many non-artists who would benefit from it. Cameron lays out a 12-week journey that helps you get in touch with the deeper parts of yourself that may have been ignored for some time.

Who this book is best for:

Creatives, artists, passion seekers, and anyone seeking to get unstuck.

Available in: digital | print | audiobook

The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin

Icarus Deception
The Incarus Deception by Seth Godin

The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin — Seth Godin is a living legend in the online business and marketing world, and I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t put something by him on this list.

This book in particular will help you question what you believe about yourself and the realm of work to get you to step out and dream and do bigger things — whether it’s starting your own thing or changing the way you show up at your job.

Who this book is best for:

Career minded professionals, creatives, and anyone wanting to reframe how they think about work.

Available in: digital | print | audiobook

Dream Year by Ben Arment

Dream Year by Ben Arment

Dream Year by Ben Arment — Ben Arment is an author and conference/event creator.  I partnered with him in the creation of Seattle’s Pitch Night some time ago.

The sub-title of this book was a turn off at first.  It reads, Make the Leap from a Job You Hate to a Life You Love, but once I got past it, I found the book to be very inspiring.  Arment has a specific view of work that this book clearly communicates— and it’s not for everyone.  He really believes in starting things that are uniquely your own: dream projects, businesses, events, etc.  

While not everyone is a starter, I believe that most of us have something in us to start in some way but let fear keep us from taking action (see the War of Art above for more on that!). I’d recommend you take this text with a grain of salt, but I believe there’s something for everyone to learn from the author and his unique take on life, work, and entrepreneurship.

Who this book is best for:

Christians and people with a faith orientation. People who think in terms of God’s Purpose and God’s will. Anyone who is trying to make sense of their personal story.

Available in: digital | print | audiobook

To Be Told by Dan Allender

To be told
To Be Told by Dan Allender

To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future by Dan Allender — Allender has shaped my understanding of story and identity formation more than anyone. If you’ve been around The Meaning Movement long enough, you’ve seen how much I talk about the importance of knowing the stories that have shaped you and how they affect you. This is Allender’s life work.

His book is full of Christian language, which may be a turn-off for some— but the content is helpful to anyone who wants to learn more about themselves and their narrative.

Who this book is best for:

Christians and people with a faith orientation. Anyone who is trying to make sense of thier personal story.

Availabe in: digital | print

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

Range by David Epstein – This is the newest addition to the list. It’s not directly on the topic of finding your purpose, or happiness and meaning in life, but the topic is incredibly relevant. Epstein looks at stories and examples of people who have achieved at high levels and made break-through and found that time and time again, great things come from bringing together diverse experiences. This is good news for any and all of us who have spent a lot of time not sure what to do with our lives.

Book Cover: Range by David Epstein
Range by David Epstein

I found this book to be a comforting counter-narrative to the idea that you have to decide early what you want to do and if you change your mind, you’re making a huge mistake. This book affirmed what I believe to be true : that it’s never too late to do something that matters. Epstein’s research shows that you might actually be more effective at it simply because you’re starting later in the game.

Who this book is best for:

Late bloomers, anyone who thinks it might be “too late” for them, anyone who enjoys research backed non-fiction, and passion seekers.

Available in: digital | print | audiobook

Honorable Mention: The Calling Process by Dan Cumberland

The Calling Process by Dan Cumberland

The Calling Process by Dan Cumberland – I wrote this book to be a quick and accessible resource to help reframe your thinking on the topic and offer the best takeaways I’ve found in my work (15 years of research, a master’s degree, and a decade of hands on coaching).  Unlike most of the books here, it’s written first and foremost to be highly actionable.  I’m not interested in leading you in any thought experiments or endless reflection.  I want you to have the tools you need to analyze and act.  At the time of this writing, it’s also FREE on Amazon.  Grab it while you can!

Who this is book is best for:

Anyone wanting a short and actionable read.

Available in: digital version

Further Study

Other notable authors who have written at least one good book related to passion are, in no particular order:

  • Tony Robbins,
  • the Dalai Lama,
  • Brene Brown,
  • Bob Goff,
  • Paulo Coelho,
  • Martha Beck,
  • Eckhart Tolle,
  • Mitch Albom,
  • Pema Chodron,
  • Jen Sincero,
  • Deepak Chopra,
  • Gretchen Rubin,
  • Barbara Sher,
  • Gabrielle Bernstein,
  • Ken Robinson,
  • David Whyte,
  • Elizabeth Gilbert (I loved Big Magic!)

For Success and Financial Pursuits

For those more focused on career and financial success as a way of pursuing happiness and passion, three classic titles you should read are:

For Christians

Christians may really enjoy Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life.

In Summary

Whether you’re looking for your next job, or trying to find yourself, these books are sure to help. After you read a few, let me know what you think!

Before you go: I’m curious, what are your favorite books on finding your purpose? What have you found to be most helpful in how you think about yourself, your work, and your purpose? Click here to share your thoughts in the comments!

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  1. I loved To Be Told by Dan Allender as well. But I would also suggest the Apprentice Series by James Bryan Smith. It may not give you a micro idea of purpose, but definitely unfolds the larger over arching themes of purpose.

  2. I really do appreciate a good book recommendation list. Keep them coming! I promised myself not to buy/start another book until I actually finish the ones I’m working on (I’m still paying off Wheaton College library fines). But I definitely added some of these to my list. The War of Art and To Be Told have been incredibly influencial in how I think about myself and my purpose.

    1. Boy do I know the pain of library fines! As soon as you get through the ones you’re working on definitely check out Let Your Life Speak, if you haven’t read it already.

      I’m also curious what other books you’ve found helpful?

  3. Dan, Thanks a million.

    I am real estate entrepreneur from Singapore/Dubai. Right now I am in India.

    Recently after my brain tumor surgery. My purpose changed. I really want to write.

    After that I read many books about purpose, calling, passion etc… But nothing hit me so hard as “Let your life speak”…. Absolutely life changing.

    In fact I bought the book after reading your post:)

    Any other books you recommend? As this post was written long back it seems.

    Couple of other books I loved about life’s calling are

    (1) The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion
    (2) Mastery (Author: Robert greene… Robert’s first book is pure evil, which is 48 laws of power.. I throw in dustbin, literllay… I think his soul transformed while writing “Mastery”.. 🙂

    God bless you buddy:)

    1. Hi Abbey!

      It sounds like you’ve been on an incredible journey!

      I love that you found Let Your Life Speak through the Meaning Movement, and that you enjoyed it. It’s a book I often come back to.

      As far as others to add, I did enjoy The Crossroads of Should and Must (I read the original in blog post format here), and I’ll have to check out Mastery. Sounds interesting.

      I personally don’t have any to add yet, but there are a couple new comers for consideration: The Art of Work by Jeff Goins and Do Over by Jon Acuff. I have yet to read either, but both are by bloggers that I respect and who were listed on my round-up of bloggers who write about finding purpose.

      Another book I’ve really enjoyed that I would consider adding is David Whyte’s Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity.

      Thanks for coming back to this post, Abbey! I’ll update it more formally when I have a chance.

      Keep me posted on your reading and journey!

      1. Hey Dan.

        I read “the art of work”… Didn’t resonate with me… Jeff is an awesome person. I communicated with him many times.

        I read Jon Acuff previous book.. Again didn’t appeal much to me.

        I tried to get Crossing the unknown sea on kindle, but sadly its not available.

        Thanks for all your recommendation.

        I truly appreciate.


        1. Hey Abbey,
          I’m not too surprised by your feelings about those books. This list is short for a reason! Keep me posted with anything new you find 🙂

      2. Dan, Try this book “The Second Mountain” by David brooks. Its all about how we climb the first mountain of achievement and now we are in the valley and how we can climb second mountain in service of humanity.

        I loved loved the book!

  4. Am in africa (Cameroon) am young and don’t have means now to purchase or order for those books but I will love to read them they may help me

  5. I have almost all but the book “Dream Year”. Loved the recommendation.
    I confess that some of these books questioned some of the certainties that they had been building, and they had defeated them. Books are the best way to get to know each other and to chart our own way. Thanks to some of them today I can live my life mission. Thanks

  6. Hey, Mr. Dan. I just read this article of yours today. I wanted you to know that I would love to try those books you’ve recommended. So far I’ve been searching inspirational books to read. I’m a bibliophile ever since and now I’m too particular of what I am reading. I’m from the Philippines by the way.

  7. To dan Cumberland:

    I am a retired architect and Follow of jesus living in Georgetown, TX. Like you I have a passion and life endeavor of concerns for mentoring young professionals and second career folks. I yearned fro a professional and spiritual mentor most of my life as an architect and businessman who formed my own firm at age 30 and had a marvelous yet challenging life. I am now writing a book ( first draft complete and in editing ), titled for now : A Hidden Calling Revealed. As my first book, other than professional master plans and reports throughout my career, is a passionate endeavor focus on developing a type of mentor support guide. I am using my remarkable experiences of gifted calling that I am now seeing much clearer at age 70 and can better explain how this has worked for myself. I too have read many of the books you recommend in fact I use them in my book as texts to check how those concepts and spiritual wisdom did work in my life.

    I am seeking a collaborator to assist my efforts for the book and possible enlarging my mentoring beyond local young architect professionals and a few guys in men groups. Let me know if you have any recommendations. Thank you.

    Kim A. Williams, Architect, Businessman, Follower of Jesus, Non-profit volunteer at the local Caring Place

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