Best Books on Finding Purpose (Updated for 2020)

I love books. After having moved several times in the last few years, I should say that I really love the library and digital books (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 purpose, passion, calling, vocation, figuring out your life and what to do with your life, finding your voice, and every other possible iteration of those ideas. This is why my list grows way faster than I can keep up with it (just like my library fines!).

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.

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 by Steven Pressfield — 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 and writers.

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.  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

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, 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

41mMeQCULAL._SL250_
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 enterprenuership.

Who this book is best for:

Entrepenuers, starters, or those who want to be.

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 Epstien

Range by David Epstein – This is the newest addition to the list. It’s not directly on the topic of finding your purpose or meaning in life, but the topic is incredibly relavant. Epstien 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 with your life and if you change your mind, you’re making a huge mistake. This book affirmed what I believe to be true about life: 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.

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


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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14 Comments

  1. Rilo August 25, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    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.

    Reply
    1. Dan Cumberland August 26, 2014 at 3:06 pm

      Thanks Rilo! I’ll have to check out that series!

      Reply
  2. Lizzy Brady August 28, 2014 at 11:10 am

    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.

    Reply
    1. Dan Cumberland August 29, 2014 at 10:15 am

      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?

      Reply
  3. Abbey June 24, 2015 at 1:10 am

    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:)

    Reply
    1. Dan June 25, 2015 at 11:52 am

      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!

      Reply
      1. Abbey June 29, 2015 at 2:49 am

        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.

        Abbey

        Reply
        1. Dan June 29, 2015 at 7:20 am

          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 🙂

          Reply
  4. T February 23, 2016 at 6:44 am

    Thanks for this! I’ve just placed an order on these four books now.

    Regards,
    T

    Reply
    1. dan February 23, 2016 at 11:41 am

      That’s great, T! Let me know what you think of them 🙂

      Reply
  5. INDOU JC December 7, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    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
    THANKS

    Reply
    1. Dan Cumberland December 8, 2016 at 7:30 am

      Hi Indou! I hope that you get a chance to read them some day. Thanks for your comment 🙂

      Reply
  6. Pedro March 3, 2017 at 10:24 am

    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

    Reply
  7. Lvfry November 4, 2017 at 8:23 am

    “A New Earth
    Awakening to Your Life’s
    Purpose”
    By-Eckhart Tolle

    Reply

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