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, business, marketing, and writing. 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 (in my humble opinion):
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 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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau — Chris sent me an advanced copy of his book before it released and asked me to give it a read. It’s all about how quests give meaning to your life. There are some great examples in it that many would find helpful. Overall it doesn’t quite connect all the dots for me. I found myself feeling like he (along with some of the folks in his examples) was searching and grasping for something, and choosing an arbitrary “quest” instead of staying with the questions to see where they lead.
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!