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8 Great Books About Finding Your Calling

Mini-reviews of great reads—fiction and nonfiction—about the search for callings

Let Your Life Speak: Listening For the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer

This beautifully written memoir, a classic in the annals of vocational discernment, brings to life the old Quaker adage to “let your life speak,” which to Palmer means "living the life that wants to live in me,” and creating the conditions that allow the soul to speak.

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

A captivating and emotionally rattling story about the challenge of honoring a calling under the withering effect of parental disapproval. It highlights the damage that parents can inflict not only on their children, but also on their relationship with their children, as well as the soul-salvaging impact of having an ally, someone who sees the gift in you and nurtures it.

Oh the Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss

For anyone of any age who's venturing out into the world and searching for their wildest dreams, this rhythmically rollicking tale gives a generous tip of the hat to both the highs and lows of those journeys.

Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes by William Bridges

The only book I've read five times, at five transition points in my life. The main reason I keep going back to this elegant and user-friendly book on how people make change is because of the section on neutral zones. His take is that change happens in three stages—endings, neutral zones, and new beginnings—and he makes a compelling case for why it's critical to allow yourself to hang out in the dangle and not rush the neutral zone by straining after a fix: next job, next relationship, next project. It's been named one of the 50 all-time best self-help and personal development books for good reason.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

A modern classic with millions of copies sold, this inspiring fable (and adventure yarn) speaks to the essential wisdom of listening to your heart, paying attention to the signs, and following your dreams. What starts out as a journey in search of worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure within.

The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling by James Hillman

Based on the premise that a unique soul guides each of us from birth, shaping the course of our lives—what Plato called our “daimon,” the Romans called our “genius,” and the Christians called our “guardian angel”—this provocative bestseller by one of the great Jungian analysts asks the question: “What is it, in my heart, that I must do, be, and have? And why?”

Art and Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles & Ted Orland

Ostensibly a book about art and creativity—exploring the way art gets made, or doesn't, and the nature of the difficulties that cause so many artists to give up along the way—it really speaks to anyone who strives to live a creative and meaningful life.

Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity by David Whyte

This beautifully written book (Whyte is a poet) is for anyone who wants to deepen their connection to their life’s work—or find out what their life’s work is. Using the metaphor of a sea voyage to depict the journey through the world of work, this is a deep dive into the heart and soul of vocation.

* Honorable Mention: my own book Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life (Random House).

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