Let’s face it – the last few years has many of us reassessing how we live our lives and got us thinking about the legacies we will leave behind.
Spending the last 20 years as a community change-maker and leadership facilitator, creating and facilitating programs like the online Greater Good Collective, I’ve read a lot of books about creating meaning and purpose. I often find these books to be some of the most inspiring and awe-creating reads. They ignite your soul and boost the joy for life. They connect you with what is most important in life by cutting the noise that we can so easily get caught up in.
What could these reads inspire in you?
I can name two books that have had a monumental impact on my life. I note one of them below – Business as Unusual by Anita Roddick as it very clearly inspired me to start my business as a vehicle for social change. As was the book, Half the Sky by Sheryl WuDunn and Nicolas Kristoff being a huge catalyst in starting 100 Women.
Purpose will mean something slightly different to everyone so I’ve tried to add a variety of books so each book might appeal to someone different. There are a few new book releases as well as some that have been around for a long time. Choose one book that resonates with you and give it a go!
Here are ten of my favourite books on purpose
I’ve collated a list of books that might help you spark your journey to defining, refining and living your purpose.
The Alchemist by Paul Coelho
My husband to be gave me this book for my 19th birthday. It’s not only a favourite of mine but for many all over the world. This book is a poetic fable about a shepherd on his way to find his treasure. It’s a story about finding your way in the world, living your purpose and trusting the teachers and omens along the way. Coelho’s writing is a dream to read.
“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”
— The Alchemist
Power by Kemi Nekavapil
This book is hot off the press!
From what I’ve read of this so far, this book is POWER-ful. Seriously, it’s a delightful read as Kemi walks you through her five step framework to build your power – presence, ownership, wisdom, equality and responsibility. Kemi is a great storyteller (and she has incredible stories and experiences to share) and that combined with the reflective activities and tools she provides makes it an exceptional read. She is unapologetic (point of the book) of sharing the intersections of power and race, and how power can be redefined.
It is positioned for women, in particular, being a guide to live and lead without apology! Who doesn’t want that? But more, importantly, I believe it talks about how we can all be part of redefining the power that oppresses some in our community, while belonging only to the chosen few. This makes it an important read for everyone.
“We want to build power-filled lives, not power-fuelled lives.”
— Kemi Nekavapil
Presence by Amy Cuddy
This book is not specifically about purpose per se but it’s not just about power poses either. Have you watched Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on power poses? This book is more about stepping into your own power using simple techniques to overcome fear and perform at your best. I love the idea of strengthening your personal power in the world. This book does not disappoint.
“Focus less on the impression you’re making on others and more on the impression you’re making on yourself.”
How to Begin by Michael Bungay Stanier
A new release from Michael Bungay Stanier, this is a very easy read and also highly practical book to finding work or a project that matters to you. This is a great book if you’re at a crossroads in your life or looking to start your next big quest. As the book title suggests – it’s all about how to begin. How do you set a meaningful goal? And how do you know if it’s truly a worthy goal? This book is also a fun and joyful to read. Bungay Stanier bring a lightness to the content, while still being clever and useful.
He says ‘we unlock our greatness by working on the hard things’. I couldn’t agree more!
The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani
This is a newer book written in 2017. Emily does a great job in deconstructing the research to living a meaningful life and the core elements in doing this. Her four pillars include belonging, purpose, storytelling and transcendence. I really loved her storytelling and how easy it was to read – a great book, for sure.
“To Aristotle, eudaimonia is not a fleeting positive emotion. Rather, it is something you do. Leading a eudaimonic life, Aristotle argued, requires cultivating the best qualities within you both morally and intellectually and living up to your potential. It is an active life, a life in which you do your job and contribute to society, a life in which you are involved in your community, a life, above all, in which you realize your potential, rather than squander your talents.”
— The Power of Meaning
Business as Unusual by Anita Roddick
This is my number one favourite book – ever! Big call, I know. I was eternally inspired by Anita Roddick and the business she started, The Body Shop (unfortunately she passed away many years ago). This book is her business manifesto and explores the opportunity for purpose in business. When I should have been reading my textbooks in the university library, I was reading this book…unsurprisingly it wasn’t long till I started my own business. I still go back to this book years later for Anita’s boldness of vision. If you’re in business or want to be in business, this one is for you!
“Be courageous. It’s one of the only places left uncrowded”
— Anita Roddick
Strengths Finder by Tom Rath
Want guidance about what to do in your life, start with your strengths!
When talking about purpose, I would always recommend people start with self awareness and reflection about your core strengths. Where do you start to reflect on your strengths? Strengths Finder is a great reference book to help you clarify your strengths (as we can be terrible at doing this ourselves!). Buy the book, do the test and start understanding the strengths you can bring to the world.
The Lightmaker’s Manifesto by Karen Walrond
This is the read for any change-maker out there!
For many of us, having a purpose is having a calling to something bigger than ourselves. Often this can be advocating against the injustices in our world. At times, this can be challenging – when it feels like no progress has been made or the challenges of the world keep mounting. Karen walks us through how to use our gifts for a greater cause and do so with love, light and joy. Walrond also includes a highly practical manual at the end of the book with journal prompts, templates and exercises to cultivate your own “joy-filled advocacy practice.” I also really enjoyed her conversation with Brene Brown on the Unlocking Us podcast.
Joyful activism – Love it!
Me to We by Craig and Marc Kielburger
This book is written by Canadian brothers and talks about finding meaning in life. A deeper meaning through choosing the right goals, focusing on community and service and giving your practical guidance and strategies to stay engaged with your life meaning. For me, purpose is what you can give to the world and this book perfectly shares this.
If this book resonates, the brothers recently teamed up with Richard Branson’s daughter, Holly Branson to write WEconomy which is another great read.
Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Don’t manage your time – manage your energy, or most to the point – your flow!
Back in 2008, Csikszentmihalyi wrote this book which talks about this state of consciousness he named ‘flow’ which is essentially the feeling you get when you are in top form. This book unpacks the science of flow and gives you some great strategies to evoke it in your life.
“To overcome the anxieties and depressions of contemporary life, individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself. She has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances.”
I shall stop there…
I could actually keep quoting more books to read but these ten gives you a good start and hopefully there is something that resonates with you. If you’re after something more practical, check out my post, Four Practical Experience to help you form your Purpose.
Books and practice are a dangerous combination! Read, act and reflect – repeat! That’s a sure fire strategy to defining, refining and living your purpose.
Tell me what books have inspired you in building your purpose in life inside the Alyceum’s Facebook group.
6 powerful secrets to find your highest purpose in life
The world needs more purpose-driven people. But where do you start? This inspiring guide will give you powerful insights to find and refine your own purpose in life.