Friday, October 14, 2005

This is for you, Shelly, if you're still reading

List (I haven't done this in a while!): Books about finding yourself

I know I may LOOK like I have it all together, with my self-employed lifestyle and my sugar-daddy husband with the plush gov'ment benefits, and the Plan B private investigator school...but the fact is, this comes from several years of naval-gazing and asking over and over "what do I want to be when I grow up?" Yeah, I still have no idea. But I've read a ridiculous number of books on the subject.

Most books about finding your bliss lay out a simple process: Inventory your skills, experiences and interests. Think creatively about what income-generating activities would use them. Create a carefully crafted plan for getting from here to there. End of story!

I think this is a load of crap. One of my favorite "What do I want to do with my life" books backs that up: Working Identity by Hermina Ibarra (and really, doesn't she get bonus points just for having a fabulous name like Herminia Ibarra?). She's a Harvard type who actually did some research into the process people go through when they change professions, and found that, as experiential learners, people actually tend to make major transitions over the course of a few years by basically trying new things out a little at a time.

Anyway, following are what I consider the best books to read if you are asking the question: What should I do with my life? And after that are a bunch of other books along the same lines, just in case your thinking style is different from mine.

The A List:

  1. Working identity: Unconventional strategies for reinventing your career - Herminia Ibarra (2004). Talks about finding your way by crafting experiments rather than neat little flowcharts. Kind of the antidote to What Color is My Parachute or whatever that's called.
  2. When work doesn't work any more: Women, work and identity - Elizabeth Perle McKenna (1998) - This is the book to read to get you out of the mindset that you should have a full-time, respectable job. She basically argues that the feminist revolution won us the wrong thing: It simply won us the right to be our fathers, working overly demanding jobs out of the home with little to no role in the many other elements of living daily life. Instead of creating a world where women and men live that life - though it's fine if they want to do that - the feminist revolution should have reconceptualized work to give everyone an opportunity to find fulfilling paid and unpaid activities.
  3. What should I do with my life? - Po Bronson (2002). Just inspiring stories, but they're interesting and the kind of thing that can open the mind.
  4. The Artist's Way - Julia Cameron - This is a book originally written to get blocked artists "unstuck," but it's become a cult favorite for getting unstuck in general and reconnecting with the creative part of yourself.
Less obvious, but very good:
  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1995) - Anne Lamott. About writing, but also writing as a metaphor for life. Just a great book.
  • Composing a Life - Mary Catherine Bateson (1990 / 2001) - the daughter of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson writes a set of vignettes about interesting women and how they've tried to improvise rich, multifaceted lives.
  • Gifts from the Sea - Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1955). A lovely meditation on life originally published in 1955, but reads just as timely today.
Off the beaten path:
Soulcraft: Crossing into the mysteries of Nature and Psyche - Bill Plotkin (2003). Ok, this one is a little out there. And don't ask me how I picked it up, I don't remember. What I like about it is his premise that Western society does a poor job of noticing, supporting and marking major life milestones and transitions; other societies have done a better job of facilitating coming-of-age and other transitional moments. As a result, we're kind of stunted on our paths, unable to notice when it's time to move to something new and lacking in tools to do something with that awareness.

The B-List: If you do like the linear inventory-and-diagram approach, these are ok.
  • Wishcraft: How to get what you really want - Barbara Sher (1986 / 2003)
  • Making a living without a job - Barbara Winter (1993)
  • Finding the perfect work: The new career guide to making a living, creating a live - Sarah and Paul Edwards (1997 / 2003)
  • The practical dreamer's handbook: Finding the time, energy and money to live the life you want - Sarah and Paul Edwards (2000)
Related list: Books about living simply and keeping life organized. If you're quitting your job, starting a business, or trying to reduce your day job so you can try new things - saving money and time are useful things to do. Also, if you've decided your bliss involves creating designer cow-bells, well, you'll probably need to stick with the simple life for the foreseeable future.
  • Your Money or Your Life - Vicki Robbin and Joe Dominguez. A classic, though I'm dubious of their conclusion that you can become financially self-sufficient by investing solely in T-bills. But, their concept of equating expenditures with the "life energy" required to earn the associated money is helpful, I think.
  • Voluntary Simplicity - Duane Elgin (1981 / 1998). Also a classic, which went out of print but is all the rage again. More philosophical than applied, driven by the environmental and psychic consequences of overconsumption.
  • Choosing Simplicity: Real People Finding Peace and Fulfillment in a Complex World - Laura Breen Pierce. Part of the second wave of the voluntary simplicity movement.
  • Organizing from the Inside Out - Julie Morgenstern. No woo-woo utopia here, she's all practicality about getting control of your physical stuff.
  • Simplify your life: 100 ways to slow down and enjoy things that matter - Elaine St. James. McNuggets of simplicity wisdom, ranging from obvious to kinda clever.
  • Getting Things Done - David Allen. If you work a busy white collar job, I actually think his methodology is very effective for organizing time, email, and paper, and getting more done.
  • Speed Cleaning - Jeff Campbell. Seriously, these people have studied the science of cleaning and know how to do it faster.

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