4 Books that Will Inspire You to Do the Inner Work (Without the Self-Helpy-ness)
July 18, 2019
Listen, a quote in a beautiful font over a sunset might not change your life.
That might sting a little, but hear me out…
Blanket platitudes like the ones found on Instagram and the outdoor signs of every spin class can feel super tasty going down—they're quick hits of sugar designed to make you feel really good in the moment. And that's OK! But it's not always the full story.
Some self-help books and IG accounts can over-simplify the struggles or the amount of time it might take to do real work on yourself. Or: They can preach toxic positivity, making it seem like any vibe that isn't "good" is bad.
This can lead to a cycle of feeling "not enough," like you’re “doing it wrong” if it doesn’t feel easy, or burnt out before you even start. Oh, everyone's already got it handled and I'm way behind, you think as the world shouts at you “You’re exactly where you need to be!”
The truth of the matter is: Everyone is on a different journey—which means we all might have different solutions. No matter what the advice is—and it might be coming from a good place (…or not)—if it ignores a diversity of backgrounds or systemic reasons for inequality, it can feel like it's not speaking to you in any real way.
Thankfully, there's been a rise of books that ditch the platitude self-helpy-ness and embrace what doing the inner work can really feel like: difficult, confusing, nuanced, lonely, but rewarding in the end.
These books aren’t a silver bullet to fix everything in your life, but more so a chance to reflect on the uniqueness of your own journey—a new lens to view your own experiences and learnings, based on how you can relate to the author and how your life might differ. And that can help you gain some much-needed perspective in your life.
One way to start doing that before you even crack open a book: Think of your life thus far as a book, and take a moment to name the current chapter you're going through. Are you in the middle of the first act? Are you closing a chapter, or starting a new one?
Considering your life in these terms can help you zoom out and consider that there are stories that have led you here—and stories that will continue on and that you can actively shape and write.
And after you’ve explored your own relationship with how you’re learning and growing, here are a few must-reads to turn to that keep it real:
If you've got a dream career calling and you don't know how to reach it…
Take a cue from Elaine Welteroth, whose new book More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say) was described by one Amazon reviewer as "a great read for the nourishment of your soul."
When she was 29, Anna Wintour appointed Welteroth to be editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue—and suddenly she became the second African American person and youngest ever to lead a title at Conde Nast, one of the world’s top magazine publishers. Now she's deploying everything she's learned into lessons for the rest of us.
She even says upfront, "This is not intended to be self-help" or a career manual, but rather her offering to the next generation—one personal story told as a love letter "to anyone who's felt othered, overlooked, overwhelmed, underestimated, undervalued, and still chooses to overcome."
"We spend too much time hearing and telling ourselves we are not enough. Not smart enough. Not beautiful enough. Not successful enough. Not young enough. Not old enough. Not woke enough. I want this book to be the voice reminding you ENOUGH with all that. You are enough. You were BORN enough."
And sometimes, that's exactly what you need to hear.
If you're seeking permission to wave your hands like you just don't care…
I'd like to introduce you to The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F-ck by Mark Manson. Fair warning: This book is almost unrecognizable when it comes to the way it approaches 'self-help' (subtitle: The Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life) and Manson articulates experiences and feelings that fall out of the bounds of the traditional "self-help" sphere.
In short, he wants people to stop trying to be positive all the time. And he doesn't sugarcoat (as the title makes clear). This is refreshing; radical, even.
Instead of pretending everything's amazing, he wants to remind us that…yeah, sometimes things aren’t OK. And his advice? Dealing with reality is the first step.
Here's just one quote to get you up and running:
"Many people, when they feel some form of pain or anger or sadness, drop everything and attend to numbing out whatever they're feeling. Their goal is to get back to ‘feeling good’ again as quickly as possible, even if that means substances or deluding themselves or returning to their shitty values. Learn to sustain the pain you've chosen. When you choose a new value, you are choosing to introduce a new form of pain into your life. Relish it. Savor it. Welcome it with open arms. Then act despite it."
If you want to start a new routine but have no clue how…
Then you might want to pick up Don't Hate, Meditate!: 5 Easy Practices to Get You Through the Hard Sh-t (and into the Good), a new book by Megan Monahan, a meditation instructor who practiced with Deepak Chopra.
Even a single chapter title sparks a little lightbulb in my brain (one’s called "Stop Pressing the Snooze Button on Your Awareness"—Megan, how did you know??). She navigates her own story of burning out from a demanding career and feeling lost and not knowing where to turn. (Spoiler: She turns to meditation! Obviously.) But she also practices and preaches patience.
"Would you go to an empty yoga studio and try to teach yourself a vinyasa flow by looking at (completely unrealistic) photos you saw that perfect yogi post online? Would you visit one of the twenty-five CrossFit gyms you undoubtedly have in our city and immediately try to pick up the heaviest weight? Hopefully not, and yet it's easy to hear some great concept around 'trust the Universe' and think, 'Great! I'll just start doing that' when you find yourself gripped with fear around something in your life. It doesn't work like that."
Instead, Monahan illuminates the nuts and bolts: how and why to use all the spiritual things that are coming into your life right now.
If you're looking for your next step…
Pick up The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life's Direction and Purpose. Alright, yes, this one is by the queen of all things self-help and spiritual: Oprah. BUT IT ACTUALLY WORKS. And that's precisely because Oprah is a master and getting people to open up and talk about themselves, revealing far more than they might in a conversation with, say, their barista.
Take advantage of Oprah's insanely good interviewing skills—this book is full of excerpts from conversations on her Super Soul series—and learn from people as diverse as RuPaul Charles and Bishop T.D. Jakes. The book also helpfully breaks down the "path" everyone's on into categories like "The Cloud" and "The Climb" and so on.
I'll leave you with these words from writer Barbara Brown Taylor: "I have a number of different callings. I think it's possible to be called away from things I have been called to in the past. There are goodbyes as well are hellos in our callings. Because a calling doesn't have to be for a lifetime."
So remember that: You can be called to something (or some book) today, and something different tomorrow. And you are allowed to experience it all. What matters most is how you're owning your story.
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