December 8, 2023

Thrive Book List Purpose Edition

Purpose is at the heart of thriving and an outcome of healthy spirituality. Our fall Thrive Book List suggests great guides for discovery.

“…there is much guidance in way that closes behind us as there is in way that opens ahead of us. The opening may reveal our potentials while the closing may reveal our limits – two sides of the same coin, the coin called identity.”

Parker Palmer

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation 

by Parker Palmer

Palmer discusses how to lead from strengths and from understanding of our wounds and weaknesses. This classic book about vocation looks less at the question, “what should I do with my life;” instead he asks us to look at who we truly are. Let Your Life Speak is a deeply personal reflection that reveals how Palmer went to the depths of himself to battle with both his ego and clinical depression on his journey to find his true calling. He helps readers understand how closed doors and failures are as important in discovering vocation as are open invitations. For those searching, he suggests our childhood passions might provide us with crucial insights into our uniqueness and what he calls, “birthright gifts.” Palmer quotes Frederick Buechner who defines vocation as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep needs.” For more information about Palmer, click here.

“What drives us is an entire vision of a good life – a comprehensive response to the Question. Somewhere, deep down, we have a vision of the life we want for ourselves, for our communities – perhaps most clearly of all, for our children or young people we care about.”

Wolf, Croasmun, & McAnnally-Linz

Life Worth Living: A Guide to What Matters Most 

by Miroslav Wolf, Matthew Croasmun, and Ryan McAnnally-Linz

This book wrestles with “the Question” – What does it mean to live a life worthy of our humanity? The authors take us through the great philosophical and religious traditions, asking us to ponder – if Aristotle had it right, how should we live? What if Confucius had it right? Or if we believe the Apostle Paul spoke the truth, how do his words envision a good life? The authors come from a Christian perspective but explore great thinkers and their resulting conclusions about how to live. They dive into questions like why do we suffer, and what do we do about it? Who are we responsible for, and what should we do when we face unjust systems? What should we hope for, and how do we actually live into our ideals? This amazingly practical guide was born out of a popular course and program at Yale University, and challenges readers to struggle with what they really believe, and how what they discover might change their lives. This is a must read for college students and anyone questioning what is next. For more information click here.

Questions for reflection from Life Worth Living

Take a little inventory of what you pay attention to, and whether it is aligned with what you think matters most.

  1. “What’s the first thing you listen to, read, or consider when you wake up? What websites do you frequent?”
  2. “Which apps on your phone do you use most frequently?”
  3. “Whose voices and opinions are most present to you (Consider newspaper columnists; TV, podcast, or radio hosts; the people you follow on social media.) What are they saying?”
  4. “What’s the last thing you listen to, read, or consider before you go to bed?”

Does where you pay attention align with your vision of a life well lived?

“I cannot answer the question, ‘What ought I do?’ unless I first answer the question, ‘Of which story am I a part?'”

Alasdair MacIntyre

3 Big Questions that Change Every Teenager: Making the Most of your Conversations and Connections 

by Kara Powell & Brad M. Griffin

“Who am I?  Where do I fit?  What difference can I make?” Young people need caring adults to shepherd them as they wrestle with big questions, according to the authors and the Fuller Youth Institute. Powell & Griffin’s thoughtful book guides the “big” conversations readers (and youth leaders) should have with the young people in their lives around identity, belonging, and purpose. An important take-away addresses the narratives young people develop. They argue that young people need to believe that they are part of something greater, so they can live into God’s ongoing story. They identify topics and questions around things like superpowers, gifts, talents, and connections. The authors finished the book during the 2020 pandemic, so there is a concluding chapter on how to hold on to purpose through disruptions.

Questions for Reflection from 3 Big Questions, Chapter 9

  1. “What do you like or love to do?”
  2. “When do you feel most alive?”
  3. “What gifts or talents do others see in you?”
  4. “What are you normally doing in those moments when you feel most connected to others?”
  5. “What are you doing in those moments when you feel most connected to God?”

Ask these questions to a young person you care about and help them discover purpose.

 “The purpose of life is not to be happy.  It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you lived and lived well.” 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

How to Navigate Life: The New Science of Finding your Way in School, Career, and Beyond

by Belle Liang, Ph.D. & Timothy Klein, LCSW  

Liang & Klein argue for committing to a purpose mindset, rather than a performance or passion mindset. Purpose is sustainable and research supports its benefits on health, wellbeing, and longevity. The authors’ practical, research-based approach provides Five Purpose Principles, and the book is full of exercises and activities for mapping one’s gifts and talents to the needs of the world. The authors ask readers to examine their core values, past challenges, and relationships. This guide is based on years of research and hands-on counseling experience, and each author shares their personal journey toward purpose. See their website for more information about their programs. They ask readers to “carve away what doesn’t serve you: the siren’s call of wealth, power, and prestige,” and choose to be purposeful.

Questions for Reflection from How to Navigate Life

  1. “Ask yourself what personal strengths you discovered or grew as you navigated an individual or specific life challenge.”
  2. “Consider how a challenge or adversity opened up new doors and opportunities for you. What skills were you motivated to learn as a result?”
  3. “Reflect on a challenging event. Did it change what you valued or thought was important in life? Did it change what motivates you? If so, how?”
  4. “Ask yourself: How has adversity impacted your relationship? Has it influenced how you see yourself contributing to the lives of others?”

“A well-designed life is a life that is generative – it is constantly creative, productive, changing, evolving, and there is always the possibility of surprise.”

Burnett & Evans

Designing your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life 

by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans 

This is a great book for those in a life transition. It provides a practical and innovative approach to career and life design. The book guides readers through a process of building a life that aligns with their values, aspirations, and strengths. By reframing the concept of career success and embracing a more holistic approach to life design, the book encourages readers to explore multiple paths, embrace ambiguity, and create a dynamic life that evolves with their changing circumstances. Here is the author, Dave Evans on Conversing to give you a taste of their approach. This video of Dave Evans explains how he came to create their course at Stanford University. According to Evans, their book “helps you figure out what you want to be and do when you grow up” no matter what your age.  For more information, click here.

These books bring diverse perspectives on how to discover purpose. Even if you are clear on your purpose, the questions offered in this post are excellent for self-discovery and reflection, and also for sharing with others. Think about who you are, where you’ve been, the world’s needs, your values, and how you spend your time. How do those things come together, and where will they take you? We find that reflecting on what matters most keeps us headed in the right direction.

Jilleen Westbrook Senior Director


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