Self-knowledge is the key to so many things - being an effective leader, partner, or friend, expressing yourself authentically and sharing your unique gifts with the world. I wish that the bookstore shelves labeled “Self Help” were instead labeled “Self Knowledge.” Those are the books that I need to own so that I can underline and highlight and return to passages that open up a window into who I am and how I can become my best self.
Here are three underlined and dog-eared favorites from my bookshelf -- and how they might serve you:
1. When you’re searching for your calling
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer
Parker Palmer is a writer/teacher/activist who is all about living a life of integrity and wholeness. His work focuses on building self-knowledge and cultivating self-care practices that sustain us.
In this book, Palmer opens up about the process of finding his own professional path - which involved many bumps and bends in the road, and a lot of soul-searching about whether he was headed in the right direction. From his stories, you’ll glean insights into your own journey, and draw strength from the questions and wisdom that resonate. It won’t tell you how to figure out your calling, but it will help you tune in to your inner wisdom as a guide for uncovering your path to an authentic and wholehearted life.
The word vocation itself...is rooted in the Latin for ‘voice.’ Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live--but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.
2. When you want to tap into your creativityThe Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life by Twyla Tharp
Twyla Tharp is a dancer/choreographer/author who has made her livelihood through creative work since the 1960’s. And she’s been seriously prolific and successful - winning numerous awards that include a Tony and National Medal of the Arts.
In her book, Tharp will guide you through accessing your own unique form of creativity, which could span many different mediums - “finding your pencil,” as she puts it. Each chapter ends with a set of practical exercises for you to dive into self-exploration. The book focuses on building rituals to spark creative momentum in your daily life, and helps you to confront and address fears that hold you back from creative expression. Whether you are a dancer, writer, visual artist, interior designer, or straight up business lady, you’ll find many ways to apply Tharp’s ideas to your life.
In the end, there is no ideal condition for creativity. What works for one person is useless for another. The only criterion is this: Make it easy on yourself. Find a working environment where the prospect of wrestling with your muse doesn't scare you, doesn't shut you down. It should make you want to be there, and once you find it, stick with it. To get the creative habit, you need a working environment that's habit-forming. All preferred working states, no matter how eccentric, have one thing in common: When you enter into them, they compel you to get started.
3. When you want to improve your communication skills
Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Patterson et al.
The most corporate option of the three, this book is written by the founders of a company called VitalSmarts, a corporate training and organizational leadership firm. And wow, do they understand the art of communication.
This book takes difficult conversations from big, scary, anxiety-producing experiences and breaks them down step by step. A questionnaire helps you to identify your communication style, and each chapter offers practical tools that you’ll immediately be able to apply to making conversations more safe, staying in dialogue when emotions creep in, and speaking persuasively. You’ll have to stop yourself from lending it to your coworker/partner/brother and highlighting the sections that you feel pertain to them.
Here’s why gifted communicators keep a close eye on safety. Dialogue calls for the free flow of meaning—period. And nothing kills the flow of meaning like fear. When you fear that people aren’t buying into your ideas, you start pushing too hard. When you fear that you may be harmed in some way, you start withdrawing and hiding.