A friend recently asked me what books I turn to during difficult times. An apt question these days. One that caused me to realize that there are three books that I always keep close at hand. I often travel with these books, re-reading the many passages I have underlined and the personal notes I’ve made in the page margins. They are books that simultaneously challenge and reassure me. They disrupt my habitual ways of thinking while also grounding me by articulating the possibility of who I can be and who we can be together when we face our blind spots, confusion, and fears.
Here are synopsis of my three go-to books:
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance”
This autobiography by the German Psychiatrist Victor Frankl describes his harrowing four years surviving the Nazi death camps. He demonstrates how, in the face of unimaginable suffering, one can spiritually survive by making meaning of that suffering. At the time of his death in 1997 his book had sold over 10 million copies, transforming the lives of its readers along the way. Frankl’s central message is that we always have a choice.
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron
“When there is a big disappointment, we actually don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may just be the beginning of a great adventure.”
Don’t let the title of this book turn you off. The truth is, things don’t work out the way we hope they will. So, what do we do with the big and small disappointments of our lives? How do we move toward pain and become intimate with our own grief? Most importantly, how do we overcome our habitual responses to loss that only amplify our suffering? Pema Chodron translates ancient Buddhist teachings for a modern world and provides pragmatic tools that help us face the hardest moments.
The Answer to How is Yes: Acting on What Matters by Peter Block
“If we could agree that for six months we would not ask How?, something in our lives, our institutions, and our culture might shift for the better. It would force us to engage in conversations about why we do what we do, as individuals and as institutions. It would create the space for longer discussions about purpose, about what is worth doing. It would refocus our attention on deciding what is the right question, rather than what is the right answer.”
Our modern culture emphasizes “how-to” pragmatism, efficiency, and growth at all costs which means we are getting better at being busier and bigger while actually accomplishing outcomes that matter less and less. Peter Block invites us to pause and reclaim our capacity to create the world in which we want to live where intimacy, idealism, and depth matter in our organizations and lives. I read this book every few years and each time come away with a new “aha.”
Now it’s your turn. What’s the book you turn to for perspective, reassurance or inspiration during rough times?
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