21 Dragons

In Search of Wisdom

Best Personal Growth Books of 2008

Wherein favoritest becomes a word, and I share the favoritest personal growth books I read in 2008.

Personal Development for Smart People by Steve Pavlina

Personal Development for Smart People by Steve Pavlina

Surprise, surprise? Not really, if you've read my book review, Personal Atrophy for Foolish People anti-theory and Moving Towards Wisdom, Beauty & Strength application of the book's principles.

There's only one reason Personal Development for Smart People: The Conscious Pursuit of Personal Growth is up here, and that's because its worked for me. I think Steve nails it when he describes the core principles of all personal growth as truth, love and power. Admittedly, it wasn't such a big revelation to me since my friend Eleutherios had already introduced me to the Kabbalistic equivalent of wisdom, beauty and strength, but Steve's re-introduction was the tipping point that came at the right time in my life.

I saw that applying these principles to be more honest to myself and others around me with Life Coaches Blog would make me happier, result in a greater connection to my heart and give me the power to get to the next stage in my life. And it has, not just on my blog but in my working and personal life as well.

The real litmus test of a book is whether I'd put cash down on it, and even though I'd already had a pre-release ebook review copy, the moment I saw it on the shelves I bought it.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles is the book I want to buy for all my creative friends.

I first heard about The War of Art from The Mann, and had the unexpected fortune of finding it in a tucked away corner of the bookshop. I decided to buy this slim 165-pager even though, honestly, it didn't look very interesting. But boy, am I glad I did.

In the book, Steven talks about the work we want to do and what stops us from doing it – a stopping force he calls resistance which separates 'the life we live, and the unlived life within us.'

It's a rare and cherished book that can make you see the world in a new light, and The War of Art does that for me. It spells out and nails down in a fresh way for me the internal forces that array against me doing my best work, how to beat it in a practical, no-nonsense way and even the spiritual nature of inspiration and the muse (which comes, after all, from beating resistance in a practical, no-nonsense way – nothing more airy-fairy than seating down and doing the work).

The most important lesson I learned from this book is a phrase that has stuck in my mind from the first day I heard it:

The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

Meditations on Violence by Rory Miller

Meditations on Violence by Rory Miller

Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence is a really good book that I wouldn't recommend for everybody. For one, once you open it the first thing that greets you is a photo of a toilet floor smeared with blood. This is not your grandmother's self-defense book.

A veteran corrections officer, Sergeant Rory Miller – a martial artist himself – talks about the difference between what martial artists train for and the types of violence he's seen happen in real life, and why studying martial arts doesn't always equal to learning self-defense.

I wish I could tell you more about this thought-provoking and thoughtfully written book, but the truth is that I've been loaning my copy out to everyone in my dojo the moment I finished it. What I do remember is the book shaking up every notion I had about my own training: I haven't been able to look at martial arts and self-defense the same way since.

It's a must-read for any martial artist who's serious about self-defense and highly recommended also for anyone who wants to learn how to be safe (together with the other highly recommended book Cheap Shots, Ambushes, And Other Lessons and the encyclopedic website No Nonsense Self-Defense by Marc 'Animal' MacYoung).

Just be warned that the book pulls no punches.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Ah, fiction! Or semi-autobiography travel/spiritual journey narrated like fiction in a sometimes overbearingly self-centered, but always thoughtful, well-written and satisfyingly funny way.

As fun as Meditations on Violence is serious, I read Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia not just once, but twice over because I underestimated the amount of time I would spend on the trains in Japan, and because I overestimated how easy it'd be to find an English bookstore in Japan. I enjoyed it tremendously both times though.

Eat, Pray, Love is the story of Elizabeth's year of traveling through Italy, India and Bali as she indulges in food, meditation and finally, love. It's her honest voice and her observations about life as much as anything that won me over in this book about self and worldly discovery. And yes, I can vouch that time in a meditation retreat can be just as frustrating as she writes about – you're wrestling with your inner demons after all and not just Zen-ning out after all.

How to Get Rich by Felix Dennis

How to Get Rich by Felix Dennis

Not another how to get rich quick book by a bloke who's only getting rich from teaching you how to get rich, you say? Ordinarily, I'm so jaded by assholes like that, that I tend to give books with such a blatant title a wide berth. But a friend of mine who runs his own business and doing rather well recommended it to me highly, and I'm glad I listened to his advice.

For one, Felix isn't one of those scammy assholes. According to his book and Wikipedia entry, Felix Dennis is a ridiculously rich publisher who was ranked joint 95th on the Sunday Times Rich List 2007 with a fortune estimated at £750 million. He wrote How to Get Rich: One of the World's Greatest Entrepreneurs Shares His Secrets after reviewing the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, and declared that it was 'bunkum' and 'snake oil', like every other self-help book he'd seen.

Not one of those books was written by anyone who actually got rich – except by writing drivel for cretins.

How to Get Rich is disarmingly honest, cleverly written, funny, full of life-lived wisdom and Felix never gets so full of himself to declare that he, and only he, has the ultimate secrets to making truckloads of cash. And surprisingly for a book that tells you how to get rich, he devotes one entire chapter of heartfelt reasons not to get rich, warning that the road to riches is often harder than you think.

The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell

The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell

I came across The Gift of Nothing quite by chance in a local bookstore, and fell in love with its simple message and beautiful ink illustrations.

Mooch the cat has a problem; what do you get for a friend who has everything? He thinks it over before reaching the perfect idea: he'd get his friend Earl the dog the gift of nothing. But where can you find nothing?

The 56-page Gift of Nothing reads like a child's book, with a drawing and sentence or two per page. But I'd highly recommend it to adults all the same, for its lovely twist and simple way of reminding us that the best gifts in life come from the nothings we can hold; like friendship, love and trust.