Ever since I was a little kid (and a really nerdy one at that!), books have been some of my most instrumental teachers on how to live better. Having made a career out of being an equity, diversity, leadership, and empowerment speaker, there are a handful of books that I regularly turn to for inspiration and that I recommend to everyone and anyone who wants to live their best.
Each of these books has taught me a key lesson about authenticity, perseverance, and more, and I want to share them with you so that you can use the knowledge and wisdom of their authors to live better.
1. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
Chances are, you’ve heard of Brené Brown. Whether you’ve checked out her famous TED Talk or seen her hanging with Oprah, you might be familiar with her teachings on the power of vulnerability. She’s written a few books now, but it’s especially worth delving into this one in order to get a deeper understanding of her work.
In particular, I love how she describes the profound difference between what it means to belong and what it means to “fit in” — a distinction that, to me, is critical for understanding how each of us can embrace and live with authenticity.
For me, Brown’s lessons on vulnerability have been life-changing. It’s hella hard work, but the rewards of learning how to reframe vulnerability as a positive thing are vast. Leaning into my own vulnerability has helped unlock my ability to be authentic and to connect with others. And in fact, let me state unequivocally: authentic living demands vulnerability!
2. Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Dr. Rick Hanson
I love, love, love this book and have turned to it so many times for guidance. Dr. Hanson beautifully weaves together insights from neuroscience and mindfulness and presents real-world strategies for practicing both in order to rewire our brains, change our behaviors, and increase our happiness. (And who doesn’t want that?)
For example, the simple act of touching your lips — something I’ve been doing unconsciously for years — can have a soothing effect, since parasympathetic fibers in the lips stimulate the part of the nervous system that tells us to relax. Who knew?! This is just one of myriad simple and practical strategies outlined in this fantastic book.
3. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
I turn to this book a few times every year to remind myself of Ruiz’s four guidelines for how we can avoid limiting ourselves, alleviate our own suffering, and live better. I’ve even saved the Four Agreements themselves in a note on my phone that I look at periodically for guidance.
Two of Ruiz’s agreements — “Don’t Take Things Personally” and “Don’t Make Assumptions” — have always particularly resonated with me. As a young person filled with insecurities, I often took things personally growing up. When people were treating me badly or being less than lovely, I would always blame myself, believing something was wrong with me rather than recognizing that their behavior was a reflection of themselves.
The first time I read this book, I realized that my assumptions for all those years were likely very wrong, and that it wasn’t about me at all — it was about the person who was hurting me. It was a freeing revelation, and I believe that everyone can benefit from Ruiz’s lessons in this short but powerful book.
4. My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem
As part of my commitment to living my best and to doing my best in teaching others to live an empowered and inclusive life, a few years ago I decided to complete a trauma therapist certification program. It was through my trauma studies that I came across Resmaa’s work and his incredible book!
In his book, Resmaa explores how racism and white supremacy lives in our bodies — for everyone, including people of color, Indigenous Peoples, and white people. More importantly, he sets out in great detail what to do about this, and in particular, how to release the grip of racism from our bodies. Reading Resmaa’s book has been life-altering. Run, don’t walk, to get it!
5. The Authenticity Principle by Ritu Bhasin
You didn’t think I’d make a reading list about authenticity and living your best and leave my own book out, did you?!
I wrote my book The Authenticity Principle as a rallying cry against conformity. I know firsthand what it’s like to feel like you have to wear a mask to fit in, and after years of battling against conformity, racism, self-loathing, and more, I committed to embracing authenticity and choosing to be my authentic self despite my fear of judgment.
Choosing authenticity changed my life in so many positive ways, and I know it will change your life too. I wrote this book to spread a new message about finding empowerment on your own terms, and I know it will help you to do just that.
Which books have had the biggest impact on how you live? What did they teach you?
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