Act Smart!: A change warrior’s guide to the galaxy

Or, a few texts I’ve known and loved for turning vague, inchoate longing into concrete reality.

As we discussed last month, there are times in one’s life when one craves change, but in which direction, one is not clear on. (We will assume that if you’ve set your heart on becoming a CPA, you know enough to type some search words into Google or hie thee to a library for nerd advice from the good librarians there.)

A small note of warning: all of these books fall, in varying degrees, under the rubric of what I’d call “woo-woo” literature. If you are a full-on skeptic/atheist, or uncomfortable with the idea of a spiritual life, you’ll want to look elsewhere. (And I’ll ask that, should you find something wonderful, you report back to me, as I’m always looking for helpful reading to pass along.)

If you can keep an open mind, that should be sufficient to do the work outlined in any of these books. I was a staunch agnostic when I read many of them, and managed just fine, never feeling the need to create altars or recite affirmations. Frankly, I’m still indifferent to altars and outright loathe affirmations, although I do love me some incense and inspiring literature.

The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron 

King-daddy change manual for the modern age, The Artist’s Way packs two of the most powerful tools for uncovering and discovering (i.e., morning pages and the “artist’s date”), and leans on the structure of what the Dalai Lama and other spiritual giants have called the greatest contribution to spiritual growth of the 20th century (i.e., the 12-Step program of recovery). As I’ve shared numerous times, I credit The Artist’s Way for getting me to ditch advertising and commit to acting. At 33. In Los Angeles. Insane, except that within two years and for the next 8 or 10, I made a comfortable living as an actor. Of course, your mileage may vary, but this book has opened grand vistas for many, many creatives I know.

The Fire-Starter Sessions, by Danielle LaPorte

When it first came out in 2012, I reviewed The Fire-Starter Sessions in detail on my blog. I have not read it since claiming it was “the” book of its kind for the era, but neither have I come across another I can honestly say would unseat it. What is so brilliant about Danielle’s book (and yes, full disclosure, Danielle and I are on a first-name basis) is: (a) how thorough her plan of discovery is, with exercises and lists and probes to tease out the faintest notions of desire lurking deep within; and (b), how lively and creative it is, built by an artist (who used all of these very tools on herself), for artists (including the hundreds of coaching clients she helped). I do have a personal gripe about the type design and layout, but I am notoriously picky when it comes to this.

Wishcraft, by Barbara Scher

As it says on the website, this “human, practical program puts your vague yearnings and dreams to work for you–with concrete results.” My own experience with this 30-year-old book was not quite as dazzlingly successful, but this may well be because it’s not my perfect flavor rather than any inherent deficiency. LikeThe Artist’s Way and The Fire-Starter Sessions, it’s loaded with exercises designed to tease out your innermost, secret longings. (The one where you call friends to hear how they see you through their eyes is wildly illuminating.) In other words, long on practicality, with just enough theory to provide context. I am also a big, big fan of the “Success Team” tool, which is a more woo-woo, artist-friendly update of Napoleon Hill’s mastermind group. You can read the entire book online for free, but you may want to purchase a copy you can mark up and tote around.

Your Best Year Yet, by Jinny Ditzler

While it’s not strictly a “figure out your life’s work” kind of read, I probably recommend Your Best Year Yet more than any other book—it’s just that good at helping you organize and break down massive goals into manageable, bite-sized chunks. The product of years and years of workshops, the Best Year Yet system takes far more time to execute properly than the author suggests (4 hours? dream on!), but at the end, if you do it thoroughly, you’ll end up with a delicious, ambitious, yet realistic plan that has room in it for ALL aspects of your life, not just the moneymaking or career sectors. It’s designed to be done at the start of the new year, but who’s to say when your year has to start? Like the next book, it’s a little weaker on goal identification than Artist’s Way or Wishcraft, but it more than makes up for it in sheer practicality.

Goals, by Brian Tracy

The most business-y entry in the lineup, Goals is one of many productivity and self-help guides by prolific writer and motivational speaker Brian Tracy. It’s also the best of them, as far as unearthing goals and making a solid action plan to get them accomplished. (If you’re looking for pure productivity enhancement, I’d suggest Tracy’s Eat That Frog or David Allen’s Getting Things Done.) Like Your Best Year Yet(and the other guides, although they don’t call it that), Goals starts with the idea that the only goals you’ll ever really get fired up about are the ones that align with your core values. Tracy takes a slightly different approach to the exercises designed to tease them out, but it’s no less thorough. Ultimately, it comes down to the voice you like best. I’d suggest reading a Kindle sample of each, or checking them out from the library first.

Bonus-extra fun reads:

Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life, by Karen Rauch Carter

While there are some exercises to help you prioritize your needs and goals in this super-simple, Western- and artist-friendly feng shui book, it’s more about how to clear up and arrange your home to help you stay focused on your goals and dreams (and, if you believe in the woo-woo aspects of feng shui, to make them come true). However, I think there’s much to be said for setting intentions and creating a space that nurtures you on breaks from this cold, cruel world we live in. Plus, as I’ve mentioned before, within two weeks of feng-shui-ing the bejeebles out of my Prosperity Corner, producers released two checks they’d been sitting on, to the tune of $10K each. To that woo-woo I say “Woo-hoo!”

The Career Clinic: 8 Simple Rules for Finding the Work You’ll Love, by Maureen Anderson

Full of stories of folks who found their true paths in life after some missteps and left turns, this book makes for enjoyable and inspiring reading. I’m an avowed believer in the memoir and the bio as being our greatest self-help books; if you doubt me, read Ben Franklin’s autobiography and see if you don’t come away with a boatload of inspiration as well as tips. (And from a guy who really accomplished things!) Deeper review available on my blog.

That’s it for my hit parade, but please do let me know if you’ve come across some great book for unearthing and accomplishing your biggest dreams. I’m always on the lookout for great entries to the list!

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