Have you thought about making a career change? Perhaps doing something you feel more passionate about? Or quitting your job and traveling the world?
You're not the only one. Many of us indulge in these types of fantasies. And some people actually act on it — there’s a historical precedent of people with established careers leaping into the unknown, in search of a life with more meaning and fulfillment.
When I was in my early 20s, I quit my dream job in advertising to travel the world and “find myself.” Cliché, I know. Of course, leaving behind the financial security was scary. But looking back, it was the best decision I ever made, and the thrill of not knowing how it would all turn out made it that much more exciting.
One thing that helped me immensely was reading the tales of others who’d embarked upon similar journeys. Here, I want to share with you five of my favorite books about people who traded a life of outer stability for an exploration into something greater — their passion. Warning: Each of these books will cause you to seriously reconsider your status quo and make big changes in your life.
1. Be Here Now
Be Here Now, with its unmistakable indigo cover and brown-paper-bag pages has long been a gateway book for quitting your job and going on a spiritual quest. It’s the firsthand account of how Dr. Richard Alpert, a professor who had been handed “the keys to the kingdom,” by Harvard’s psychology department, transformed into the Western luminary we now know as Ram Dass.
A masterful storyteller, Ram Dass’s humor and wit will not only inspire you to take a leap of your own, but he will also help you view your current life as mere preparation for the next, greater stage of your spiritual evolution.
2. The Alchemist
The Alchemist is the popular fictional tale of a boy named Santiago whose quest takes him from southern Spain to the treacherous deserts of northern Africa in search of a treasure that comes to him in a dream. Along the way, he meets several characters — all archetypes from our lives (including a wise alchemist) — who each teach him about the power of his spirit.
The big takeaway for me after reading The Alchemist (now several times) is how there really are no throwaway moments in life. Everything good, bad, and in-between is helping each of us grow and expand into our most evolved self. In other words, if you have a calling to do something different, you have an obligation to investigate it, for the sake of your soul.
Siddhartha is a novel by Herman Hesse. The description on the back cover does a perfect job of summarizing the story:
“In the novel, Siddhartha, a young man, leaves his family for a contemplative life, then, restless, discards it for one of the flesh. He conceives a son, but bored and sickened by lust and greed, moves on again. Near despair, Siddhartha comes to a river where he hears a unique sound. This sound signals the true beginning of his life — the beginning of suffering, rejection, peace and, finally, wisdom.”
What I loved the most about Siddhartha, aside from Hesse’s brilliantly relatable prose, is the humanity of the main characters. They are just like us. They have doubts, inconsistencies in their behavior. They succumb to greed. There’s one fascinating scene in which they find themselves in the company of the Buddha, and they quietly watch him, just as we would if, say, the Dalai Lama were sitting close to us in a restaurant. It’s a quick read. You’ll finish it within a few days. And you will surely be a changed person afterward.
4. Autobiography of a Yogi
Off the top of my head, I can easily think of a handful of people in my life (all spiritual mentors) who began their spiritual quest after reading Paramahansa Yogananda’s unforgettable life story, Autobiography of a Yogi. Reading this book coincided with my cross-country move from New York to Los Angeles, where Yogananda built the breathtakingly beautiful Lake Shrine Temple in the Pacific Palisades — a must-visit for any spiritually curious visitor to the Los Angeles area.
I read it again before embarking upon my first of several trips to India. In short, reading Autobiography of a Yogi makes you believe in the unbelievable, as the author provides details of his abnormal experiences with various sages, gurus, teachers, and saints throughout his native land.
5. The 99th Monkey
Finally, there’s The 99th Monkey, which is less a book about spirituality and more an exposé of the humans behind the revered guru figure. Spiritual investigator/seeker Eliezer Sobel journals his dalliances in various spiritual scenes and teachers he met while traveling around the country, and dabbling in as many spiritual practices and personal growth courses as he could find.
As you will read, Eliezer lives among cults, throws himself into workshops, visits hippie communes, enrolls in personal transformation trainings — and all the while, cites the inconsistencies and flaws in the various ideologies of each scene.
Eliezer is like the Woody Allen of spiritual seekers, seeing any guru who would accept someone like him as a disciple as inherently flawed. I found his writing style to be laugh-out-loud funny, and this book will be glued to your hands for the week it takes you to devour it.
Photo courtesy of the author