To say that 2020 was a rough year for everyone is literally the understatement of the century.
But beyond the challenges in shifting our social norms, getting used to a remote-first work life, and embracing new forms of communication and connection, this has been an interesting year for personal growth. The pandemic has affected everyone in different ways, but the one thing we have all shared throughout the experience is the need to adjust together.
Personally, I used last year as an opportunity to examine aspects of my life I otherwise wouldn’t have thought to question: the ways in which I had relied on my social life and friends and how I filled my time to the brim, the everyday routines (like my workouts and dance classes) that gave my days structure before the pandemic, and so on. Quarantining and social distancing, in an unintended sort of way, created space and gave me more opportunities to reflect on my life, my habits, and my natural state.
For me, in “real life,” travel is the ultimate source of inspiration: learning about new cultures, seeing new views, meeting and sharing experiences with new people…this is what fuels my energy and growth.
So without the ability to travel this year, I’ve found myself reading, watching, and consuming media that gives me a window into a new world, filling that need for inspiration and access to a bigger world and bigger picture.
1. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
My favorite book of all time is Shantaram.
Reading this book made me fall in love with India: the people, the culture, the perspectives…the story had me hooked and the descriptions were intoxicating.
Without realizing it, we can be limited by reading books that take place in our country. And it’s not until you open a book that gives you a completely different vantage point of the world that you realize how much we each live in our own little bubbles and that there’s a big, beautiful, magical world out there.
Shantaram is such a vivid story, it feels like you’re traveling as you read it. The book prompts self-exploration, questioning of personal values, how we define happiness within ourselves, and more. That said, it’s also 900+ pages, so it’s quite the commitment. (Worth it!)
If there was ever a time to immerse yourself in this book, now is it.
2. The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life’s Perfection by Michael Alan Singer
This is another all-time favorite book of mine is The Surrender Experiment.
It’s about a guy who is unhappy in his life, and has a meditative experience that allows him to access a totally different perspective on things — showing him the power of surrendering to the present moment. I won’t ruin the ending for you, but the story is a journey of self-exploration, acceptance, and learning to trust your intuition.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned this year, it’s that we have so little control of things. This book is a reinforcement of the power of surrender at a time when we need it most. We can’t control that we’re experiencing a global pandemic. We can’t control how long it will take for life to “return back to normal.” We can only control how we respond to all of it, and by surrendering, we can move through it in the most graceful way possible.
This book is a very clear reminder of how to do that.
3. Normal People by Sally Rooney
Normal People was originally a book, and then was recently adapted into a Hulu series that was getting rave reviews so I binge-watched it immediately. After watching the show, I put this book on my to-read list.
It is one of those stories that encapsulates both the simplicity and the complexity of human relationships. It’s about a couple who has this love affair that stretches throughout college and thereafter, and shows the whole spectrum of emotions we experience as humans here on earth: love, passion, jealousy, loss, etc. Sally Rooney is an incredible writer: the writing is simple and direct yet so specific and telling that you’re on a real emotional ride with every page.
Especially during a time when human connection is few and far between, finding other ways to connect to that experience (even if it’s through a show or a book) can be a helpful way of remembering that what we’re going through right now is not normal. And that at some point we will return to human experience outside of our home and beyond our computer.
4. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo & Biased by Jennifer Eberhardt
2020 was also a year of advancing social justice.
I wanted (and want) to continue educating myself on the issues that continue to be detrimental to the fabric of our society and country, so I picked up a number of books including White Fragility and Biased.
Beyond these educational books, it’s also about supporting black authors, and reading and consuming content that doesn’t act as an echo chamber for already accepted beliefs. Whether or not these two books are the best place to start is up for debate, but we all need to start somewhere and listening (and really hearing) is the first step.
5. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Alchemist is one of the most well-known stories ever written.
The reason it has been so successful over the years is because it is a philosophical book that covers many of the fundamental spiritual lessons necessary for personal growth — all told in a magical sort of way. The writing is playful and vivid. The story is timeless. And the takeaways are important reminders of how, whatever it is you’re searching for in life is almost always right in front of you already.
Even if you haven’t realized it yet.
6. The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo
The Book of Awakening is a book filled with daily blurbs, stories, and exercises encouraging various forms of self-development.
You can read it daily, as there’s a page (and story) for each of the 365 days of the year. Read it in the morning to set the mood for your day, or at night before bed to shift your brain into a peaceful place.
This is the sort of book we all need in our lives right now. It encourages us to form a small, daily habit that can meaningfully impact our mindset.
And, this book makes it so simple! It doesn’t overcomplicate what it means to continue working on yourself (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, etc.). It doesn’t ask too much of you. It encourages helpful little daily rituals that make life better!
7. Untamed by Glennon Doyle
And finally, for both men and women, I encourage you to read Untamed.
Untamed is part memoir, part motivational speech from a woman who learned, the hard way, what it means to use her vulnerability to create the life she knew she was destined to live. It’s inspiring. It’s well-written. But most importantly, it’s a reminder that we have the power to change our lives — even if we think or tell ourselves we don’t.
In many ways, the content of this book aligns with my book, The Feminine Revolution, so it’s exciting to see it building tremendous momentum and making a meaningful impact in women’s (and men’s) lives.
On a positive note, the pandemic — and our forced lockdown (i.e., slow down) — has created an opportunity for us to reflect on life and how we live it, and this is the perfect book for inspiring us in that process.