What should I do with my life? Books to help you find your purpose

Journalist Ali Roff Farrar shares her recommendations for the books to turn to if you're searching for purpose in your life.

When it comes to the question of what to do with our lives, our answers vary throughout our childhood and into our teens, when, it seems we're expected to have the answer. But, what if we don't? What if we're still searching for what we really want to do in our, twenties, forties, sixties?

It seems that the age-old story of one career, one path for each person, is being re-written as more and more of us are making bold changes in search of what we really want to do with our lives. So, if you're yearning for fulfilment but are not sure where to find it, journalist Ali Roff shares her own story toward finding her purpose and the books that inspired her along the way.

If you're still asking yourself ‘what do I want to be when I grow up?', you're not alone. It seems many of us are unhappy with our current careers; The London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) found in a recent survey that 47% of adults in the UK want to change their career, and this jumped to 66% when asking millennials. Yet career change is highly accepted in modern-day society, in fact, in a world where robots are reported to replace one in every three jobs in the UK over the next twenty years, we might find, or may already have found, ourselves in a position where our career no longer exists anyway. I changed careers from finance to journalism at the grand old age of twenty-five, and my career has continued to evolve ever since – I now teach yoga retreats alongside my journalism, and have actually combined my two passions into a book – a far cry from the funds, stocks and shares in my former life. Changing profession is not necessarily that difficult – figuring out what you want to do in life is often the most challenging part. And life's not just about work; I've realised that when I have surrendered to following the direction of my heart and passions, meaning and purpose have been a happy by-product. My career and sense of purpose in life began to flourish when I learnt to go with the flow and allowed myself to be the transient, ever-evolving being that I am. But guidance along the way is always helpful, and the books I've read have helped me at different stages of my journey. So, if you're wondering what do with your life, here are my top picks of books to help you find your dharma . . .

For those in need of wise words

The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life's Direction and Purpose, by Oprah Winfrey

‘I believe every one of us is born with a purpose' writes the ultimate wise woman, Oprah Winfrey, who not only sets out to share her own truths on direction, purpose and meaning in her newest book The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life's Direction and Purpose, but also weaves together musings, advice and wisdom from a lifetime's worth of connections and friendships with the most famous gurus, philosophers, and luminaries on the planet. From Pema Chodron and Deepak Chopra to Cheryl Strayed and Ellen DeGeneres, this book provides a stunning collection of beautifully written and thought-provoking insights to come back to again and again, whenever you're in need of sage, soul-soothing words. For me, the most powerful are the personal stories of purposes discovered and destinies found, to inspire, rattle and enthuse you to go daringly and devotedly after your own.

Buy The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life's Direction and Purpose

A photograph of Oprah Winfrey in an orange top against a white background.
Oprah Winfrey.

For when you worry too much about what other people think

The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k, by Sarah Knight

Often, our purpose can be found on the wrong side of a brick wall cemented together by other people's opinions. Be it loved ones who want to protect us from failure, or those few people whose fear of their own failures are ammunition to keep others small; worrying what people think of us, of our dreams and what we create in our lives can hold us back from discovering our true purpose and happiness in life. Sarah Knight's frank and hilarious look at caring about what others think of us tackles our worries in a very different way. What if we looked at life as if we had only had a certain quota of energy to give to who and what we care about, or ‘f**ks to give' as Knight puts it, and instead of fretting about what your Mum, Dad, dog and Sally down the road think about your decision to quit your job and travel around India for three months, we could learn how to spend that energy more wisely? Sarah explains that it's hard enough figuring out what we think about life, purpose and love, let alone wasting time worrying over what other people think, especially when we have no control over it. A laugh-a-minute read and hugely perspective-shifting, it helped me enormously in finding the courage to follow my own dreams, rather than someone else's thoughts on them.

Buy The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k

For when bad habits are holding you back

The Kindness Method: Changing Habits for Good, by Shahroo Izadi

Sometimes we might find ourselves in a place where we are looking for change and longing for purpose, yet our own habits, whether physical or in mindset, hold us back. I remember being so bored and uninspired by my previous career that I would spend my lunchtimes shopping my salary away. Retail was my therapy - albeit an unhealthy one – and it provided a daily fleeting fix of happiness that distracted me from my deep sense of unfulfillment at work and left my bank account empty at the end of each month. I knew that for as long as I distracted myself with my short-lived material fulfilment, I would never take the time or energy to discover what it was that would truly fulfil me in life. But, I'm not sure if you've noticed - breaking habits can be hard! Shahroo Izadi has worked with countless clients to help them make changes, from weight loss to drinking less to changing careers, and her method is revolutionary. Instead of punishment and deprivation, Izadi's weapon of choice is kindness, creating empowerment, positivity and the courage to let go of the things holding you back so that you can make that big change.

Buy The Kindness Method: Changing Habits for Good

For those of us who have analysis paralysis

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

Agonising over which path to take, fearing regret is around every corner? Kate Atkinson's Life After Life is a ravaging piece of fiction illustrating the different journeys and numerous potentials possible for one life. It's a story of chances, of opportunities taken and missed, of luck, of accidents and of the infinite outcomes that one small change can make in a life. Ursula Todd lives each version of her life so differently and with such altered outcomes that we can't help but consider our own crossroads, whether chosen or inflicted upon us. It's a poetic wakeup call to take charge of our own calling, but also a reminder to have faith that sometimes fate knows more about our destiny than we do.

Buy Life After Life

For those on the go

O's Little Guide to Finding Your True Purpose, by The Editors of O the Oprah Magazine

A series of short real-life stories on finding true purpose, cleverly presented by the editors of the hugely popular ‘O Magazine' in journey sequence, from the initial stirrings to searching, then taking the leap, the trials and errors and even ‘second acts' of finding purpose in life. This little pocket guide is a beautiful compilation of show-not-tells on how to find real purpose, perfect for those of us on the go, travelling or short of time and focus. One I wish I had found earlier in my own purpose journey for sure, today this little gem does a great job at keeping me focused on creating and keeping a meaningful life, as I frequently thumb through its well-worn pages.

Buy O's Little Guide to Finding Your True Purpose