A book that took me completely by surprise was "Crossing the Unknown Sea" by David Whyte. I didn't know what to expect, but I certainly wasn't expecting it to be the sort of read it turned out to be.
This book defies categorization. If it is a business book, what are poetry excerpts doing in it? If it is a self-help book, why is it written in such elegant, meticulous language? With words to bring beautiful pictures unbidden to the mind. As if to prove a point, at the back of the book are the words "Business/Spirituality"--two seemingly polarizing words juxtaposed against each other to denote the book's genre.
This book is by no way a be-all-end-all guide for professional fulfillment, nor does it expound all the philosophies and theories that undoubtedly arise from such an ambitious topic. In fact, another book that comes to mind with a similar theme but with a different argument is Cal Newport's "So Good They Can't Ignore You". That book was, in fact, more akin to your typical self-help title—written in plain, unpretentious language, the book tried to explain that running behind your passion may not always be a viable strategy, and that, sometimes, freedom and success are won by becoming so deeply entrenched in a subject so as to attain mastery in it and make yourself indispensable—and thus powerful—amongst your peers. Even if that subject is not your true "calling".
This book is rather ... idealistic, If I am to be honest. But considering that the author was a marine biologist turned social worker turned poet, I believe the book has a right to be a little idyllic and optimistic.
If I'd taken a pencil to the book, looking to mark memorable quotes, I'd have ended up underlining more than half of the book! But here are just a few of my favorite passages:
"In work as in life, we must contemplate the loss of everything in order to know what we have to give; it is the essence of writing, the essence of working, the essence of living; an essence that we look for by hazarding our best gifts in the world, and in that perspective, all of us are young and have the possibilities of the young until our last breath goes out."
"We shape our work, and then, not surprisingly, we are shaped again by the work we have done."
"A life's work is not a series of stepping-stones onto which we calmly place feet, but more like an ocean crossing where is no path, only a heading, a direction, which, of itself, is in conversation with the elements. Looking back for a sense of reference, we see the wake we have left as only a brief, glimmering trace on the waters"
"When doing is followed immediately by doing, it can seem impossible or indulgent to celebrate any accomplishments. One set of good figures can be replaced by another on the company ledgers and the bottomless hunger of Wall Street is still not appeased, the investors still unsatisfied, the media still on the hunt for faults and cracks. What has been done is simply replaced by a new thing to be done; the years fly by until that strange day when all the doing suddently has to stop; in retirement, in illness, in bereavement, in dealth itself."
This 200-page book genuinely tries to confer some much-needed dignity to the 9-to-5 grind and helps you understand what role your work plays in shaping your identity.