Best Books on Knowing Yourself?

Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. — John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 1, Section 1, Paragraph 1

Self-portrait in mirror

We live in the age of self-portraits, but how well do we know ourselves?

I’ve been wrestling with some personal decisions lately, so I decided to read a book that has been gathering dust on my “To Read” shelf: M. Blaine Smith’s Knowing God’s Will: Finding Guidance for Personal Decisions. It has been excellent, but it also got me to thinking: in ESN, we stress the importance of seeing an academic vocation as a valued calling from God, yet it’s also important to remember that other careers also have value. Further, an academic career might be even the wrong fit for a particular person.

An important element in vocational discernment is knowing yourself. Last year, I read several excellent books on this topic, but before I get to them:

What are your favorite books for learning about yourself? What resources have helped you know yourself better?

A few recommendations from my recent readings follow below. All of them, by the way, are from IVP, which is partly a function of receiving free/drastically discounted books from them, but only partly. My notes are reprinted from What I’m Reading: 2010 on my personal website.

Coming Home to Your True Self by Albert Haase
A book about putting off the false self by finding our true self in Christ, as well as an introduction to spiritual direction. This book made up a good piece of my devotions and reflections this month. Each chapter includes very well-thought-out discussion questions that made for good journal entries. This book was the perfect read for the new year.

The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery by David G. Benner
A good follow-up to Haase’s book (above). Benner stresses that you can find your true self only by finding yourself in God. This thin volume (110 pp.) has much wisdom, as well as exercises at the end of each chapter based on the examen.

The Leadership Ellipse: Shaping How We Lead by Who We Are by Robert A. Fryling
Bob Fryling is probably best known as the publisher of InterVarsity Press, but he has been a leader in InterVarsity’s campus ministry in one role or another for most of his life. This book attempts to bring together two genres that don’t often mingle: outwardly-focused books on leadership, and inwardly-focused books on knowing yourself. Bob shares personal stories, wisdom gained from experience, and spiritual/psychological/sociological concepts to, well, shape how you lead by who you are. I found it very helpful, though it left me with many more questions (about myself) than before I read it.

Introverts in the Church:Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture by Adam S. McHugh
Introverts make up half the population, but only 25% of evangelical ministers. McHugh, a Presbyterian pastor and former InterVarsity campus minister, explains why evangelical churches place such a high value on introverts, how introverts can flourish in the church and ministry, and what extroverts can do to make room for the whole people of God. I’m not really an introvert (more of a bashful extrovert), but my wife Elizabeth is, and this book is helping me understand my wife much better. [Note: In case you hadn’t realized it, introverts are the majority in academia.]

What are your favorite books for learning about yourself? What resources have helped you know yourself better?

Photo credit: Chependra via Flickr

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Micheal Hickerson

The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.

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    Adrianna Wright commented on March 15, 2011 Reply

    Glad to see that The Gift of Being Yourself made this list, as that book was very helpful for me and introduced me to the concept of true self and false self.

    Krista Mournet commented on March 15, 2011 Reply

    “Let Your Life Speak: Listening to the Voice of Vocation” by Parker Palmer; short, honest, and beautiful memoir/guide. In one particular story (one of my favorites) he tells the story of a woman reflecting on the Quaker saying “Have faith and way will open;” “I am sixty-four years old. In all my life, way has never opened for me. But I have had many ways close, and that has had the same guiding effect.” Good stuff…

    Mike Austin commented on March 16, 2011 Reply

    I found the book by Gregg Ten Elshof, I Told Me So: Self-Deception and the Christian Life, to be helpful for this.

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