Many of us recall certain periods in our lives by where we lived, who we were dating, a particular scent that we wore, etc- but not me. The majority of my memories are framed by what Powerful Books I read or had found particularly impactful at that time. I was an avid reader. By that, I mean I’d read 3-4 books per week in addition to my assigned reading for school.
Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to have a social life so I lived vicariously through the characters I found in books. This wasn’t a big deal in grammar and middle school but, in hindsight, this became slightly problematic in high school. Imagine being one of a handful of Black girls in an affluent (predominantly White high school) who already felt ‘othered’ who also did not have the opportunity to find comfort and community with peers. So, I found my solace in books. However, the books I read were neither age, content, or nor maturity-level appropriate for me.
For example, in my last summer leading into high school, I became obsessed with the wildly popular coming of age story by Sister Souljah, The Coldest Winter Ever. The vivid imagery of the fast-paced city life that was so different from my own, intrigued me. That was my gateway into urban romance novels ripe with toxic imagery of ‘love’. After some years, I started to stray away from this genre because I’d literally feel physically uncomfortable at the end of the book. I’d think to myself “THIS is her happy ending?” or “Why must the Black woman always struggle”?!
I started reading self-help books during my sophomore year in college. At the time, I was going through a tough breakup. For some reason, I just couldn’t get past the idea of not being with this dude (in hindsight he wasn’t even special– I was definitely trippin’) and quickly descended into a deep depression. I don’t recall the title of that first self-help book that helped me diagnose what I was experiencing but I’m grateful that it provided me with the words to articulate what I was feeling. It took me a while to get comfortable enough with the idea of sharing my innermost thoughts and feelings with a stranger. So, I often turned to books for guidance.
To be honest, my life since then has been an emotional rollercoaster of mostly lows and even deeper lows. However, the following books have played a tremendous role in my life as I’ve embarked on a journey towards consistent mental wellness. I recommend these books to anyone looking to shift their mindset and improve their worldview.
Paulo Coelho is one of my favorite authors. I was first introduced to his work when a med school classmate recommended that I read The Alchemist. I reread this book three consecutive times after I initially read it because it was just THAT good and each time, I discovered a new gem. This book isn’t a traditional self-help book because it isn’t preachy (Amen!). Instead, it’s a fictional account of a young man’s journey to find treasure. It sounds incredibly juvenile but I promise you- it’s so incredibly simple that it’s profound. It’s a perfect reminder that life really is simple- it’s us that makes things complicated.
The Four Agreements
The Four Agreements is a super quick read written by Don Miguel Ruiz. I reference this book every single day. My favorite agreement is “don’t take anything personally”. That simple notion has taken a LOT of stress out of my day to day interactions. I used to internalize people’s actions and blamed myself for their poor behavior. When that lady cuts me off in traffic- I know it likely has absolutely nothing to do with me. When the customer service agent that I’m speaking to has an attitude that’s dreadful, at best, recollecting that agreement allows me to remain calm and even have compassion for the offender.
If you haven’t already, I truly encourage you to read these books. They’re both short but truly impactful and will help equip you with tools to shift your mindset. If you have a book that has helped you grow, please share it with me! I’ve committed to incorporating reading into my self-care routine and would love to get your recommendations.