Transforming your professional life can feel like an overwhelming task.
Where do you start in designing a new reality that will fit you well and bring you joy?
This type of career planning requires an element of inspiration along with wise counsel and practical advice. The best books for the purpose are those that help you see and grab hold of your own potential.
Here are nine books we think anyone planning a career change should check out before deciding on a path forward.
'Strategize to Win: the New Way to Start Out, Step Up or Start Over in Your Career' by Carla A. Harris
The work world is changing; to succeed you need to analyze and strategize. Carla Harris, managing director of Morgan Stanley, helps readers understand and analyze their own work profile and strategize the best moves to get unstuck.
Harris recommends creating five-year plans to break down the career progress you’d like to make and offers step-by-step guides for figuring out what should go in them. Anyone who wants practical methods of finding more clarity in their work life will appreciate this no-nonsense volume.
'The Work' by Wes Moore
Bestselling author Wes Moore offers the story of his own dramatic career path — from army officer in Afghanistan to White House fellow to Wall Street banker — to illustrate how to find inspiration for living a life of purpose. He discusses other mission-driven people who have inspired him and reflects on lessons he’s learned on his winding path.
This book is a good place to start if you’re concerned with shaping a career filled with meaning and urgency. Moore focuses on issues too often absent from career planning books: courage, service, and risk-taking.
'Reinventing You' by Dorie Clark
Marketing wunderkind Dorie Clark turns her sights on the most important brand: Yours. She addresses those who want a change in their careers, whether they want to move up the ladder, switch to a new field, or strike out on their own.
Using a step-by-step method for figuring out what strengths define you and how you can communicate your unique value, Clark shares her secrets for shaping how others see you. This readable narrative includes some of Clark’s personal stories as well as interesting examples of high-profile personalities who are experts at personal branding, such as Al Gore, Tim Ferriss, and Seth Godin.
'What I Know For Sure' by Oprah Winfrey
One of the most successful women of all time, Oprah Winfrey is an inspiring figure in many ways. Her advice influences millions, and there is much to learn from her path to media stardom.
For 14 years she has shared the secrets of her life and career in a monthly column called “What I Know for Sure” for her magazine, O. This book compiles these valuable lessons, offering readers useful thoughts on everything from resilience to leadership to the value of positivity.
'Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard' by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Stanford University Professor Chip Heath and Duke University Senior Fellow Dan Heath apply psychological insights to the question of how people make changes in their lives. The idea is that we all struggle with a conflict between our rational minds and our emotional impulses, and the best way to shift things is to merge the two into one cooperative whole.
A small step toward change is all anyone starts with, but small steps quickly accumulate into big — even transformative — changes. The Heath brothers unpack how this works, pulling insights from various academic fields and offering thought-provoking anecdotes to illustrate their points and inspire readers.
'What's Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job' by Kerry Hannon
Kerry Hannon tells the story of multiple people who successfully switched careers to pursue their dreams or tap into a dormant part of themselves. These ambitious souls include a police officer who became a country music agent, a TV-producer-turned-winemaker, and a corporate leader who left the rat race to run a major nonprofit that helps those experiencing homelessness.
Each profile includes a Q&A, so readers can hear these career-switchers’ perspectives on their journeys. The book incorporates practical advice, inspirational tips, and sensible approaches you can use to design your own next move.
'Get a Life, Not a Job' by Paula Caligiuri
Rutgers University professor Paula Caligiuri tells readers that it’s time to take control of their own lives. In today’s topsy-turvy work world, being proactive in designing the career you want is the only way to make it happen.
Once you identify what you want your career to look like, you can take targeted steps to make your skills match up and get your momentum going toward building a better outcome. Caligiuri profiles many people who have done just what she is advocating and are all the better for it.
Whether you’re an employee or an entrepreneur, making strategic choices will make a big difference to your career — and life — satisfaction.
'The Art of Possibility, Transforming Professional Personal Life' by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander
During his time as the Boston Philharmonic Orchestral conductor, Benjamin Zander noticed that the talented musicians he worked with had many habits in common that led to their success. He teamed up with psychotherapist Rosamund Stone Zander to tell the rest of us how we can tap into those same habits to make our own dreams come true.
This book is about inspiration as much as it is specifics of how to succeed. Its central concept is the power of possibility — the idea that we canreach our goals and live the lives we want if we believe it.
Have you read?
'Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life' by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
It’s one thing to conceptualize the life you want, but another thing entirely to actually build that life. Stanford University professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans adapted advice for doing so from their popular course about leveraging design principles to improve one’s life and career.
The authors provide a five-step process: be curious, try stuff, reframe problems, know it’s a process, and ask for help. Advice on how to approach each step makes the process approachable.
This is the kind of book you should keep after you’re done reading it; chances are you’ll want to dip into it again and again.