Many make the mistake of thinking that you need to feel courageous and confident before you take that first brave step. In fact it’s the other way around: You have to act while trembling. Doing the thing that scares you emboldens your courage. You must be willing to feel uncomfortable and awkward—and resist the urge to run in the other direction—when it’s time to be brave. Rather than waiting for a magical moment when you feel filled with strength, these ten tales of daring will inspire you to act courageously even when you are afraid.
Reading biographies of courageous individuals such as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela stirs and inspires our souls, and we recommend those books as well. But because the achievements of these icons can seem so far beyond our own capabilities, their stories help us dream but not necessarily to act or accomplish. For that we need to start a bit closer to earth—with books written by “ordinary” human beings or spiritual teachers, filled with well-chosen words of motivation and inspiration, laced with the humility and wisdom that comes from having lived and learned. By reading these books we might even find the hero inside ourselves.
Theodore Roosevelt once famously said, “It is not the critic who counts…the credit belongs to the man…in the arena.” In Daring Greatly, professor at University of Houston and motivational speaker and writer Brene Brown challenges readers to take the risk and step into the arena—whatever that may be for each person. Discover that vulnerability is not weakness, it is actually the quickest path to courage. By daring greatly and sharing our feelings and experiences, Brene writes, we find a life of meaning and common humanity.
Inspiring words: “Sometimes when we dare to walk into the arena the greatest critic we face is ourselves.”
Newspaper sports columnist and author Mitch Albom had a college professor named Morrie Schwartz, who was also a trusted mentor. Finding him 20 years later, Mitch chronicles the life wisdom and insights Morrie shares with him during his last few months of life. Morrie’s treasured advice comes as gifts of courage to every reader: “Do the kinds of things that come from the heart. When you do, you won’t be dissatisfied. You won’t be envious. You won’t be longing for somebody else’s things. On the contrary, you will be overwhelmed with what comes back.”
Inspiring words: “The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. And you have to be strong enough to say, if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it.”
3. The Light of the World: A Memoir
by Elizabeth Alexander
When acclaimed poet and Pulitzer Prize finalist Elizabeth Alexander suddenly loses her husband, she strikes out on a quest for meaning, reflecting on her love story and devastating loss. This beautiful memoir reminds us of life’s most important blessings of love, art, family and community.
Inspiring words: “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don’t let yourself lose me. Nearby is the country they call life. You will know it by its seriousness. Give me your hand.”
4. The Last Lecture
by Randy Pausch
Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch was diagnosed with terminal cancer when he gave his last lecture, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” A wonderful book to read and reread, The Last Lecture is about realizing the value of time and acquiring the drive to overcome obstacles in order to pursue your dreams. Finish this book with a renewed desire to really live.
Inspiring words: “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”
5. The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself
by Michael A. Singer
Spiritual teacher Michael Singer shows us how to let go of negative thinking patterns and expand our consciousness through meditation and mindfulness. Remove the limits of what you think is possible for you by understanding your inner energy.
Inspiring words: “Only you can take inner freedom away from yourself, or give it to yourself. Nobody else can.”
6. When Breath Becomes Air
by Paul Kalanithi
Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi was constantly striving and deferring gratification for his future until he became a patient faced with a stage IV lung cancer diagnosis. His powerful memoir seeks to answer what really matters in life and what mortality can teach us about living. As one reviewer said, this book will leave you “stunned and hopeful at the same time” with his quiet resilience.
Inspiring words: “The fact of death is unsettling, yet there is no other way to live.”
American teacher of Tibetan Buddhism Pema Chodron writes that we can let our lives make us bitter or make us better. We can hide with fear or we can evolve to more compassionate and kind people. Awaken to the goodness in you and connect with others by accepting yourself and your imperfections.
Inspiring words: “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man's-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.”
8. The Alchemist
by Paulo Coelho
Writer and philosopher Paulo Coelho set out to write a book about his own life—as someone who took too long to go in pursuit of his dreams because he thought his dreams impossible. Instead he wrote The Alchemist, a mystical fable of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who goes in search of worldly treasure, which became an international bestseller. Through his journey, we learn the value of listening to our inner voice and heart. After you read this awe-inspiring classic, get a renewed sense of determination to pursue your dreams.
Inspiring words: “Don't give in to your fears. If you do, you won't be able to talk to your heart.”
9. Sit, Walk, Don’t Talk: How I Survived a Silent Meditation Retreat
by Jennifer Howd
In her debut memoir, Sit, Walk, Don’t Talk, Jennifer Howd takes us inside her journey to a silent meditation retreat. Get a unique perspective inside her mind as she goes to battle with her inner critic. With compassion, insight and humor, she takes the reader on a personal walk through her mind and shows us the liberation that comes from accepting our imperfect selves.
Inspiring words: “You don't have to necessarily go away for days on end," she says, "but just sitting still and being quiet and being with yourself and just allowing yourself to be and not do is so beneficial on so many levels. It's kind of a radical idea to do these days you know because we're so busy."
by Sophia Amoruso
Though a lighter read, #GIRLBOSS is serious about empowerment. If you’ve ever felt like your path to success is filled with blunders and naysayers, get fired up with author Sophia Amoruso. Broke and directionless in her 20s, Sophia turned a hobby of selling vintage clothes into a successful fashion retail business. Today she’s the founder, CEO and Creative Director of Nasty Gal, a $100+ million fashion retailer with more than 350 employees. Her success story will inspire yours.
Inspiring words: “No matter where you are in life, you'll save a lot of time by not worrying too much about what other people think about you. The earlier in your life that you can learn that, the easier the rest of it will be.”
Read more: 10 Best Books to Help Achieve Your Goals
Sandra Bilbray is a contributing editor to Live Happy, and Founder and CEO of themediaconcierge.net.