Sometimes you just want to curl up and get lost in the pages of an inspiring book. There’s nothing quite like it —especially when you feel stuck in real life.
The most powerful books have the ability to touch your heart and mind. They possess the unique power to lift you up when you feel down and provide reassurance that you are not alone in your struggles. Whether you are fighting an internal battle or seeking clarity and inspiration, there is a book for whatever you’re searching for.
The books listed below are all ones I have read in my lifetime —whether at age thirteen, in my twenties, or last year. While there are so many others I have found inspiring or influential in my life, these are the best of the best that I would (and have) recommend to my close friends.
Read if you are struggling to juggle it all
If you are feeling overwhelmed, frustrated or lost in your daily shuffle, then one of these two very different books might be the cure you need.
1. The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brené Brown
A self-help book that feels like you’re talking with your best friend, The Gifts of Imperfection empowers the reader to implement a more wholehearted way of living. The author walks you through the ten guideposts to embrace authenticity, humility, and compassion in your life. But, more importantly, she outlines the obstacles and unrealistic expectations that society has instilled that may cause you to get in your own way.
Brown invites you to join the “wholehearted revolution” of owning and sharing your truth —because “in this world, choosing authenticity and worthiness is an absolute act of resistance.”
No list of inspirational books for women is complete without (at least) one book by the ever-so-wise Brené. I forced myself to pick just one for this list, but if you devour The Gifts of Imperfection as I did and want something similar to read after, I’d recommend her I Thought it was Just Me (but it isn’t). You really can’t go wrong with any of her brilliant work.
2. Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, by Emily Nagoski* & Amelia Nagoski
Part empowerment and part education, Burnout begins with a fascinating sociology lesson covering the state of modern women. Explaining the historical, societal, and emotional factors that contribute to the high rate of burnout in females, the first section outlines the gender gap with such relatable explanations that I felt like the Nagoskis were inside my head.
Armed with the harsh facts and scientific evidence, Emily and Amelia provide advice and strategies for women to take control of their situations. They compassionately guide you through exercises to reassess your goals and mindset, and prioritize your wellness. The entire reading experience is a roller-coaster of emotions, from the eye-opening and infuriating factoids to the supportive and inspirational advice.
Reading Burnout was eye-opening, empowering me during a pivotal time when I was newly divorced and trying to figure out my new life as a single, working mother. This book struck a chord in my soul, reassuring me that I wasn’t alone in my frustrations as a woman and guiding me to create a life I love. A mission I’ve lived by ever since.
*Note: You may recognize the authors’ last name from Emily’s revolutionary book, Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life, which cracked the code on female sexuality and pleasure. A vastly different topic, but a valuable read nonetheless.
Read if you are trying to understand yourself (or others)
Looking to dive into your psyche and get a grasp of what really makes you tick? Try one of these reads exploring two different personality assessments to get the inside scoop on why you are the way you are.
3. Please Understand Me II, by David Keirsey
This classic take on the Myers-Briggs personality assessment has been a favorite of counselors, academics, and everyday citizens since its release in 1978 —and for good reason. The Myers-Briggs (MBTI) method evaluates personality types based on the four arenas of human temperament and characteristics, resulting in 16 distinct personality types.
Keirsey and Bates take the MBTI concept a few steps further in Please Understand Me by analyzing each personality type, providing relatable examples and easy-to-follow explanations. The key to the author’s success comes with the everyday context they provide for each type and how each’s attributes influence their interactions with others.
This innovative book is a valuable resource for anyone interested in self-discovery, personal development, and building stronger connections with others. By understanding the different personality types, readers can better appreciate the diversity of human behavior and improve their relationships using practical strategies for effective communication and conflict resolution.
I read the original version in one of my middle school classes almost thirty years ago, and I’ve reread pieces of it many times in the decades since. I find such comfort in reading through my personality type and uncovering bits of myself in the descriptions that I still have the tattered old copy perched on my bookshelf.
4. The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery, by Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile
This compassionate assessment of the Enneagram will have you nodding your head in agreement as you flip through the detailed descriptions of each personality type. The authors take the unique approach of evaluating the entire spectrum of internal motivators —the good, the bad, and the ugly— for each Enneagram, explaining how these drivers influence our relationships, work ethic, communication, and self-worth.
Cron and Stabile outline the Enneagrams using a religious (Christian) lens, highlighting the spiritual connection within each type. However, the practical application and concrete examples in The Road Back to You are easy to digest and correlate to your everyday interactions, regardless of your spiritual preferences.
Although I was (begrudgingly) convinced to read this with a group of girlfriends for book club, I was pleasantly surprised by the revelations I uncovered within. Through shedding light on the “why” of each Enneagram, I found a new appreciation and understanding for my friends and family members, my coworkers —even people I didn’t particularly like. And ultimately, for my Type 8 Challenger self as well.
Read if you are at a crossroads in life (& need a push)
Every so often, you may find yourself presented with a difficult choice or feeling uncertain about your path in life. Navigate your way through these crossroads by finding inspiration in one of these three inspiring memoirs.
5. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, by Elizabeth Gilbert
From the outside, Liz Gilbert appeared to be living every 30-something woman’s dream: a successful career, a handsome and doting husband, and a beautiful house. But looks can be deceiving —on the inside, she felt empty and lost. After enduring an ugly divorce and a volatile affair, Liz decides she needs a change of scenery to find herself. Well, three changes of scenery actually.
Liz embarks on a year of self-discovery around the world, residing in three vastly different home-away-from-homes and narrating the whole experience for her fortunate reader. She consumes authentic Italian pizza and carafes of vino in Rome. She pours herself into servitude and meditation at a remote ashram in India. And finally, she finds joy and peace as an apprentice to an endearing medicine man in Bali.
Eat, Pray, Love is one of the most iconic books for modern women, reaching such popularity that it was quickly adapted for the film edition. I credit this book, read in my twenties, as planting a seed in my mind that the life of my dreams might not be what I had initially thought I wanted. And more importantly, following your own path, no matter how unknown, is the first step to achieving true fulfillment.
6. Untamed, by Glennon Doyle
Like many modern women, Glennon Doyle was conditioned her whole life to be good: a good daughter, a good wife, a good mother, a good worker, and a good woman. But after years of discontent and fighting off her internal naysayers, something inside her snapped —resulting in a life-altering journey to claim her life as her own.
In her most moving and inspiring memoir, Doyle shares a collection of short stories documenting her transition from the obedient “good” woman to Untamed. She lays all her dirty and beautiful truths on the line for her reader, sharing intimate details of her problems with alcoholism, body image struggles, the conscious uncoupling with her ex-husband and father of her children, and the beautiful love story with her now-wife, Abby.
If ever a book embodied the Breakthrough Loading motto “Challenge the status quo to create your best life,” it is most definitely Untamed. I couldn’t put it down, reading into the wee hours of the morning two days in a row until I finished —exhausted, physically and emotionally, and inspired to follow Glennon’s example of creating a life that was authentically my own.
A must-read for every modern woman.
7. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed
Follow along with Strayed on her solo 1,100-mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail as she weaves her personal stories of loss, addiction, and heartbreak into the vivid details of her expedition across the desolate wild.
The memoir reads like a slower-paced action-adventure novel with an inspirational twist, making it impossible not to get caught up in the challenging physical trials and emotional reflections along with Cheryl. Through her experiences on the trail, join the author as she navigates the inner journey of self-discovery and growth —and moves her readers to do the same.
One of the most influential books for women today, Wild was also adapted into the popular 2014 film version. But, as usual, the book was far better.
Paper or Digital? (A note about reading preferences)
Everyone has their preferences and habits when it comes to reading. I always preferred to read physical books —I love to feel the weight of the words in my hands as well as my mind— until a few years ago.
I received my first Kindle Paperwhite for Mother’s Day two years ago and have loved and used it daily ever since. I found a cute case that makes me smile and has a hand strap to hold it comfortably. I easily pack it (along with any digital download I could want) with me on all my trips and vacations. And if I ever find myself bored in a pinch (like the dreaded waiting room at the doctor’s office), I can pull up the Kindle app on my phone and pick up where I left off at home.
When I find a book that really resonates with me, knowing I will want to share it with friends or reread it, I actually still purchase a physical copy for my bookshelf. This is a special honor reserved for only the most impactful books, such as those listed above.
Whatever your preference, the most important consideration is to read in the way that feels natural to you. Hardcover, paperback, or e-book —you can’t go wrong with the right book.
Begin your next chapter with the right book
“Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled ‘This could change your life’” -Helen Exley
The next time you feel stuck, lost, or dissatisfied in life, I hope you find what you’re looking for hidden within the pages of one of these treasured books. Like a trusted friend, each has provided me with the comfort and encouragement I needed during the many chapters of my life.
What books have made an impact on your life? Have any inspired you to make a change or helped you through a tough time? Share your favorites in the comments!