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The School of Lifes Guide to

Realising your Potential

The School of Lifes Guide to Realising your Potential

We all have dreams and ambitions that we havent realised, often because we dont know where to start. The School of Life has designed this guide to help you express your passions and realise your potential in imaginative and constructive ways with a view to helping you bring your cherished idea or project to life. Weve pulled in advice from great thinkers and doers throughout history and given you ways to apply their insights to your own life through a series of practical exercises. Weve also compiled a list of the best books to read for further inspiration as well as loads of other useful tips. This is a resource that you can refer to for guidance as and when you need it. You dont have to read it cover-to-cover in one sitting. You might choose instead to focus rst on the issues that seem most important to you. Read a chapter before bed or complete an activity during your lunch break - whatever works best for you. Its a space for you to think, so feel free to make it your own. And if it sparks thoughts or ideas that youd like to share with us and with others tell us about it here:

2011 The School of Lifes Guide to Realising Your Potential


The School of Lifes Guide to Realising your Potential

Whats your Story? Sources of Inspiration Facing Fears Embracing Limitations Money, Money, Money Connecting with Others Identifying Values Cultivating Virtues Freedom and Commitments Taking Action Bookshelf Study Notes Room for Thought 2 4 5 6 8 10 12 14 16 17 18 20 21

2011 The School of Lifes Guide to Realising Your Potential





When contemplating how to realise your potential, one of the most difcult lessons to learn is that your story is not wholly your own. You did not choose its beginning, you wont decide its end, and most of the details on the way will be shaped by other forces and random chances. The place of our birth, the character of our parents, the worldview our upbringing instilled in us, our education, the chance meetings that made friends how can these be shaped into a story that actually fulls us? The key to a life lived well is to know yourself. And in knowing yourself, you will be able to work with the ow of yourself, rather than against it. If you embrace your story, it will powerfully resource you, and you will be able to write far more of the chapters of your life than at rst seemed possible. Its not a process you can entirely control, though it is the source of everything that will feel most meaningful and true to you. It is also called discovering your vocation. The interesting aspect of nding a vocation is that it feels like you are offering your service to a higher ideal, or becoming part of some tremendous tradition. Artists, scientists, explorers and parents all feel it (on the good days, at least!). After all, what does vocation mean, but to be called. Its as if you lose yourself in what you do, though in losing yourself, you discover yourself. The process also often feels like waiting, reects the great novelist, Philip Pullman. He calls it shing at night. He says that to tell a good story, you have to attend to the powers that give shape to life. Fish are not interested in any rationally-worked-out plans concocted far away on shore. The fact that it is shing at night not day is also important. The night time is a period of darkness and disorientation. Are you worried about fullling your potential, feeling the anxiety and sense of being lost? Trust it, Pullman implies. For it is only out of the darkness, and the capacity to rest with the unknown, that the forces you dont quite control might begin to work for you, and lead you towards the light. What he is alluding to is the fact that your story, like any good story, originates in the unconscious. Pullman continues: With every voyage you learn a little more about the bait these sh like; and youre practised enough to wait for a twitch on the line and not snatch at it too soon. And theres deep value in this active waiting. Be alert. Join the dots. Make sense of the signs. And then run with them.


2011 The School of Lifes Guide to Realising Your Potential





Activity: Imagine you are introducing yourself to strangers by describing three short vignettes from your life. Write down the three incidents you would use. What do they tell you about your story, about who you are, and who you might be?

Hello my name is

2011 The School of Lifes Guide to Realising Your Potential


Who inspires you?



in your Community among your Family & Friends

in Entertainment & The Arts

in Popular Culture

in History

We all draw our inspiration from different sources and from all aspects of life. What is it that inspires you? You can share your inspirations with others: and on

2011 The School of Lifes Guide to Realising Your Potential


Facing Fears
The frightening thing about our fears is that they leave us never quite sure what were fearful of. Why were we terried of making that speech at the wedding, when everyone in front of us was a friend? Why does the blank sheet of paper, awaiting the imprint of the writers pen, cause that same writer to freeze? Its not at all clear, and if it was, we could confront N our fears, reason with them, and watch them dissolve. They dont, but in their dark obscurity, grow all the stronger. No passion, wrote Edmund Burke, so robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear. The analytical psychologist, Carl Jung, called it our shadow. It is those murky parts of ourselves that lost half which were not comfortable with, and that we attempt to bury as a result. For the introverted character, it is the fear of crowds that looms like a spectre, which is utterly bemusing to the extroverted character, who only loves performing for others. Conversely, for the extroverted character, it is the fear of sitting quietly in a still room alone with themselves that makes them panic, which is utterly bemusing to the introverted character, who loves spending time on their own. Jung argued that the extraordinary thing about our shadowy fears is that if we can face them, we discover they are the source of extraordinary inspiration and invaluable vigour. This is the story behind a thousand reality TV shows, where individuals cook a meal, climb a mountain or teach a class. They never knew they had it in them. There were tears and terrors along the way. But with the right support, and a little courage, theyve faced their fears, and faced them down.

Its not so much that theyve overcome their fears, though. Many actors still get stage fright. Most competitors are wired with nerves before the big race. Rather, theyve known their shadow and have recruited it to work with them, not against them. They can redeploy its energy. Instead of having only half of What are you afraid of? themselves available, they Draw your shadow. have access to the whole of themselves. So the trick is not to try to reason your fears away. If they are real fears you wont be able to do so. Rather, explore your fears, and get into them in a reasonably safe way. Do something or go somewhere that youd normally nd a little intimidating. You may nd that a fear that once caused you to freeze can actually resource you.

Name your fear. My fear is

2011 The School of Lifes Guide to Realising Your Potential


Embracing Limitations

Why would the gods be jealous of we mortals, the ancient Greeks used to ask. After all, they have everything, as they sit sipping nectar in the Elysian elds. We, though, have to struggle, to ght, to admit failure in our lives. And yet, the poets tell us, they gaze down in envy. Why? Its because our limitations are actually the making of us. Working within the constraints of our mortal frames gives us moral weight. Its easy for a god to be great. But human greatness is impressive because it arises against the odds. This is a lesson that inspires Nicholas Nassim Taleb, the bestselling author of The Black Swan. The metaphor may be familiar. The black swan is the extreme, unexpected thing that will destroy all your certainties, that all swans are white. So, the trick is to be able to live in extremistan, the real world in which uncertainties will catch you unawares and will expose you to your limitations. To put it another way, the key to wisdom is not attempting to control everything, which is like trying to overcome your limits. Believing you can is, in truth, an excess of pride or a craving for power. And because it can never be achieved, it will leave you stuck in a rut. Instead, the trick is to recognise the thresholds of your knowledge, the constraints of your ignorance, and turn them to your advantage. Taleb also calls it making an omelette with broken eggs. Its the things that are imperfect that need to be embraced, as opposed to dreaming of a perfect world. Take artists, who embrace the physical limitations of their materials to produce masterpieces. Or composers who take on the limits inherent in the 12 notes of the scale over which musical instruments range just 12 notes! to produce sounds that moves us to tears. They show that limitations are actually gifts. The apparently leaden strictures are creative gold. There could be no pots without clay, painting without oils, music without notes. So dont lament your limitations. They are actually the key to your success. A bird might imagine that itd be easier to y in an atmosphere without air. But it needs the friction and wind resistance to climb high into the sky. Similarly, that which feels like it would drag you down is, in truth, that which liberates you. Work out how to work it. Dont fear the black swans. The gods will be jealous once more.

2011 The School of Lifes Guide to Realising Your Potential


Embracing Limitations



To gain a feel for how much can be done in spite of distinct constraints, try these exercises. 1. How many words can you make up using the letters from this word: C O N S T R A I N T S (Hint: there are, in fact, well over 300.) 2. How many uses can you make of a brick? (Some starters: blunt a knife, prop open a door, desk tidy (in the dent), paperweight, build a house, stub a toe, crush a beetle) 3. See how many ways you can arrange just 6 of your books on the shelf. (Warning: there are over 720 combinations.)




2011 The School of Lifes Guide to Realising Your Potential


Money, Money, Money

Money, or the lack of it, is perhaps the most commonly perceived barrier to achieving aims and goals. Its the if-I-won-the-lottery complaint. My mortgage, my children, my pension, my pleasures demand of me the steady income I currently enjoy. Mortgaging all that for the sake of some fantasy is both foolhardy and impossible, practically speaking. Or so the argument inside our heads goes.

Values Worth

In truth, our relationship with money is more subtle, and was brilliantly analysed by the economist John Maynard Keynes. He developed the theories that helped put the world back together after the Second World War roughly that governments should spend during periods of recession and save during periods of growth, so that the ups and downs of the economic cycle are smoothed out. But, no mean philosopher too, he was also fascinated by what money means to us. In a word, its relationship. Money mediates our relationships. In terms of our interpersonal relationships, money is the medium of exchange whereby we transfer things of value to one another. Your bread, dear baker, will feed me, and I gladly exchange it for a few coins, which will buy something of value for you. Note that the coins of themselves are worthless. It is only insomuch as they facilitate our acquisition of things we want or need that they gain their worth. Money doesnt just oil the wheels of consumption. It mediates our relationship with the future too. If I have a few coins in my pocket, I know Ill have lunch tomorrow. If I have a decent pension plan, I know Ill be able to retire in comfort. Money is like grain in the barn, though its much more versatile. It is a store of protection against the adversities the future might throw at us. But note again, that this money only gains its worth should we need it to fend off such adversities. Otherwise it turns to dust, like the surplus grain in the barn. In short, money is not the same thing as value. It is a means to an end and not an end in itself, though the risk is that we frequently forget that money is good only when it can be put to some good. Instead of seeing it as mediating our relationships, with others or our future, and thereby realising its worth, we fall into the delusions of having a relationship with money itself, as if a healthy bank balance is itself a fullment of our potential. What matters is the use to which each person puts their wealth. But the confusion is hard to shake off, as its common in our culture. How many kids dont take delight simply from the number of coins in their pockets? But shake it off, we must.

Desire Freedom Power

2011 The School of Lifes Guide to Realising Your Potential


Money, Money, Money

If money is of itself no good, it is also of itself not bad. It does enable us to acquire things of worth. The trick is to keep focused on what is of worth to you and, when it comes to realising your potential, be clear that is not money. It is the use to which you can put your nancial resources. And youd be surprised how far a little money can go in realising that goal. Personal enrichment is not the same as becoming more enriched as a person. To what better ends can you put that means called money? The exercise below invites you to consider the value for money of certain things in your life. Start by making a list of the ten most signicant things that youve acquired or done in the past three years. This might include a consumer purchase, a holiday, a course you enjoyed, or a memorable walk in nature. Next, place two numbers by each item. The rst number is from 1 to 10 and is based on economic cost where 1 is the lowest economic cost and 10 the highest. Now add a second number, ranking your items from 1 to 10 in order of the value they hold for you in your life. Plot these items on the blank graph below. An example of how one individual has plotted their information is provided. For them, their dog Bounce rates 9 in terms of value, and 1 in terms of economic cost. Their holiday in France represents 8 in terms of cost, and 2 in terms of value.

Values Worth Desire

My 10 most signicant things 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Economic Cost

Life Value
Freedom Power

10 9 8 7 Life Value 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 1



10 9 8 7 Life Value 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Part-time course Retreat Pilates Weekend TV Redecoration France Holiday



9 10

Economic Cost

Economic Cost

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Connecting with Others

You need others if you are to realise your potential. Even solo adventurers cant walk to the South Pole or sail around the world entirely on their own. Behind them are teams of people providing them with support, know-how and inspiration. No man is an island, is a well-known saying from the poet, John Donne. Humans do not thrive when isolated from others. We often need someone with more experience or wisdom, like a good friend or mentor, to help guide us through life and make the right decisions. The concept of mentorship stretches all the way back to the Ancient Greeks. The term itself comes from a character called Mentor in Homers Odyssey. Furthermore the most famous Greek philosophers Socrates, Aristole and Plato are an example of the power of mentorship. Socrates taught Plato. Plato taught Aristotle. Aristotle taught Alexander the Great. Throughout history there are also examples of friendships that provide cases of mutual mentoring. Take for instance, the friendship between the Romantic poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. Wordsworth wrote poetry and Coleridge threw his efforts into his philosophical work. The two inspired each other to greater goals for their art, and their energies combined were greater than the sum of their parts. A friend or mentor can open up new worlds. Another way to think about this, is that the people that can help you are found in the various communities of which you can be part. What communities have, in their people, are vibrant sources of customs and traditions, wisdom and rules. It is in communities that you can learn the skills, and gain access to the means, to achieve what you seek. They can also show you things about yourself that you simply never knew.

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Connecting with Others

Connect the dots: Identify ve people within your circle of friends and colleagues who might be helpful to you in taking your project or idea further. Now look outside your existing network and identify ve other people or groups you might reach out to for a new perspective. Arrange to email, call or meet with them.

1 2 3


5 6 7
117 123

8 9 10




128 110

108 2 3 1 106


104 30 57 27 26 25 44 45 48 50 53 36 38 40 43 54 34 46 4748 35 37 51 52 39 41 42 32 33 31 61 56 55 63 64 69 62 75 83 86 87 77 79 8184 85 73 88 91 92 93 94 96 95 98 74 58 59 60 90

97 103 102 89 101 99 100

23 10 18 1415 19 22 89 20 21 13 11 12 16 17

29 28 24

72 65 66 70 71 67

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Identifying Values
Values are the wellsprings for action. A concern for the poor is red by a sense of injustice. A passion for the piano emerges from a conviction of its aesthetic worth. That which is meaningful, motivates. That which has signicance, sustains. What you value is what you love to do. It might also be called having integrity. Polonius makes it seem so simple. In Hamlet, Shakespeare has him say the now famous words to his son, Laertes. This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. Here, then, would be a person with integrity whole and undivided, embodying the moral weight of the admirable soul, because the person with integrity is someone who is above reproach. We may not agree with their actions. But if we know them to act honourably and with honesty, we accept them. They are people with values. For the novelist Iris Murdoch, it is love that is the key issue. She understood that we humans are driven by our passions, though we can be driven to distraction, to apathy, to action, or to fullment. Our life problem is one of the transformation of energy, she wrote, adding that the best catalyst for that transformation is values. They may stem from a love of nature, of beauty, of craft, of ecology, of pleasure, of community, of expression, of justice. But with this painful realisation that something other than myself exists, lives can be transformed. Values might also be dened as those qualities that are ends in themselves. They are the things we call good. The obvious case in point are human beings themselves. Murdoch concurred. To treat human beings merely as means to some other end is to be involved in the practice more commonly known as slavery. Further, its not just the slave that is demeaned in such situations, never achieving their potential. The master too becomes tainted by their moral vacuity: no one can claim to nd their fullment when it necessitates the degradation of others. A third aspect. Something that is valuable is not necessarily useful, or at least, its use is not the prime reason for pursuing it; its utility may not be immediately obvious. Consider the geometric shapes known as conic sections. They were studied for thousands of years, by mathematicians such as Pythagoras, for no reason other than the value of knowledge. The science of conic sections was an abstract, strictly useless science, though one that drove the passions of many over the centuries and years. Then, suddenly, in the late seventeenth century, one Isaac Newton published his theory of universal gravitation. It turns out that the characteristics of conic sections are absolutely vital to it. Today, human beings completely depend on a fascination that for millennia seemed useless. Conic sections keep satellites in space, keep aircraft in the sky. After the idea, there is plenty of time to learn the technology, reected industrial designer James Dyson.

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Identifying Values
re adventu





en afu


Skill fulne ss


Activity: To thine own self be true. Shakespeare, Hamlet So you need to be clear about the values that inspire you. Put these values in order for yourself. Add others that occur to you.

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Cultivating Virtues
irtues are those aspects of character, or habits of mind, or ways of operating, that lead to positive outcomes. To talk about virtue is to talk about the links between what you do, who you are, and a fullling, ourishing life. The list of virtues is a long one but it includes courage, wisdom, modesty, trust, sympathy, love, hope, generosity and self-control. That said, the word virtue is a tricky one in the modern world. The virtuous person sounds more like a prude than someone to emulate. But there is nothing prim or pompous about virtues. They are, in fact, entirely practical. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle is our man here. He dened virtues in a particular way that is very helpful when it comes to cultivating them. The virtue is found at the mid-point between two extremes. Take courage. It lies at the midpoint between cowardice and foolhardiness. The coward is the person who never takes any risks in life. The foolhardy character is one who doesnt care about the risks, but just goes for it. The courageous person is the one who takes the measure of things and is able to act with a clear head and a brave heart. Or think about generosity. It lies at the midpoint between wastefulness and stinginess. So, the generous person has the habit of being wise in their giving and responsible in their husbandry. Or again, self-control. Its neither overindulgent nor apathetic, but characterised by right judgement. This analysis is useful because it offers a dynamic conception of the virtues required to realise your potential. You can, as it were, practice them. If on one occasion you go too far in one direction, then the next time, pull back a little, and assess whether that worked better. In fact, the virtues are only discovered with practice, Aristotle believed. Its like learning to ride a bike or to swim. The virtues are a kind of skillfulness. He called it practical intelligence. Further, and also like learning to ride a bike, once youve got it, youve probably got it for life. Reasoning can help, like judging that youve achieved that mid-point. And learning from a master is very helpful, which is why it is so good to have role-models and heroes. They are exemplars in the virtues you value the most.

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Cultivating Virtues
Activity: Below is a list of virtues we might need in life, according to a variety of philosophers.

accepting, accountable, ambitious, assertive, benevolent, brave, careful, caring, charitable, cautious, clean, committed, compassionate, condent, considerate, cooperative, courageous, courteous, creative, curious, deant, dependable, detached, determined, devoted, diligent, discerning, discrete, disciplined, eloquent, empathic, enthusiastic, fair-minded, faithful, exible, forbearing, forgiving, friendly, frugal, generous, gentle, grateful, helpful, honest, honourable, hopeful, humble, humorous, idealistic, impartial, industrious, joyful, kindly, loving, loyal, magnanimous, modest, obedient, open, orderly, patient, persevering, punctual, purposeful, reliable, resolute, resourceful, respectful, responsible, restrained, seless, sensitive, sincere, spontaneous, straightforward, strong, tactful, thrifty, tolerant, tough, trusting, understanding, wise, zealous

Reect, on your list below and what this tells you about yourself, perhaps asking these questions: (i) Do any of the lists surprise you? (ii) Do you think your best friend would recognise you in these lists? (iii) Are any of the virtues under the headings WITH EFFORT or NEVER ones you need to realise your potential?

(iv) Do any of your ALL THE TIME or OFTEN virtues actually hinder you in life? (v) Which of the ones under SOMETIMES would you like to be able to move to OFTEN or ALL THE TIME? (vi) Do you use the virtues under ALL THE TIME or OFTEN in your life?

List each of the virtues beneath the heading that seems appropriate to you. (If you nd patience difcult, write it under WITH EFFORT, and so on.)

All the time



With effort


The School of Life 2011 Workbook How to Realise Your Potential

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Freedom and Commitments

Theres an obvious, crucial and difcult move you have to make, if you are to realise your potential. The potential must become actual. What you want to do or be must become what you do or are. Fundamentally, this is a question of freedom, which is to say that its one of the trickiest issues to negotiate today, for the very reason that we have so much of it. It started in the classroom on the day when you were rst asked, What do you want to be when you grow up? Your imagination kicked in and you had that delicious sense that the sky was the limit. Football player, actress, astronaut, brain surgeon. They were all possible. And one of the hardest lessons youve learnt since is that this childish dreaming is just wishful thinking. Chances are, youre not any of them. But a culture of high consumption is, in a way, one that insists we keep dreaming. You need never be stuck with what you have, a thousand advertisements tell us, for there are always new choices to be made. And more choice is equated with more freedom. And yet, as Jean-Paul Sartre famously remarked, we are condemned to be free, condemned because that means we must make our own choices. That is so hard to do for the very reason that there are so many to make. African drums or classical guitar for your self-expression? Meditation or yoga for your wellbeing? Spearmint or peppermint for your toothpaste? Too much choice, too much freedom, is incapacitating. To realise your potential you must commit. In truth, a deeper freedom is only realised when youve made a commitment. Its like the painter who is wonderfully free with the brush only because years ago they committed to learn the ways of paint. Oddly, then, its not freedom that nally helps you to realise your potential, but commitment. You need some freedom to make a choice. But its not until youve made a choice that you can really live.


Your answer is

The question is this: To what are you to be committed?

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Taking Action
Action springs from who you are, which is to say that if you vow to do something that it is completely against your character, then you are very unlikely to do it. So change must stem from a sense of personal experiment, excitement and exploration. Its about irting with new possibilities for who you might be. Its about discovering through doing. And less tends to be more. Trying out something relatively modest, discovering you enjoyed it and did it well, and then trying something more challenging, is far more likely to work than setting yourself up to3 climb Mount Everest rst. Its about learning to walk before you run.



Entrepreneur Richard Branson put it this way: When people are put into positions slightly above what they would expect, theyre apt to excel. Note the word doing the work in that sentence, slightly. If you put yourself in a position way above what youd expect, youre apt to fail.

Its also good 2 not to make bold commitments ahead of time. This might be called the New-Year-Resolution fallacy. Many 1 smokers nd it easier to quit by saying they wont smoke today, rather than that theyll never smoke again ever. Similarly, dont feel you have to commit to a whole new way of life, but instead run an experimental test alongside the life you are currently leading. That might mean signing up for an evening class, volunteering for something new at work, visiting someone outside of your usual circle at the weekend. The extra-curricular can become your main line of work in time. But give it time.

That said, and as the world famous businessman Ray Kroc notes: Where there is no risk there can be no pride in achievement and consequently no happiness. So you need to be prepared to be bold in your realism. A good way of thinking about this is to be clear about what is adventurous for you. Or to put it the other way around, ask yourself what you do without a second thought that seems quite extraordinary to your friend. It might be writing handwritten letters, or taking your nephew to the playground on Saturdays. Then, ask what they do that seems beyond you and ask yourself again, whether it can be so difcult. But perhaps the most important thing is to do something. Dont do nothing. The smallest step is still a step forward, whereas no step will take you nowhere. British Politician Douglas Hurd put it well: Inertia can gain its own momentum.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
TO DO LIST List actions from small steps to big leaps which you will take to further an idea or project.

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Book Shelf
This selection has been prescribed for you by The School of Lifes Bibilotherapist

The Minds Eye Oliver Sacks The neurologist and practising physician uses this book as an opportunity to dissect his own face blindness, as well as many tales of hugely intriguing brain malfunction in others. What makes the book fascinating and inspiring is his descriptions of the way that the brain compensates for these quirks, by deepening other areas of consciousness. Read this book to be inspired about the ways that you can overcome serious obstacles and live a richer and more fullling life. The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle This book draws on research to reveal that, far from being some abstract mystical power xed at birth, ability really can be created and nurtured. It explains what is really going on when apparently unremarkable people suddenly make a major leap forward. Coyle travels the world to look at nine hotspots where phenomenal talent has been found, from baseball elds in the Caribbean to a classical music academy in New York. Coyle examines these communities to discover what they have in common, then explains their secrets, showing the reader ways that he or she can increase their own performance in their chosen eld.

THE MINDS EYE Oliver Sacks


Henderson the Rain King Saul Bellow


The Liar stephen fry

The Guide R K Narayan

A House for Mister Biswas VS Naipaul

The Element: How finding your passion changes everything Ken Robinson with Lou Arnica


How Can I Make A Difference Tim Drake

Siddhartha Hermann Hesse

A House for Mister Biswas by VS Naipaul This epic book is imbued with a great sense of humour and is full of fabulous descriptions of nature in Trinidad. The book explores notions of identity, ambition and material success, centering around one mans aspirations to be a person of substance; it speaks to all cultures about feelings of belonging and validity, and of how we humans inhabit our landscape. This book will make you think about your place in the world, and will introduce you to new aspects of identity. How Can I Make A Difference by Tim Drake Finding the golden thread of purpose in your life is what Drake helps you to aim for, and this book is readable, well researched and inspiring. On a similar theme to this book, Creating A Life Worth Living by Carol Lloyd is a book that explores the point of working, and how to work to full your creative potential. Even if you are not overtly creative, this book shows you how to turn your innate talents and passions into your lifestyle and work. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse This is one of those books that if you read when you are twenty it may well convert you to Buddhism, or at least make you think long and hard about our material culture. It is still a book that has a lot to say about the individual path we take through the world, what really

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson with Lou Arnica The creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson explains in this book how we are all born with vast capacity for creativity and talent, but we frequently ignore it or dismiss it as we grow older. He takes many real life examples of people who have brought together their passion and their talent and made it their lifes work, inspiring you to do the same. The Condent Creative by Cat Bennett Through the practise of drawing, Cat Bennett shows you how you can unblock creativity and increase condence. Bringing in various meditative techniques drawn from yoga and focus-based mindfulness, the author reveals new ways to connect your mind with your body, and to nd your own space in the practise of drawing. This book is not just for artists, but for anyone who can pick up a pencil. The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasalinna A journalist goes out one night in his car, and accidentally hits a hare. He then takes it travelling with him for a year starting off in Finland, Paasalinnas native country, he begins to truly live to the full. His adventures take him through the wilderness where he meets many intriguing examples of humanity, and he fulls a human ideal of someone who

seems to break the bounds of possibility, in a way that we can all relate to. The Guide by R K Narayan This is a lovely, simply told story about a man who starts his working life as a tourist guide at a train station in Malgudi, India, but then tries many other occupations before nding his unexpected destiny as a spiritual guide. Its a tale of love, prison, loss and rediscovery of self, with a very surprising ending which will have you hooked on the characters and leave you feeling incredibly positive. Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow This is a brilliant book for people needing to embark on new ventures in life. Henderson is a very wealthy man in his fties, who feels a void at the heart of his life. He goes to Africa to nd meaning and inadvertently becomes a god-like gure to the tribe he tries to help by ridding their well of frogs. His good deed backres, and his success is ambiguous, but the novel is overwhelmingly optimistic, helping the reader to see new directions and nd deeper understanding.

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Book Shelf
This selection has been prescribed for you by The School of Lifes Bibilotherapist


The Map of Love

Miss Garnets Angel Salley Vickers


The Alchemist Paulo Coehlo

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margins of Error Katherine Shulz

Seven Pillars of Wisdom

matters in life, where and why you are going where you are going. Its not going to provide the answers, but it will ask you lots of questions about yourself and your own journey through life The Artists Way by Julia Cameron This is a book that unleashes your creative ow and shows you new ways to approach difcult issues in life and art. Its a book that appeals to artists and non-artists, as it allows you to try out new media, experiment with ideas, and gradually to increase condence in your abilities. The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo This fable-like tale is a book that inspires you to trust in your instincts, and to allow the universe to aid you in your desires. If you want something enough, the universe will conspire to help you achieve it is the message of the book. The story takes a young shepherd from his native home in search of treasure that he has been promised he will nd in a vision. He has many adventures, and eventually nds the treasure where he least expects it. The simplicity of the writing makes the book easy to read and many people have found it immensely inspiring. Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz This is a book to remind you that mistakes can be the most productive event in the history of evolution, science, and even your


life, and being wrong is often remarkably positive as a catalyst. Kathryn Schulz writes cleverly, wittily and with many a good tale, and reading this book will show you that fullling your potential sometimes comes as much from the things youve done wrong in your life, to the things youve done right. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee A story about racial prejudice told through the eyes of the six year old Scout. Her father, Atticus Finch, is an attorney who is called upon to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman. The novel hinges around notions of justice: from justice for the wrongly accused black man, to justice for the mysterious Boo Radley who is mocked by the neighourhood for being a recluse. Scout learns from her father moral lessons that equip her for living. The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif This book offers a parallel narrative, slicing back and forth between British colonial Egypt and the Egypt of the 1990s. It is illuminating for its historical revelations and is gripping as a tale of love between two men and two women. Miracles of Life by J.G. Ballard J.G. Ballard is a brilliant writer who has ctionalised most of his life in his novels, from Empire of the Sun to The Drowned World. This book describes his life in more literal

2011 The School of Lifes Guide to Realising Your Potential

Ahdaf Soueif

the passion Jeanette Winterson

t.e. lawrence

J.G. Ballard


The Death of Ivan Ilyich Leo Tolstoy

terms. The miracles referred to in the title are his children, and one of the remarkable things about Ballard is how he brought them up as a single father after the sudden death of his wife. Ballard is immensely inspiring both as a writer and a human. The Passion by Jeanette Winterson Henri is a simple farm boy who has joined the army during the Napoleonic wars. He gets a job as a cook and eventually becomes the personal chef to his idol, Napoleon. Henri is unlucky enough to ght in Napoleons brutal Russian campaign. In Russia Henri meets Villenelle, a young woman from Venice with webbed feet, whose husband sold her to the french army as a prostitute; also Partick, a priest excommunicated for watching young women undress. Together these three desert the army and embark on a journey across Europe to return home. But when the journey is over they must confront problems from their past. This is a wonderfully romantic book which lls you with passion for life. What is the What by Dave Eggers This autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng tells the story of the second Sudanese Civil war, in which Achaks family was wiped out by Arab militia. Achaks Odyssey is a carnage laden true story that holds you gripped hoping desperately for a happy conclusion. Dengs humour and wisdom shine through Eggers

prose. The story starts with his life in Atlanta, far from his peaceful beginnings in Sudan, when he asked his father, What is the what? Find out by reading this book.


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Study Notes

List what can resource you your past experiences, your character strengths, your education, your family and friends. Be prepared to wait. Sometimes, life is just a question of good timing. And sometimes you have to struggle for a while before something good can emerge. Read an inspiring story, but not just to feel good. Rather, ask yourself what parts of the story you could imitate in your own life. Have you reached that point in life when its time to stop worrying about making money, and time to start spending it to help yourself, or others? Have you been living according to your values or according to the values of someone else? Values are sources of energy. But they need to be our own. Face your fears, dont leave them hanging around, fretting. They may open up a part of yourself that has been buried, and can make you more complete. You cant make an omelette without breaking eggs. So what are the pieces of your life that you can whip up together, and make into something nourishing and whole?

Stop dreaming and start making some commitments. Theres no embarking on a journey without taking a first step. Its an old truth, and true. What community of people, what online advisors, can you tap into to take you to a new level or just to provide you with some tips and suggestions? Who is the unlikely friend you have, the one who makes you feel a little bit uncomfortable, but who might help you to be a bit different too? Assess your virtues, which is to say, describe your habits of mind, the features of your character. As to your weaknesses, describe them too. Can they be improved upon? Think of some experiments, some small actions that you can explore and try out. And then, go with the ones that worked, or even better, the ones you enjoyed. Dont get stuck in self-delusion. Are you asking yourself to be something you just cant be, to do something you just cant do?

2011 The School of Lifes Guide to Realising Your Potential

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Room for Thought

Use this space to jot down ideas and thoughts.

2011 The School of Lifes Guide to Realising Your Potential


At The School of Life we come up with good ideas for everyday living. Some of the brightest minds in the world run our classes, meals, secular sermons, weekends and one-to-ones. Find out more

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American Express has created Amex Be Inspired: a campaign which gives people the opportunity to share and celebrate the things that inspired them in support of The Princes Trust, enabling people across the county to give something back to the community and help vulnerable young people realise their potential. For more information or to get involved and share an inspiration visit:

Mark Vernon is a faculty member of The School of Life and author of this guide. As a writer, broadcaster, teacher, journalist and former priest, he is also the author of numerous books including The Philosophy of Friendship, Platos Podcasts and The Good Life: 30 Steps for Perfecting the Art of Living. Read his blog at

Ella Berthoud is The School of Lifes Bibliotherapist. In addition to running our individual reading consultation service, she regularly appears at high-prole literary festivals and runs reading weekends around Britain and abroad. To nd out more about bibliotherapy or to book a session please go to:

Design & Illustration Marcia Mihotich

2011 The School of Lifes Guide to Realising Your Potential