There I was, on a Broadway stage. Naked with the rest of the cast of Oh! Calcutta! The drugs and alcohol must not have been working because I was literally crawling out of my skin.”
So begins the preface of Marcia Ullett’s book Your Best Life Yet: A Journey of Purpose and Passion. This sets the tone for the text, which combines the author’s honest self-reflection about her own trials with her 25 years of experience as therapist and life coach to offer practical, concrete steps that the reader can use to move forward in life. While the steps and tools Ullett provides are not unique, the book gives a cohesive and logical outline for personal change through its so-called Best-Life Process.
I approach any self-help book with a dose of skepticism, as I find they can easily fall into the trap of providing sweeping generalities or trite clichés, doled out by authors whose lives seem to have offered relatively smooth sailing. Ullett’s life has had its share of stormy seas. About her own addiction, she notes that “[f]or years I had no idea I was living by default.” When she, still addicted, decides to become a therapist and encounters her first client who happens to have 10 years of sobriety, she begins to realize what her life is missing.
After 15 years of her own sobriety, she is dealt another blow: She finds a lump that turns out to be breast cancer. Her struggle with the disease brings more personal revelations as she realizes that she felt “a hunger to discover what was next for me.”
Ullett begins by having the reader take stock of his or her current state, noting both obstacles and strengths. She describes four tools that the reader is supposed to use along the way: meditation, journaling, affirmation, and intention. For readers who already employ these tools, this chapter is likely to add little, and for those who do not, it may not be enough to get you far, as the author offers relatively brief descriptions of each tool. However, instead of weighing the text down with lengthy details, Ullett points the reader to further resources so they can learn more elsewhere.
The heart of the book comes in the second part, where Ullett details her Best-Life Process, which can be summarized in five steps: 1. Know your values; 2. Discover your higher purpose; 3. Create your vision; 4. Determine your goals; and 5. Leap into your action plan. Ullett walks the reader through each step and peppers each with personal and client-based examples.
What I particularly liked about her process was the way each step builds logically on the one before it. Figuring out what you value most lays the foundation for helping you discover your higher purpose. And with a sense of purpose, it becomes possible to get an idea of what your vision might look like.
The examples Ullett provides help us appreciate the full arc. For instance, she shares with us the story of Avi, the budding artist who, out of economic necessity, becomes a teacher and feels stuck in that role. By taking a careful look at his values, he is able to see how his artistic bent may be directed back into his classroom so that he can, in his words, “teach using all my creativity in order to help young minds develop.” With this, he is able to create a vision that incorporates creativity into the rest of life, not just his painting.
Ullett addresses the obstacles we all face when trying to make change in our lives. Key among them is fear. She writes, “If your goal is to avoid fear, you just might be condemning yourself to a life of stagnation. After all, fear is worry about the future, about what might happen if you don’t succeed.”
This particularly struck home for me, as I find this is a trap I can fall into: turning down an opportunity for growth due to a fear of failure. Does Ullett offer the secret elixir to banishing your fear? Well, no. But she does encourage the reader to create a new relationship with fear and to recognize the overlap between feelings of fear and excitement.
Although the tools and steps in Ullett’s book aren’t necessarily new or revolutionary, the guidance she offers is clear and easy to follow. Through the examples she gives, both her own and those of her clients, we “see” the steps in action. She does this with a refreshing honesty and transparency with regard to her own troubles and triumphs without weighing down the text with lengthy personal narrative.
Finding a purpose in life is no easy task, and unlikely to be found within the pages of any book. Reading this book, though, inspired me to reflect on my own values and to work on living more purposefully, as, in the words of Socrates, “A life unexamined is not worth living.”