Do you ever get the feeling that everyone else around you knows the script, but you’re left in the dark, trying to catch up? Do you ask yourself, “How does everyone else seem to be so sure about their life’s purpose?” Do you want to learn how to be more confident about living your life and making good things happen? If you answered, “Yes,” to any of those questions, we have a book recommendation for you!
Therapist Julia Hogan Werner, LCPC opens her new book A Work in Progress: Embracing the Life God Gave You with these questions. This book helps readers uncover ways to find meaning in their lives as they tackle the challenges of young adulthood, navigate what feels like constant change, and face the ever-present questions about identity, goals, and their purpose in life.
With its supportive tone and relatable advice, reading A Work in Progress feels like you’re sitting at the table with your sister or good friend who is just a few steps ahead of you in life and really listening to your struggles. She offers you suggestions based on her own lived experience that not only seem realistic, but also feel attainable.
Throughout the book, Hogan Werner provides strategies that serve as tools for getting to know yourself better, which makes it easier to navigate life and uncover your own skills, gifts, and calling from God. She shares her own experiences and those of her clients to illustrate the lessons she’s learned and how to approach these moments of being overwhelmed or having self-doubt.
At the end of each chapter, she provides questions to guide further reflection about how each concept relates to your own experience, plus a tangible action item that can help you implement the new strategy. Overall, A Work in Progress will help you “develop new habits of thinking and acting and living each day that will empower you to live your life freely and claim it with purpose” (134).
Here are three main takeaways from the book:
1. Finding Your Purpose in Life Begins with Knowing Yourself
Who are you? It’s a question that can make a lot of us uncomfortable, yet one that we should be able to answer easily. Werner Hogan sympathizes with this struggle and attributes it to the voice of “false friends”: those stories that we or others tell about who we are, what we can and can’t do, what our imperfections are, and the expectations others place on us. She argues that these “false friends” are consistently burying our true identity and obscuring our worth.
Our worth is ultimately immeasurable because it is rooted in the image of God that He has placed in every human being. The best work we can do on ourselves is to truly believe that God loves us into being and has made us each a unique and unrepeatable person with particular gifts, talents, and skills that we can use to better the world. In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”
A strategy the book offers for understanding who we are is to determine what our values and expectations are. Our values, Julia writes, “signify to us…what qualities we use to measure our own worth and the worth of others” (33). When we truly dig into our values, it will set our priorities and expectations, providing a meaningful purpose to what we do.
Then, we are better able to know what direction to head in, what decisions are good for us right now, and what boundaries we need to set to be able to focus on our goals.
2. Take a Balanced Approach to Decision Making
Decisions are hard. Decisions are even harder when we’re not sure what we want or where we are heading. Julia’s balanced approach to decision making provides guidelines that take into account everything from your feelings about a decision to its impact on your life and future.
She challenges her readers to observe, reflect, and then decide. As she outlines this process, she explains why each step is important and sets one up to respond rather than react when decisions need to be made. Rather than focusing on making the “right” decision, this process helps you reach the best decision that aligns with who you are and what you value. By following this process, you can approach decision making in a way that is neither apathetic nor controlling.
3. Remember that Finding Your Purpose in Life is a Process, Not a Moment
An overarching theme of Work in Progress is that building a meaningful life is a process, not a moment. In a hustle culture that declares that we’ve arrived when we have a certain amount of wealth, power, or popularity, the process can feel like a rat race rather than a source of learning.
Hogan Werner often suggests setting aside time for reflection and she encourages making thoughtful choices along the way, which requires time to think. Whether setting boundaries, quieting the voice of “false friends,” or working on self-care, these strategies ask the reader to take time, to find pockets of rest, and to reflect, so that embracing the life that God gave us and finding purpose is a cycle of growth rather than a race to the finish line.
Hogan Werner advises that “instead of living reactively, feeling like you are perpetually late to the game, you can take an active role in shaping the trajectory of the life God has given to you – and you can do this without figuring it all out first” (14).
A Work in Progress is available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble.