Once Upon a Metaphor – where inspiration meets imagination

The “Self-Help” or “Motivational” genre of literature has evolved quite some since its early days and is now a prominent feature of most book stores. I couldn’t count on both hands the number of titles mentioning “happiness” or “well being” and could almost fill a shopping basket with those alluding to “financial growth” or “improved relationships”. Yes, yes, we are searching bunch; searching for a better life, a better job, a better relationship and hoping to find the answers within a book.

I find however, that instructive books of the ‘how to get happy’ variety are very rarely of any great use to me. They more often than not state the obvious (which, granted, we sometimes all to need hear) and do so in the step-by-step fashion that we’ve grown too accustomed to and thereby also immune to. In short, this brand of literature has had very little impact on my life. (Though, I must say, it cannot be completely discounted for it has impacted the lives of others and I have probably just been reading the wrong books.) There is however, a class of motivational literature that has definitely played a role in the evolution of my perspective, ideas and values. The metaphorical story kind.

Stories are powerful. Stories are playful. Stories and provoking. Stories of loss make me contemplate what I have. Stories of love make me think of the people I hold close. Stories of betrayal make me think of my priorities, of my choices and of my values. Stories of hardship make me appreciate my comforts and inspire me to overcome my obstacles. Stories of success teach me about what works and what doesn’t. Stories of friendship remind me of its importance. Stories of magic make me believe in the impossible. Stories are every sort of wonderful and within them are often hidden golden nuggets of wisdom, instruction and inspiration.

The very best of the inspirational story shelf, in my opinion:

The Alchemist Paulo Coelho

Life of Pi Yann Martel

The Five People You Meet in Heaven Mitch Albom

Who Moved My Cheese Spence Johnson

Why is God Laughing Deepak Chopra

The Richest Man in Babylon George S. Clason

While on the surface, these books may just seem like stories you’d find in the fiction section and read for a bit of light entertainment, they are metaphors for life, brimming with inspiration, philosophy, instruction and thought-provocation. If they aren’t on either your ‘Books I’ve Read’ list or ‘Books I Plan to Read’ list, then you should you really a point of putting them there because they will inspire you, open your mind and shift your perspective. And if they don’t (which they will) then they will at least entertain you!

Listen to Will Smith: Run and Read!


“The keys to life are running and reading. When you’re running, there’s a little person that talks to you and says, “Oh I’m tired. My lung’s about to pop. I’m so hurt. There’s no way I can possibly continue.” You want to quit. If you learn how to defeat that person when you’re running. You will know how to not quit when things get hard in your life. For reading: there have been gazillions of people that have lived before all of us. There’s no new problem you could have–with your parents, with school, with a bully. There’s no new problem that someone hasn’t already had and written about it in a book.” – Will Smith

I am a huge fan of Will Smith and just not because he’s a rib-cracking-ly funny comedian or because I love to get jiggy with it. Will Smith is an inspirational man with a whole host of inspirational wisdom to share with those who love to listen and learn. His work ethic, his approach to success, his genuine desire to contribute to the world in which we live and his down-to-earth personality make him a very rare breed of man and an extremely talented one at that.

At Nickelodeon’s 2005 Kid’s Choice Awards, Will Smith shared the above advice with the children who voted for him to receive his award. Now, I’m not a huge fan of running, I’ll admit, exercise never having been my choice of pastime. But, I am in full agreement with his advice that running and reading are incremental keys to success in life, agreeing especially with his esteem of books and their role: “There’s no new problem that someone hasn’t already had and written about it in a book.”

Some Wisdom from Books:

Feeling pressured by your friends? Unsure whether or not to stand up for what you believe in? Take Professor Dumbledore’s advice, from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: “It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.”

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

When you find yourself in a situation where you feel the odds stacked against you and the only conceivable option seems to be to give up, think of Pi, from Life of Pi by Yann Martel. He spent countless weeks afloat the Pacific Ocean, in a tiny boat with an injured zebra, a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, an orangutan and a spotted hyena. But with faith and perseverance…

Life of Pi Cover

Knocked down? Ganged up on? Making mistakes? Take a leaf out of Steve Jobs’ biography: believe in yourself, don’t sell yourself out, push for excellence and don’t relent until you succeed.

Steve Jobs' Biography

Want to learn more about the power of positive thinking? Want to know how to turn the lead of your life into gold? Well, according to Paulo Coelho in The Alchemist, “People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”

The Alchemist Novel

These four books exemplify only a sliver of the wisdom and inspiration that can be found within the binding of a book. Will Smith is right; trillions of people have lived before us, made mistakes before us, triumphed before us and written before us. There are an astronomical number of books on our planet, written in every existing language and about every conceivable topic and, if we only took the time to read a little more, we just might find ourselves better equipped with the necessary emotional tools to survive any obstacles that lie ahead.

Shall I say it again? The keys to life are running and reading.