Books That Will Make You More Confident And Spontaneous

A few everyday women find a way to break free of worry, doubt and anxiety -- and live to write a how-to-do-it-too tale.

By Leigh Newman

The Gist: Patty Chang Anker was raised by Chinese immigrants whose favorite phrase was xiao xin or "be careful, small heart." Now 40, with two adopted girls of her own, Anker felt as if, "given my nervous nature, my bookish upbringing, my midlife responsibilities, and boundless propensity for tripping and falling and hurting myself, my comfort zone was less a zone and more a skittish zigzag from car to coffee shop to supermarket to office to sofa to fridge to bed, where I lay awake worrying." She decides to challenge herself; first, by learning how to dive off a diving board -- then, she pushes herself to tackle the rest of her fears, from throwing away clutter to riding a bicycle. Does she conquer them all? No. But she does confront them -- and motivates her friends in the process, including the one who is afraid of driving. Reading her challenges is downright inspiring -- once you get past her standing on a ledge.

Surfing Revelation We All Need to Have: "In the space between waves, we have choices. To jump, to dive, to ride, to play. To face what's coming without running away."

Advice from a Chinese Mother That We All Need to Follow: "If you dream of falling, you're growing."

The Gist: In 1942, a group of musicians banded together to face down their horrible stage fright. Inspired by this "Society of Timid Souls," writer Polly Morland decides to look at what she describes as our contemporary failure of the "collective nerve" in which the media has surrendered to "a taxonomy of terror: the planet warming, the bankers squandering, the terrorists bomb-making, the pedophile lying-in-wait." To combat it, she investigates the most ordinary and extraordinary of heroes: an elderly woman who threw herself into the path of an attacking Rottweiler to save a baby, a middle-age traveler whose hotel was leveled by an earthquake and who dug out her fellow guest, a mother who gives herself a Caesarean section in order to save her baby, as well as talks to whistle-blowers and free climbers. Are we born courageous or is it learned, she wonders. Her final conclusion, however, may just make you realize that you can always be what Morland calls a "Brave Soul."

Bullfighting Revelation We All Need to Have: "An injury is a medal."

Advice From a Firefighter That We All Need to Follow: "Never run [to an emergency] because by the time you get there you won't have had the time to think what to do... Walk toward the problem and confront it."

The Gist: "Women aren't built emotionally or physically for the work that warriors do," says the chief of a Maasai tribe to a 26-year-old Mindy Budgor, who is in Kenya on a volunteer house-building project. In response, she vows to become the first non-male moran (warrior) and, a few months later, joins a more remote tribe for a six-week-long training camp that involves drinking goat blood, determining the temperature of lion poop and defending her fellow trainees from stampeding elephants (by throwing a flaming branch). Along the way, she confronts more domesticated fears about her not-so-stick figure and unmarried status, as well as learns to rethink her own self-image.

Post-Giraffe-Attack Revelation We All Need to Have: "You live moment to moment and that, my dear ... is real life."

Advice From a Maasai Warrior Trainer We All Need to Follow: "You should learn the ways of a lion -- the top of the food chain."

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