Book Club – Living An Examined Life

Book: Living an Examined Life: Wisdom for the Second Half of the Journey – A 21-Step Plan for Addressing the Unfinished Business of Your Life

Publishing Year: 2018

About the Author: James Hollis, PhD is a Jungian psychoanalyst and the author of sixteen books including Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, On This Journey We Call Our Life: Living the Questions, and Creating a Life: Finding Your Individual Path. James Hollis served as  Executive Director of the Jung Educational Center in Houston, Texas for many years, was Executive Director of the Jung Society of Washington until 2019, and now serves on the JSW Board of Directors, while having a private practice in Washington-DC. His work has been translated into many languages including Swedish, Russian, German, Spanish, French, Hungarian, Portuguese, Turkish, Italian, Korean, Finnish, Romanian, Bulgarian, Farsi, Japanese, Greek, Chinese, and Czech.

Growth Is A Journey summary consists of a series of questions and answers, intended to represent 1-2 key nuggets of insight from the book, as well as personal takeaways with an invitation for readers to discover the book in its entirety.

Key message of the Book: The “second half of the journey” or growing up is not a chronological milestone in our lives (e.g. getting married, having kids, being financially independent) but a psychological stage of maturity and awareness. Once we reach this stage of conscious and intentional living, we can “leave behind the expectations of others and grow into the persons we were meant to be“. Living an examined life is what makes possible “the recovery of your journey“, a journey that, in James Hollis’ words, is “more productive, more clearly our own“.

What to know before reading: The book is a guide in self discovery and inner growth, structured as a 21-step plan with questions, insights and wisdom offered to help us journey through examining and discovering our lives, values and ultimately our unique purpose.

Each chapter of the book is challenging the reader into questioning limiting beliefs, behaviors, ways of thinking or values that when examined, it becomes clear that they are not in the service of a life of “personal authority, integrity and fulfillment”.

To make it more concrete, as an example, Chapter 1 titled The Choice Is Yours is a wake-up call to the fact that as human beings, we will always have a choice. This is despite learning from early age that experimenting or pushing boundaries will likely cause negative reactions, teaching us to adapt and survive largely by fitting in and limiting our discoveries. It is therefore powerful to rediscover that we do have choice and ultimately remain the “central character in our life drama“, despite our environment, upbringing or possible limitations. In fact, such discovery is life-giving: “Our life begins twice: the day we are born and the day we accept the radical existential fact that our life, for all its delimiting factors, is essentially ours to choose. And the moment when we open to that invitation and step into that accountability, we take on the power of choice.”

Throughout the book, as per James Hollis ‘intent for the book, the reader will be making an appointment with his/her soul by examining questions like “It’s time to grow up”, “Let Go of the Old”, “Vow to Get Unstuck”, “What is the Bigger Picture for You?”, “Choose Meaning over Happiness”, “Construct a Mature Spirituality”,…

Biggest personal learning from the book: Key personal learning was the idea of embedding in every day’s life a continuous practice of examining and reflecting over both the brightest and the darkest corners of our existence, pasts, behaviors, hearts and minds. Such journey of self-questioning and self-examination is what will bring healing, courage and integrity in our lives, and become a foundation for continued inner growth.

One specific learning from the book: A point made multiple times in the book is around the human story, which is a cyclical one of losses and wins, of separation and isolation, of new and old – the faster we accept and embrace that, the faster we enter our second halves of our journeys: “Life is a series of attachment and losses, beginning with our disconnect from the womb, a primal trauma from which we never wholly recover. During our journey, we link with, attach to, and also separate from others on a continuing basis. People come and go in our lives. Some of these losses are traumatic: a marriage that sinks, a child lost, a career up in smoke. Those things hurt, yet not to move forward in service to life, in service to bringing more into this world, is to abrogate our reason for being here – to bring our more evolved chip to the great mosaic of being, a humbling and enabling participation in the vast puzzle that the human venture has been adding or substracting from since its beginning in the African veldt many millennia ago.”

How is this book different from other leadership books: The book is like booking a therapy session with a very seasoned and intuitive therapist. Via a series of questions and insights turned into a 21-step plan, the journey to growing up enfolds at times in a way that is uncomfortable. As James Hollis noted in the preface of the book, “sometimes we need a list, sometimes to be reminded, and sometimes to be kicked in the butt. This book is that reminder, that kick in the butt. This book promises nothing easy. It asks that the reader be serious about looking at his or her life and taking responsibility for it”.

Additional resources: For more details

Comments/Feedback: I would love to hear from you with comments, thoughts, and testimonials on Living An Examined Life.

Published by Helene R. Johnson

Helene R. Johnson is a pseudonym. Living life as a mom and manager. Articles are also published on, a site dedicated to human resources with a focus on transformational change and development.

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