When it comes to passion, purpose, and calling, David Brooks’ The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life was one of my favorite books and one of the most helpful I’ve ever read on the subject.
As you know, I’ve been sharing the biggest takeaways I learned during my recent two-month sabbatical. In this post, I want to share a review of one of the best books I’ve read this year.
David Brooks is one of the nations leading writers and commentators. He is an op-ed columnist for The New York Times and appears regularly on PBS NewsHour and Meet the Press. He is the best-selling author of The Road to Character and other well-known books. A masterful writer, he pulls from a broad range of sources and thinkers to make his case and paint a poignant picture of the point he is making.
In The Second Mountian, he explores the four commitments that define a life of meaning and purpose. The commitment to:
- A philosophy or faith
He comes to the conclusion that our personal fulfillment depends on how well we choose and execute these four commitments.
The book uses the metaphor of the two mountains or trajectories. The first mountain is about self-discovery, success, making your mark on the world, and personal happiness and fulfillment. After a while, many people find the view from that mountain unsatisfying. That’s when the journey up the second mountain begins. The second mountain is about shedding ego and losing the self, contribution rather than acquisition, interdependence rather than independence, and a life of commitment and community rather than autonomy and self-reliance.
Though I rarely do this, I started in the middle of the book – the section on vocation and calling – because it was so intriguing. The book was fantastic and was worth picking up for that section alone.
There are far too many takeaways from the whole book, so, here are my top 10 takeaways from just the section on vocation:
- Finding a vocation is different from finding a career. Careers are about talents and skills, following the incentives to get the highest return, climbing upward, and reaping the rewards. Vocation means you are down in the substrate. Some activity or injustice has called to the deepest level of your nature and demanded an active response. In the words of Carl Jung, you “hear the voice of the inner man: He is called.” (90)
- After being imprisoned in a concentration camp during the Nazi occupation, Viktor Frankl realized the career questions – What do I want from life? What can I do to make myself happy? – are not the proper questions. The real question is, What is life asking of me? The sense of calling comes from the question, What is my responsibility here? (91)
- The summons to a vocation is a very holy thing. It feels mystical, like a call from deep to deep. But then the messy way it happens in actual lives doesn’t feel holy at all; just confusing and screwed up. (93)
- Every time you make a commitment to something big, you are making a transformational choice. (107)
- Neither intuition nor logic can help much with ultimate questions. Intuitions are unstable, fleeting, and frequently lead us astray. They can only be trusted in domains in which you have a lot of experience. Logic is really good when the ends of a decision are clear, when you are playing a game with a defined set of rules. But if you’re trying to discern vocation, the right question is not What am I good at? It’s the harder questions: What am I motivated to do? What activity do I love so much that I’m going to keep getting better at it for the next many decades? What do I desire so much that it captures me at the depth of my being? (111)
- If you go at your work with half a heart, it will show in the lackluster results and in the laggard way in which you reach the end. (Robert Greene, 111)
- If you really want to make a wise vocation decision, you have to lead a kind of life that keeps your heart and soul awake every day. The people who make the wisest vocation decisions are the people who live their lives every day with their desires awake and alive. They get out of boring offices and take jobs where the problems are. They are the ones who see their desires, confront their desires, and understand what they truly yearn for. (115)
- Your work should have length – something you get better at over a lifetime. It should have breadth – it should touch many other people. And it should have height – it should put you in service to some ideal and satisfy the soul’s yearning for righteousness. (Martin Luther King Jr., 123)
- A person who has found his vocation has been released from the anxiety of uncertainty, but there is still the difficulty of the work itself. Sometimes, if you are going to be a professional, you just have to dig the damn ditch. (124)
- 95% percent of our creative failures happen because you are not as good as you thought you were and other people see it, not because you are creating something new and people don’t understand it yet. (131)
Climbing the Second Mountain
I leave you with a quote and some questions to explore:
“…If you are trying to discern your vocation the right question is not What am I good at? It’s the harder questions: What am I motivated to do? What activity do I love so much that I’m going to keep getting better at it for the next many decades? What do I desire so much that it captures me at the depth of my being? In choosing a vocation, it’s precisely wrong to say that talent should trump interest. Interest multiplies talent and is in most cases is more important than talent.”
Here’s my challenge to you: take some time to answer those questions. As I’ve been advocating in my other sabbatical posts, plan a day or a half-day to think deeply about these questions.
What do you have to lose?
If you get clarity on these, you will be far ahead of most people, experience more fulfillment in life, and be well on your way up the Second Mountain.