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The Second Mountain Book Notes

December 22, 2019

The Second Mountain, by David Brooks


New York Times columnist and author David Brooks believes that if you want to live in moral joy (deeper than happiness) you need to stop climbing the first mountain of ego, career and accomplishments and start a more profound journey symbolized by climbing a second mountain. Arguing the opposite of many self-help books that individual freedom will lead to happiness, Brooks says that commitments and relationships are what really drive meaning and purpose to your life. Here are some key quotes from Brooks:

Commitments Drive Purpose

You don't climb the second mountain the way you climb the first mountain. You conquer your first mountain. You identify the summit and you claw your way toward it. You are conquered by your second mountain. You surrender to some summons and you do everything necessary to answer the call and address the problem or injustice that is in front of you. On the first mountain, you tend to be ambitious, strategic, and independent. On the second mountain, you tend to be relational, intimate, and relentless. People on the second mountain have made strong commitments to one or all of these four things‑ a vocation, a spouse and family, a philosophy or faith, a community.  


Character is not something you build sitting in a room thinking about the differences between right and wrong and about your own willpower. Character emerges from our commitments.


Community builders are driven by emotional, spiritual, and moral motivations, a desire to live in intimate relation with others, to make a difference in the world, and to feel right with oneself.  

Living a Life with Joy

Powerful moments of moral elevation seem to push a mental reset button wiping out feelings of cynicism and replacing them with feelings of hope, love, and moral inspiration. A life of ease is not the pathway to growth and happiness. On the contrary, a life of ease is how you get stuck and confused in life. To live with joy is to live with wonder, gratitude, and hope. People who are on the second mountain have been transformed. They're deeply committed. The outpouring of love has become a steady force.  


Questions to Ask, Time and Time Again

Younger Americans on average have seven jobs over the course of their 20s. A third of recent college graduates are unemployed, underemployed, or making less than $30,000 a year at any given moment. Wealth and fame and accomplishment do not spare anybody from the valley. Eventually, there's no escaping the big questions:


What's my best life?

What do I believe in?

Where do I belong? 


Listening to life means asking:


What I have done well?

What have I done poorly?

What do I do when I'm not being paid or rewarded?


John Steinbeck in East of Eden, “a man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions was it good or was it evil, have I done well or ill?"  


If you're trying to discern your vocation, the right question is not what I am 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?



Modern Failures


Tribalism is actually the dark twin of community.  Community is based on common humanity, tribalism on common foe.  


The Blessing of Marriage


Describing a couple's love, “we had roots that grew towards each other underground and when all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches, we found that we were one tree and not two.”


People in long happy marriages have won the lottery of life

Six Layers of Desire


To climb the second mountain, focus on #4, #5, #6.

1. Material pleasure - having nice food, nice car, nice house.
2. Ego pleasure - becoming well-known or rich and successful, winning victories and recognition.
3. Intellectual pleasure - learning about things, understanding the world around us.
4. Generativity - the pleasure we get in giving back to others and serving our communities.
5. Fulfilled love - receiving and giving love, the rapturous union of souls.
6. Transcendence - the feeling we get when living in accordance with some ideal.



When you are ready to climb the second mountain and you feel a moment of obligation, ask yourself three questions. Is it big enough? Am I uniquely positioned to make this happen? Am I truly passionate?  If your answer is yes to all three, you have found a calling worthy of your time and devotion that will lead to a life filled with moral joy.


Are you on the first mountain or the second?



As a former Foreign Service Officer and Air Force pilot, I’m passionate about continuing to serve those in government and the military.  Our services and publications are designed for individuals and families in these communities.  Follow me – Chris Cortese - on LinkedIn  or like our page on Facebook so you can continue to benefit from our daily commentary and content.


Chris Cortese, CFP®
Logbook Financial Planning, LLC


“Investment advisory services are offered through Logbook Financial Planning, LLC, a Licensed Investment Adviser in the state of Maine and Registered Investment Adviser in the state of Virginia” “All written content is for information purposes only. It is not intended to provide any tax or legal advice or provide the basis for any financial decisions.” Logbook Financial Planning, LLC is not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any government agency.

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