The Second Mountain

The second mountain : the quest for a moral life
Category: Philosophy
Author: David Brooks
Publisher: Random House
Published: 4/16/2019
In The Second Mountain, David Brooks explores the four commitments that define a life of meaning and purpose: to a spouse and family, to a vocation, to a philosophy or faith, and to a community. Our personal fulfillment depends on how well we choose and execute these commitments. In The Second Mountain, Brooks looks at a range of people who have lived joyous, committed lives, and who have embraced the necessity of dependence.

Book Summary - The Second Mountain by David Brooks

Key Insights

Finding the path to a fulfilling life is a lot like climbing a mountain. You visualize what awaits you at the summit and plan out the life that lays ahead of you.

So what happens when you get to the top of that mountain and find out that it is not at all like you expected? What if your success comes at the cost of your relationships? Following an individualistic path may lead to initial success, but what does that success mean if you have no one to share it?

The truth is, the first mountain you climb is not the one that leads to all the things you idealize. If you can overcome the disappointments and failures you experience on the first mountain, you will find the right path to a more fulfilled life is on the second mountain you climb.

On the second mountain, you learn why your happiness is not as important as you think, and why real freedom in life comes with constraints.

Key Points

Your individualism can impact your social life.

We all want to be different. Being an individual is seen as the best way to stand out and succeed. The good news for you is that you live in an individualistic society. The benefits of an individualistic society mean you don’t have to adhere to strict rules on behavior or principles like some other societies in the world.

However, there are downsides to this kind of freedom. Individualism allows you to focus solely on your personal goals. But it also means you tend to only focus on your needs and goals. You reduce the need for interaction with others and decrease your chances of making social connections.

The result can hurt your life. When you do not build connections, you feel more isolated, and less like a part of the community. While you may be achieving your personal goals, if you feel disconnected, it won’t feel like much of an achievement.

Social connections help to guide you and build trusting relationships. If you pursue a solely individualistic path, you will find it harder to believe in people and institutions, effectively cutting yourself off from everything.

When you get to the top of the first mountain, the only way is down.

Your ascent up the first mountain is key to your progress in life. The first summit is related to all of your professional and personal goals that you want to achieve.

Maybe you want to attend an ivy league school, or perhaps there is a career path you want to pursue. All of these aims give you a sense of purpose during the ascent of the first mountain.

As you can probably see, the first summit is about all of the things that serve you. These are your personal goals, your desires, and have little to do with what anyone else wants. The first summit is all about you, and no one else.

So what happens when you get to the top of the first mountain? You have achieved the goals you set out to make, but at what cost? As a result of pursuing your interests and only focusing on what matters to you, people that you care about often fall by the wayside. You have reached the summit, but you managed to distance yourself from your social connections along the way.

When you pursue individualism, you will experience your freedom, but you will not have anyone to correct you when you move too far away from social constructs. In these situations, collectivism would help to ensure you do not isolate yourself too much.

The sense of fulfillment that occurs at the summit is short-lived. You achieved your goals, but somehow, you still feel unsatisfied. When you only concentrate on self-satisfaction, you inevitably find that something is lacking when you reach the summit. Perhaps there is something more that you need. This self-realization brings down from the first mountain with a resounding thud.

Everything that goes up must come down.

So you managed to reach the top, and it was suitable for a while. But you’re still unfulfilled, and you are more disconnected than ever. You may have sacrificed some important relationships with your first climb and, without the input of those people, found yourself a little lost.

The things that you valued on the first mountain have changed. The goals you were setting out to achieve were informed by individualism and cultural norms. These were goals many people would similarly look to make, such as getting a degree from a top university and having the career you wanted.

Now, however, those goals have changed. It might be for numerous reasons. Perhaps you realized that your dream job was not what you thought it would be or because you experienced a personal crisis during your climb. Whatever the reason, the result is that you now feel less fulfilled and find yourself descending from the first mountain at a rapid speed.

The structure you had and the path you had so clearly outlined has changed. Now that you have to start again, it is essential to reassess your priorities. Finding your direction and purpose will help you to begin the second climb. Unlike the first mountain, the second climb is not about you but about what you can do to live a more fulfilled life.

The second mountain is not just about you.

Now that you have taken a look at your life, you probably realized that individualism just isn’t working for you. The first mountain values are all about personal ambition and getting what you want. However, as you discover, this comes at a cost. When it comes to climbing the second mountain, you are more likely to have a different perspective on what you value.

The second mountain represents the second act in your life. Think of it as a do-over. When you embark on the second ascent, you think about the things you did before and the things you would change. You want to be successful, but also, you want to grow into a better person.

One of the significant differences between people who climb the first mountain and those who climb the second is purpose. On the first mountain, individualism and personal success are critical objectives. You believe you will only be happy by achieving these goals. In contrast, on the second mountain, autonomy and own success are not the priority.

If you are ready to take on the second mountain, you realize that individualism only takes you so far. Maintaining healthy relationships and pursuing goals that benefit others is far more rewarding.

Beginning the second climb means knowing where to start.

Climbing up the second mountain is a way to overcome a personal crisis and to change the person you were. The disconnection that fueled the previous descent may have lead to substance abuse. Or it may have led to the dissolution of a relationship. Whatever the reason, the crucial first step is beginning the climb.

Unlike the first mountain you climbed, this time around, your focus is not on personal gains. You have realized that living a life dedicated to your satisfaction has not filled you with intense happiness. It has had the opposite effect. The higher you got on the first mountain, the more disconnected and aimless you became. This time around, you can learn from previous mistakes and grow into a better version of yourself.

One positive step you can make is to find a vocation in life. It does not have to be something major, like a new career path. It could be a few hours of volunteering a week or becoming involved with a cause you believe in. Finding your passion will give you focus and drive. It will also help you to make social connections, which will have a positive effect on your life.

If you are climbing the second mountain, you believe that individualism is not as freeing as it seems. You may find that committing yourself to something other than your cause is more liberating than having no constraints. Helping others and finding purpose in your new commitments will bring more happiness than merely living for yourself.

Investing in others will help you to find happiness.

One of the most important investments you make is in other people. Taking the time to build relationships and maintain connections will help to make your community stronger.

Taking time will also help to improve your quality of life while simultaneously improving the lives of others around you. In contrast to individualism, relationalism helps to connect people and to mitigate the feeling of being isolated.

Taking part in building a better community and forging strong relationships might seem overwhelming at times. However, you don’t have to change things on a significant scale. Remember, you’re not trying to change the whole world. You’re just trying to do your part on a local level. Bringing a positive change to your community will bring immediate results that you can see firsthand and will benefit others.

When you begin committing to social causes and putting others first, you also benefit. By embracing community and relationalism, you stop isolating yourself. The connections with others are critical to feeling fulfilled in your life.

As you build upon these relationships and commitments, you are more likely to find your life more purposeful than it ever was on the first mountain.

The Main Take-away

You spend the first part of your life focused on ascending a mountain towards a certain goal for yourself, but you don’t become fulfilled until you get to your second mountain where your purpose is found in others.

Our connections in society are essential to our pursuit of happiness. If you follow the path of individualism, you are more likely to become untethered from our original goals. By choosing relationalism over individualism, you enable yourself the chance to build a happier life and become the person you want to be.

About the Author

David Brooks is a Canadian-American author and journalist. He is known as a conservative commentator and regularly appears as a commentator on NPR and PBS’ Newshour. Brooks is also the creator of the Sydney Awards for political and cultural journalism.

He has written for several news publications, including The New York Times and The Washington Post. Brooks has also written several bestselling books on sociology.

Born in Canada, Brooks moved to America as a child. In his early years, he lived in Manhattan before his family moved to Pennsylvania. He graduated from the University of Chicago and now lives in Washington, D.C.


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