When we’re young adults, we decide to climb the mountain of our careers to achieve success. We think the whole climb is about us. Then some crisis or adversity happens and we’re thrown back down into the valley. There we can reflect on why we climb mountains. We’re given the opportunity to realize we could climb more meaningful mountains, ones that focus on serving others. Thus, we get the opportunity to climb a second mountain. This is the theme in Ezra Klein’s podcast interview with David Brooks about his book The Second Mountain.

David suggests that we tend to ask the wrong question when deciding about our careers. We ask “What do I want from life?” which focuses our attention on achievement of individual success. The question for the second mountain is: “What is life asking of me?” which calls us to serve, to focus on achieving success that benefits life.

Our failure on the first mountain is a failure of connection. It takes adversity to realign us to the reality of the world. “What do we do in moments of adversity?” is a key question in David’s book. We’re faced with a choice: to be broken by adversity or allow it to break us open. Being broken open allows us to connect with the world and serve it. David says there are two ways we can do this:

  1. Build stronger relationships with others through vulnerability.
  2. Build a stronger relationship with yourself by going alone into the wilderness so your ego has no one to perform for.

We have similar questions to ask when climbing. Do we ask, “What do I want from climbing?” Or, do we ask, “What is climbing asking of me?” The former takes us up the first mountain of our climbing life to an ego summit that is only temporarily satisfying. So we continue to strive for more summits. Ultimately, this process breaks us. We’ll either quit climbing or we’ll reevaluate why we’re doing it. If we decide to continue climbing, then we get the opportunity to focus on learning more about who we are as individuals. Knowing ourselves helps us know how to serve those we climb with and climbing itself. We connect with the people and the sport we love, which makes our climbing lives much more meaningful and satisfying.

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