In his book, The Second Mountain, David Brooks explores the quest for a good and moral life.

He states, “The goals of the first mountain are the normal goals that our culture endorses – to be a success, to be well thought of, to get invited into the right social circles, and to experience personal happiness. It’s all the normal stuff: nice home, nice family, nice vacations, good food, good friends, and so on.”

Despite the good things that do happen on the first mountain, it’s typically focused on building the self and defining the ego. It’s often about acquisition and promotion. Despite what we may tell ourselves, it’s quite self-centered.

Regrettably, too many spend their entire lives focused the goals of the first mountain. In too many instances we have abandoned community and commitment and become preoccupied with “molding the self, investing the self, expressing the self. Capitalism, meritocracy, and modern social science have normalized selfishness; they have made it seem that the only human motives that are real are the self-interested ones – the desire for money, status, and power. They silently spread the message that giving, care, and love are just icing on the cake of society.”

These accolades and achievements will only get us so far in life, and will unquestionably leave us wanting more. Despite all the advancements in society and the quest for fulfillment, there is still so much unhappiness. We are experiencing unprecedented amounts of loneliness, depression, lack of purpose, distrust, and tribalism.

Unfortunately the journey from the first mountain to the second typically involves crossing through a valley of suffering. For some it’s a deep dissatisfaction with the direction of life. For others it may be an overwhelming failure. Some may face the loss of a family member, a debilitating health condition, or even experience doubts about their life-long faith tradition. Many never emerge from the depths of this suffering.

“But for others, this valley is the making of them. The season of suffering interrupts the superficial flow of everyday life. They see deeper into themselves and realize… there is a fundamental ability to care, a yearning to transcend the self and care for others. And when they encounter this yearning, they are ready to become a whole person.”

The way out starts with recognition that we have to commit to something bigger than ourselves.

Those climbing the second mountain aren’t perfect and haven’t abandoned the good things on the first mountain, but they know their purpose on earth is greater. They definitely haven’t chosen the easy path.

Brooks contrasts the difference between life on each mountain. “Happiness tends to be individual. Joy tends to be self-transcending. Happiness is something you pursue; joy is something that rises up unexpectedly and sweeps over you. Happiness comes from accomplishment; joy comes from offering gifts. Happiness fades; we get used to things that make us happy. Joy doesn’t fade. To live with joy is to live with wonder, gratitude, and hope. People who are on the second mountain have been transformed. They are deeply committed. The outpouring of love has become a steady force.”

Last week Hill and I went to dinner to dinner with a friend of mine from work and his wife, who happens to also be a friend from high school. After hearing their story, it was apparent that Adam and Emily McCormick have started their climb up the second mountain. Adam had told me about Emily’s founding of a non-profit called The Policy Project, and I followed from a distance on social media as they worked to improve access to menstrual health products for all women. In March of this year, the Utah Legislature passed a bill to provide free period products for girls K-12. That just makes sense. No girl should miss school because she doesn’t have access to these necessary medical supplies.

Reading about their success was awesome. Sitting with Emily and Adam and hearing their passion was inspiring. Emily’s journey up the second mountain started in Johannesburg, South Africa at the apartheid museum where she saw a brick wall covered in plaques, each one engraved with a law enacted over hundreds of years that institutionalized racism and cemented the suffering of 90% of the population. “The destruction was not caused by wars – but by ideas. Ideas that became words. Words that become policies. Policies that became laws. And laws that undid lives. “

This wall became a vision for Emily and she knew she had a path to affect change. That path was to influence policy right here in her home state of Utah. Currently they are focused on issues including menstrual health, education, teen homelessness and hunger, poverty, and foster care. I love this quote from their website. “Issues are not Left or Right. Issues are human.” Emily and her team are doing amazing work, and I was inspired by her passion and commitment.

Please take a minute to check out their work at The Policy Project where you can find out about their efforts, volunteer to help, and sign up for their newsletter. These types of efforts can’t move forward without financial support. I hope you will strongly consider donating to The Policy Project to help move this great work forward. I know I will.

One last question for you – Which mountain are you on?

  • Stuart
    2 years ago
    I fully support The Policy Project!
    • Nate
      2 years ago
      Thanks Stu!
  • Adam
    2 years ago
    Nate I love this and you’re too nice! Dinner was a blast btw!