Aspen Ideas Festival: David Brooks on 'The Second Mountain'

Conservative commentator David Brooks at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
Conservative commentator David Brooks at the 2017 Aspen Ideas Festival.
Ian Wagreich | The Aspen Institute

In life, we all have annunciation moments — moments that prefigure everything that will come next.

While they can happen at any time, they usually involves experiences of childlike wonder, said David Brooks, the New York Times columnist and NPR commentator.

"We all have moments of wonder and things we're kind of interested in, but the second phase of life is the initiation," Brooks said in his hour-long lecture titled "The Second Mountain: The Next Big Challenge in Your Life."

Throughout this initiation process we need to be inspired, and what inspires people the most is struggle, Brooks said. We learn that what we're doing is going to be hard and that we're going to push through it anyway. And once we've finally reached our goals we move on to the next struggle, he said.

Good schools and teachers can show you what is worth aspiring to and how to achieve it in the highest form.

After annunciation and initiation comes what Brooks calls "the odyssey years."

This often happens in your 20s right after you leave college.

"And your blessing and your curse is that you can turn into absolutely anything," Brooks said, adding that very few people are prepared to deal with the freedom they experience after leaving school.

If you don't have your purpose figured out by the time you start your odyssey years, you often compensate by building up successes, which means every failure has the potential to topple your very being, he said.

Following these years comes the commitment making phase of life.

"At a certain point you get tired of freedom," Brooks said. "You yearn for that unity that you see in other people."

Thankfully, it's also during these years that life helps us out, Brooks said. When we decide to finally say yes to certain things and limit our options, we often find that what we've chosen does grip us, and it feels like a whole new annunciation moment.

Brooks says there are mountains and valleys in these stages of our lives. The first mountain is the acts of defining yourself and gaining success.

The valleys are the moments after you figure out your mountain wasn't really what you wanted, or else the moments where you fail and are knocked off your current path. Valleys in life can help to defeat the ego, and make a person less individualistic, and more egalitarian and emotionally intelligent. From there you begin climbing "the second mountain."

The annual David Brooks lecture at the Aspen Ideas Festival was given June 30, 2017.

To listen to the speech, click the audio player above.

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